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Women and Equality

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 25 June 2009

The Minister for Women and Equality was asked—

Gender Pay Gap

1. On what criteria her most recent estimate of the gender pay gap in the (a) public and (b) private sector is based. (282089)

4. On what criteria her most recent estimate of the gender pay gap in the (a) public and (b) private sector is based. (282092)

The criteria used for estimating the gender pay gap are the same for the public and private sectors. The estimate uses data published by the Office for National Statistics that show that the median hourly gender pay gap for all workers, both full and part-time, is 28.3 per cent. in the private sector and 22 per cent. in the public sector.

I am concerned that the Government continue to set such a poor example with their own staff. The Financial Times has obtained unpublished figures from the ONS showing gender pay gaps within the same grade of 12.5 per cent. in the Ministry of Defence and 19.5 per cent. in the Met Office. Can the Government not do better with their own staff?

I served with the hon. Gentleman on the Work and Pensions Committee and I know that he cares about low pay, but he needs to change his party urgently. The Tories voted against the Equality Bill on Second Reading, even though it will bring in help regarding unequal pay on a gender basis. Moreover, they have just voted in Committee against business even being asked to disclose pay figures that would make the pay gap transparent, and thus exert pressure on firms to press for equality for women. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is a siren voice, and a lone one, from the Tory Benches. I am very glad to say that this afternoon the BBC will publish pay figures for its top 100 executives—

The Minister is simply not answering the question. She has not gone into any detail about the criteria involved, and I should have thought that the Government would have more influence on pay disparity in the public sector. Will she accept my party’s suggestion that every secondary school in the country should have a dedicated and professional careers adviser?

Another forlorn and futile gesture from the Tory party. We will make progress in the public sector through the Equality Bill and the regulations on disclosure that it will put in place, which the hon. Gentleman’s party voted against. In Committee, his party has systematically voted against all the provisions that would help to improve equal pay in both the public and private sectors—a particular pity, since poverty academics are now clear that the most important step to eliminate child poverty is to bring in equal pay for women, but clearly the Tories do not care about that either.

But is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the largest pay gap in Britain is in the financial services sector, where full-time women are paid 55 per cent. less than full-time men, and part-timers 39 per cent. less? As we own many of the banks responsible for that poor pay, what can the Government do?

My hon. Friend is right. The reason she is able to quote those figures is that the Government asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to look into the appalling pay inequity in that sector and make recommendations for the way forward. Let me assure her that when we get the Equality Bill through Committee, despite the best efforts of the Tories to block it, there will be an impact in that sector, too.

I think we have just heard a quick claim from the Opposition to put up the pay of public sector workers. In areas such as mine in Aberdeen, men generally work in the private sector in the oil and gas industries with very high wages, while women work in the public sector for much lower wages. That is why we have a gender pay gap whereby women earn only two thirds of what men earn.

My hon. Friend again makes clear how little concern there is among the Opposition about equal pay for women. We will make an analysis this very afternoon of the BBC’s top 100 executive salaries to see where the gender pay gap is there. Transparency is hugely important—it is a pity the Tories do not understand that.

The hon. and learned Lady really knows better than that. She knows perfectly well that in Committee, we made it very clear that we recognise there is a real problem. The argument is over the solutions. The Office for National Statistics made it clear that the gender pay gap is 12.8 per cent. The Government’s proposals in clause 73 of the Equality Bill, which we opposed because we think they will not analyse the problem, will tackle only direct and indirect discrimination. How much of the 12.8 per cent. pay gap does the Minister think is accounted for by direct and indirect discrimination? The Equal Opportunities Commission research suggests less than 5 per cent.

The pay gap is 28.3 per cent. in the private sector and 22 per cent. in the public sector. The Tory figures leave out part-time workers. The Tories do that all the time, clearly thinking that part-time workers are a separate breed of second-class citizens, as they are mostly women. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) made a long speech in Committee asserting that discrimination was a very minor reason for unequal pay, which is not what most trade unionists and others in the field believe. Even he did not say there was no discriminatory unequal pay, yet the Tories voted against the very measure that would tackle it.

Although we disagree on mandatory and voluntary pay audits, if we are to have voluntary pay gender information and it has not worked by 2013—because the matrix has not worked or whatever—what threshold will the Minister be looking at to determine whether the scheme has not worked? What percentage of companies will need to have voluntarily displayed at that point?

That is a really good question. As the hon. Lady knows, the commission, the TUC, the CBI and other employer and employee organisations will be working on what we should measure. They will also report annually on how the work is progressing. Part of their consideration now will be exactly how we should measure that progress.

