The erosion of public protections

We all want to live in a society where the food we eat and the products we buy are safe, where the natural environment is protected, where our rivers and air are clean, and where our rights at work are guaranteed.

The rights and freedoms we enjoy in the UK are underpinned by regulation – sensible protections that have driven up living standards and helped make Britain a global leader in public health, food, animal welfare, employee and environmental standards. Strong protections promote competitiveness and create a level playing field for businesses.

However, over the years, successive governments have sought to portray important regulations as a burden on businesses, and have systematically weakened or removed them. The narratives that have accompanied repeated deregulatory drives are pervasive, often amplified by a sympathetic media and think-tanks, and many have taken hold in public and political discourse.

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The erosion of public protections

We all want to live in a society where the food we eat and the things we buy are safe, where the natural environment is protected, and where our homes and workplaces are secure. The common-sense rules that we often take for granted safeguard the things we care about and allow us to flourish.

But successive governments have viewed these protections as a burden on business, and have sought to reduce them – both through direct deregulation and the erosion of regulatory enforcement capacity. Scrapping protections means losing the sensible rules that have driven up living standards, protected the most vulnerable, and helped create the rights, reassurances and freedoms that we all enjoy.

In fact, strong protections boost jobs and skills and deliver social, environmental and economic benefits. Most businesses agree that sensible rules don’t hold us back, they enhance the nation’s growth and competitiveness. And our research shows wide public support for common-sense protections, across the political spectrum.

We believe the deregulation pendulum has swung too far. 

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Falling enforcement

Damaging deregulation has been accompanied by the erosion of regulatory enforcement capacity. Our research shows that:

  • Funding for the environmental and social protection work of major national regulators fell by 50% between 2009 and 2018.

  • The number of staff who work in these areas has dropped by 30%.

As a result, the UK is facing a severe enforcement gap, with checks, inspections and monitoring plummeting across almost every area of public life. Our research finds that:

  • Employers can now expect a visit from HMRC’s national minimum wage inspectors just once in 500 years
  • The average business can expect to be visited by health and safety inspectors once every 20 years. 

  • The average farmer can expect a visit from the Environment Agency every 200 years.

There’s no point having sensible rules if nobody can check they’re being followed. We’re working to make sure the government invests in the public bodies that enforce important regulations, to ensure they have the tools for the job.

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Falling enforcement

Damaging deregulation has been accompanied by the erosion of regulatory enforcement capacity. Our research shows that:

  • Funding for the environmental and social protection work of major national regulators fell by 50% between 2009 and 2018.

  • The number of staff who work in these areas has dropped by 30%.

As a result, the UK is facing a severe enforcement gap, with checks, inspections and monitoring plummeting across almost every area of public life. Our research finds:

  • Employers can now expect a visit from HMRC’s national minimum wage inspectors just once in 250 years.

  • The average business can expect to be visited by health and safety inspectors once every 20 years. 

  • The average farmer can expect a visit from the Environment Agency every 200 years.

There’s no point having sensible rules if nobody can check they’re being followed. We’re working to make sure the government invests in the public bodies that enforce important regulations, to ensure they have the tools for the job.

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British people support strong rules

The dominant narrative around regulation is at odds with the views of British people. Our research shows that people across the country support robust regulations; from laws protecting our wildlife, to food safety regulations, to rules which safeguard important rights in the workplace.

If we are to bring this support to bear, and counter damaging deregulation, organisations striving to strengthen public protections must work together to tell a different story about the protections which safeguard the things we care about.

Unchecked UK is working with organisations across the UK to make the case for strong rules as the cornerstone of a thriving, fair and prosperous country, and to ensure that future generations benefit from the protections we ourselves enjoy.

British People Support Strong Rules

The dominant narrative around regulation is at odds with the views of British people. Our research shows that people across the country support robust regulations; from laws protecting our wildlife, to food safety regulations, to rules which safeguard important rights in the workplace.

If we are to bring this support to bear, and counter damaging deregulation, organisations striving to strengthen public protections must work together to tell a different story about the protections which safeguard the things we care about.

Unchecked UK is working with organisations across the UK to make the case for strong rules as the cornerstone of a thriving, fair and prosperous country, and to ensure that future generations benefit from the protections we ourselves enjoy.

The UK’s Enforcement Gap
PUBLIC ATTITUDES TO REGULATION
Read Our Research
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