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Fiscal Policy

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 12 February 2009

5. If he will take steps to ensure that his Department’s fiscal policy prevents women from being disproportionately affected by the recession. (256286)

We believe that it is right to try to support everyone through the difficult times, and that includes looking at the different impact of problems on women and men through the recession. The £60 pensioners’ increase in January and the bringing forward of child benefit will particularly help women and families.

Like many seaside resorts, my constituency has an above-average number of women in employment. Sadly, a high proportion of them are the main breadwinner. That is why this is an important issue for my constituency. The TUC has said that “creative means” will be required to protect women’s jobs and to increase the opportunities for new vacancies. What creative means does the Minister have planned to ensure that jobs for women are protected or created?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we want to support jobs, and people, through this. That includes, for example, the fiscal stimulus—cutting VAT and putting billions of pounds into the economy to help us through. Had that been done by the then Government in the early ’90s, it could have helped to protect 300,000 jobs. The fiscal stimulus is hugely important, as recognised by Governments across the world. It is about helping to support jobs, and it is unfortunate that other parties have not supported it.

In looking at reports suggesting that the recession has impacted particularly on women’s employment, is my right hon. Friend concerned about the very many women who work, often part time, on the front line in the financial services industry and who do not get bonuses and are on modest salaries? I speak as a woman who has sat through many hours listening to male bankers talking about the crisis that they precipitated, so does she agree that a bit more diversity on the boards of these banks might actually help to improve the quality of the decision taking?

My hon. Friend is right. Investigations have been launched, as she will know, to look at issues around diversity in the City and the way in which men and women have been paid, including bonuses, in the financial services industry. It is also, I think, important to recognise that there may be differences in the impact on employment. So far, unemployment over the past 12 months has increased by less for women than for men at the national level, but there are very wide variations at the regional level. My hon. Friend is also right to highlight the importance of looking at part-time employment. It is also the case that the tax credit system might help some people who see a cut in their wages, for example, as it can help to cushion them from the impact of what might otherwise be difficult circumstances.

I received an e-mail on this issue this morning from a constituent who strongly suggested that the bonus culture in some financial institutions—I do not mean at the top, but much lower down—has an inherent tendency to discriminate against women who, as a result, tend to suffer from lower pay and are more likely to be chosen for redundancy. In looking at the bonus culture, will my right hon. Friend ensure that we focus not just on what happens at the top but on how it works down throughout these organisations? Changing the boards in the way my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) suggested might provide a way of ensuring that this matter is taken seriously by the banks and other financial institutions.

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about the way in which performance-related pay or different bonuses may be decided on and raises questions about whether there might be discrimination or unfairness as those decisions are taken. It is thus right that, in addition to looking at how to prevent an unfair bonus culture that overly rewards excessive risk across the financial sector, we should also look at whether any discrimination is taking place. My hon. Friend may be aware that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality has instigated work in this area.