Throughout the spending review process, the Treasury looked closely at the impact that decisions might have on different groups. We published “Overview of the impact of Spending Review 2010 on equalities” on 20 October, alongside the spending review document. Departments will consider the impact on equalities of decisions that are made as a result of the spending review, in the light of their legal obligations. On the day of the spending review, the decision to publish that document was welcomed by, among others, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The Chief Secretary will recall that the document said that it
“would not…be meaningful to assess the impact”
on gender of the reductions in employment “at this stage”. Given that women’s unemployment exceeds 1 million and is at its highest level since 1988, when will the Government apologise to women for making them bear the brunt of their economic policies?
I do not accept that analysis. For the sake of completeness, the hon. Lady should recognise that the Government are cleaning up a mess left by the previous Government. If she is interested in the impact on women, she should consider the pay freeze that we have imposed in the public sector, which will protect jobs, and women’s jobs in particular. It is also of benefit to women that we are allowing pay rises for people earning less than £21,000, a disproportionate number of whom are female. For the sake of completeness, she should consider those facts.
Will the Chief Secretary join me in explaining to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) that the Government’s policies will reduce inequalities between men and women, particularly given our more flexible approach for part-time workers? Will he reduce other inequalities, such as in spending in rural and urban areas, and ensure that the balance is restored in favour of rural constituencies, such as his and mine?
The hon. Lady has made some important points. Throughout this process we will have regard to the impact that spending decisions have on different groups, including people who live in rural areas, and in particular the most disadvantaged. Our investment in early years education and the pupil premium are important to ensure that the most disadvantaged have the better life chances that we all want them to have.
Does the Chief Secretary accept the independent analysis that the poorest 10% of people will suffer 15 times more than the richest as a result of the Government’s spending decisions? With women and children being hit the hardest, support for people with disabilities being cut, and the Business Secretary suggesting that the winter fuel allowance is being lined up for the axe, no wonder there is growing public anger about big corporations and wealthy individuals seeming to be able to get away without paying tax altogether. What will he do to restore a sense of fairness and justice to the economic system?
I think that the hon. Lady was trying to get every subject into one question before Christmas. I do not accept the analysis that she offers. She should study more carefully the analysis in the spending review, which took into account the impact of taxation, spending reductions and welfare changes. It showed that as a share of people’s income, and taking account of benefits in kind from the state, people in the wealthiest quintile make a greater contribution to deficit reduction than the poorest. That is in keeping with the Government’s stated ambition of carrying through the unavoidable deficit reduction plan, which is necessary because of the mess that the previous Government left, in a way that is fair and supports economic growth.