We need to create a public debate about the benefits of having sensible rules to protect people’s health and safety and the environment, argues Matthew Holder.

Regulations that ‘burden’, regulatory ‘barnacles’ and ‘red tape’. Just some of the words and phrases contained in minister Jacob Rees-Mogg’s recent letter that appeared in The Sun newspaper, calling on its readers to suggest UK regulations to abolish. Together they, with countless other examples, negatively frame how many politicians and commentators, amplified by a supportive media, see regulations — and enforcement — and how they would like the public to see them.

It’s a frame that has hugely significant consequences: proponents of deregulation use it to justify weakening key protections and deep cuts to the funding of enforcement bodies. We can see this when we look at Unchecked UK’s Labour Market Enforcement Gap (2021) report: Health and Safety Executive funding over the past 10 years down 60 per cent. Local authority spending on health and safety down 33 per cent, with the number of its inspectors down 57 per cent. At the same time, progress has either stalled or worsened: nearly three-quarters of a million people in the UK suffered non-fatal workplace injuries in 2019/20, and around 1.6 million suffer from work-related ill-health.

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