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Equality Panel

Volume 481: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2008

The Government have a proud record of tackling inequality. By introducing the national minimum wage, extending flexible working and expanding access to child care, we are seeking to level the playing field. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality set up the national equality panel to help us do more. Its objective is to close the gaps in our current understanding of inequality and to examine, for instance, why even today, by the age of six, talented children from poor families are overtaken by less talented children from richer families.

I accept that, as my hon. Friend says, the Government have a good record on the entire equalities agenda, but there is still much to do, particularly in relation to the gender pay gap and, as she said, the life chances of children brought up in poverty. Will she confirm that it is the Government’s intention to carry on making sure that the equalities agenda is at the top of their agenda, especially as in times of economic downtown, that may be one of the areas to which less attention is paid?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is still more to be done and we intend to do it, not only through the provisions that will be enacted in the Equality Bill when it is taken through the House, but by increasing the transparency of what goes on so that we can better understand the causes of inequality. She knows that across Government we have a number of public service agreement targets, which are designed to make sure that we reduce health inequalities, close educational attainment gaps between those who are deprived and those who are less deprived, narrow the gap in employment for those who are disabled, lone parents or members of ethnic minorities, and increase equality generally. We are setting ourselves tough targets to ensure that we do that, and I can assure her and the House that we will continue to make progress.

As a former Minister for disabled people, my hon. Friend is aware that traditionally there have been people across Government in various Departments who have championed different equalities issues. Now, in her present role in the Ministry of Justice, she is expected also to take responsibility for equalities. Is she able to call on champions in every Department to ensure that all these issues are mainstreamed in every Department?

I certainly hope to be able to do that. Going into my eighth year as a Minister, I am starting to feel as though I have been in every Department and had to deal with these issues. I am able to call upon that experience. The public service agreements and targets across Government, which are cross-cutting and which I mentioned in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), indicate that the whole Government are committed to the equalities agenda and that we are increasingly mainstreaming our efforts in that regard.