Female Entrepreneurs

The Government recognise the vital contribution that women entrepreneurs are making in building our economy. Women-led businesses contribute £45 billion to the UK economy. Women can get advice and support through the Business Link network. In addition, we are funding a network of women’s enterprise ambassadors to inspire more women to start their own business, and piloting women’s business centres that provide specific business advice.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that many female entrepreneurs employ agency workers? Such workers very often enjoy their flexibility and, indeed, are well paid. They are very concerned about the EU agency workers directive, so can the Minister confirm that the Government are still broadly sceptical about the directive and that they will ensure proper and full consultation?

I commend the hon. Gentleman for the particular interest he has shown in this matter over a number of months. He is right that consultation on the directive is ongoing—it closes on 31 July. Those who wish to have an input into our response may do so in Exeter, Birmingham, Glasgow and London over the next month or so. We intend to ensure that flexibility still remains for agency workers while protecting their rights, which is another important consideration.

I think my hon. Friend would agree that a lot of people are forced into becoming an agency worker. It was clear that the people who lost their jobs at the Mini factory in Oxfordshire had no rights and no way of defending themselves, and the reason why they could be sacked overnight was that they were forced into agency working. The fact is that that is not a way forward or a solution that we should support.

I agree that some people do not choose to be agency workers but have that chosen for them. The directive and our policy are driven by a desire to ensure not only flexibility but fairness. Protection in employment is just as important as flexibility. The trick is to get the balance right, and we intend to do that.

Age Discrimination

We recently received representations on age discrimination against children aged under 18 from organisations including Young Equals, 11 Million, the Association of School and College Leaders and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We have also discussed the issue with children’s groups, including at the Government Equalities Office senior stakeholder group, and the Equality and Diversity Forum.

I am glad that the Minister mentions Young Equals and I am sure he has read its excellent report, “Making the case”, which details harmful age discrimination against young people, so how can the Government justify ignoring that evidence and excluding under-18s from protections in the Equality Bill?[Official Report, 29 June 2009, Vol. 495, c. 1-2MC.]

We all agree that young people deserve the best possible start in life, but the most appropriate and effective way to deliver better opportunities and services for our young people is through targeted initiatives, which is why, in January, we announced an extra 350,000 apprenticeship places, half of which we expect to go to 16 to 18-year-olds. It is also why we are investing £225 million over three years to support local communities. We need to support vulnerable young people who become homeless. Such targeted initiatives will have the greatest effect for the benefit of young people.

The Equality Bill is a great piece of legislation, but it would be even better if under-18s were included. The Young Equals campaign has been mentioned, and young people are saying powerfully that they feel discriminated against and excluded. Is there any way in which we can make them feel part of the Bill?

As my hon. Friend suggests, most of the arguments in favour of extending age provisions to under-18s seem to arise due to negative attitudes and opinions about young people and mistrust of them. It is important that that be dealt with, but attitudes alone are not the basis of discrimination under the Bill, so we would not solve the problem simply by including under-18s in its measures.

Equality Bill

5. What recent representations she has received on the provisions of the Equality Bill affecting provision of goods and services on the basis of age. (282093)

We recently received representations on the Equality Bill’s provisions on age discrimination from Age Concern, Help the Aged, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Association of British Insurers, Saga and Kingfisher. We have held extensive discussions with a wide range of stakeholders to inform our work on a consultation document to be issued shortly.

A number of my constituents who are pensioners are either regularly refused insurance, or obliged to pay larger premiums because of their age. Given that the Bill is intended to go against any form of discrimination, including age discrimination, will the Minister give an assessment of how existing legislation is working regarding insurance for elderly people?

Of course, there is not a ban on age discrimination in the delivery of goods, facilities and services at present. The new Bill will be fed by the consultation. If discrimination is actuarially justified, it will not be age discrimination—it will operate on a different basis. At the moment, there is no need for any supplier to decide whether there is justification, but now they will have to make such decisions. The consultation document will come out very shortly, and it will help us to sculpt this so that we get all the bad things out and put all the good things in. I hope the hon. Gentleman will contribute to that document.

Gender Pay Gap

7. What recent discussions she has had on the extent of the gender pay gap for those in full-time and part-time work. (282095)

I am grateful for that answer. Does my hon. Friend agree with the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who has said that the Equal Pay Act 1970 is

“no longer fit for purpose”,

and does my hon. Friend agree that we need to look afresh at what modern equal pay legislation should look like? We should head off problems in the first instance, and not wait until they reach tribunal stage.

Indeed, and that is why the Equality Bill will ensure that provisions are made to monitor equal pay and make a difference for the future.

Equality Bill

8. What representations she has received on the provisions in the Equality Bill on provision of goods and services on the basis of age. (282096)

I thank the Minister for that answer, but it is not only older people who are encompassed in the problem. Very young drivers are a high-risk group, and the insurance industry needs assurances that it will be able to undertake proper risk assessment and make sure that its insurance premiums reflect that additional risk.

It is clear that there is discrimination against older people in particular, but of course, before any regulations are made, the industry will be properly consulted; that, indeed, is the purpose of the Government’s proposals.