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Women and Equalities

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 5 May 2011

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Hate Crime

Hate crime is an issue that the Government take extremely seriously. Until recently, many crimes were not recorded centrally, making it difficult to assess trends. That is why the coalition programme for government included a commitment to better recording of hate crime against disabled, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Police forces started formally collecting the relevant data in April, and from the summer of 2012 we will have the complete picture of statistics, which will show the pattern of local trends in hate crime and help the police to target their resources more effectively.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response. I wonder whether she could say what the Government intend to do about the under-reporting of hate crime, which is a big issue.

Yes, there is significant under-reporting. One of the actions that the Government have been taking is to work with key voluntary sector partners to encourage greater reporting. That includes, for example, the development of third-party reporting centres, because a great number of people do not report hate crime as they believe that it is not serious enough and they do not want to go directly to the police. Third-party centres will be able to pass reports on to the police.

On the Minister’s last point, I agree with her that there is a serious problem of under-reporting. Last year 11,000 racist or homophobic hate crimes were reported; I suspect that many thousands more were not. Will she talk to the Metropolitan police about increasing its resources specifically for an advertising campaign to report hate crime, so that young people in schools and in communities that do not normally associate with the police are made aware that they can get help, relief and justice for hate crimes committed in this city?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the importance of getting that message out. I am happy to talk with the Metropolitan police, as there is indeed a great deal of under-reporting. There are certain sectors that lack knowledge or understanding of how or where to make reports. The police have set up a website called True Vision—just google “hate crime” and “how to report”—because the internet makes hate crime much easier to report where there is that lack of accessibility.

Disabled People (Equality)

2. What recent steps she has taken to advance equality for people with disabilities; and if she will make a statement. (54181)

Most of the Equality Act 2010 came into force last October. It contains additional protections for disabled people, providing a strong framework for equality. However, this issue is not just about legislation; it is about improving attitudes too. We are addressing it through, for example, our work on the 2012 games legacy commitment, the introduction of the right to control and proposals for additional support for disabled people who want to take up elected office, as well as by removing the barriers that disabled people, including veterans, face in accessing the services and support that they need.

The hon. Lady will therefore be aware of the disabilities faced by many veterans, both young and old. Can she tell the House what discussions she has had with the veterans Minister about ensuring that those brave men and women are not put at any disadvantage because of disabilities that are the result of their service to this country?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a long-standing interest in this issue, and he is not afraid to speak out on it. We recognise the problems that veterans and their families face. That is why we have set up a covenant taskforce to find innovative solutions to the problems facing former service personnel and their families. That, coupled with the existing benefits available for veterans—including the war pensions scheme and the armed forces compensation scheme, as well as those benefits that are available to the broader public—will help in recognising what he rightly says is the great debt of gratitude that we owe to that important group of people.

Is it not an absolute farce that the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is given taxpayers’ money to go round lecturing the rest of the country about equal pay for people with disabilities, itself pays non-disabled people more than people with disabilities?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. It is vital that disabled people have a level playing field when it comes to pay and conditions, and I am sure that we will want to look into the point that he has raised.

The Minister will be aware that, next week, members of the hardest hit coalition will be lobbying their MPs. Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of the disability charity Scope, has said:

“The government has not delivered on its promise to support disabled people into work, penalising those on ESA and jobseekers’ allowance who have worked and paid national insurance in the past and who now cannot rely on getting the support they need when they need it, in an increasingly difficult employment market. Disabled people and their families do not have ‘broad shoulders’, so why are they bearing the brunt of these cuts?”

Does she think that cutting the support to help disabled people to find work will promote equality for disabled people?

I think I need to take issue with the hon. Lady’s statement about the number of disabled people who are getting into work. More people now have access to schemes such as access to work, which provides invaluable support for disabled people to get into employment, and the Government have already launched the Work Choice programme, which gives specific support to severely disabled people. That, coupled with the work by the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on the Work programme, represents an admirable package of support for disabled people, although we will of course strive to do better.

Civil Partnership

Earlier this year, we announced our intention to remove the ban in England and Wales on civil partnership registrations being held on religious premises. A consultation document seeking views on the practical changes needed to implement that provision was published on 31 March. We believe that this voluntary provision is a positive step forward for same-sex couples and for religious freedom.

Does the Minister agree that, when it comes to equality before the law, there can be no such thing as “almost equal”? Bearing that in mind, what further steps will the Government take to end the inequality in marriage and civil partnership rights between straight and homosexual couples?

Yes, I agree that “equal rights” means “equal rights”, not “similar rights” or “nearly but not quite as good” rights. Having listened to stakeholders, it is clear that there is a genuine desire among many of them to move forward to equality between marriage and civil partnerships. Over the summer we shall start a discussion with all those with an interest in the matter on how legislation can develop.

New Businesses

The Government are committed to increasing the number of women and men setting up businesses. If women set up businesses at the same rate as men in the UK, we would have 150,000 new business start-ups each year. We are encouraging the establishment of small businesses through excellent initiatives such as the new enterprise allowance, which will provide mentors and financial support to help the unemployed to become self-employed.

A constituent of mine has told me that she has built up a successful small business, working round her caring responsibilities over a number of years, but that she found the step to taking on an employee very daunting, given the complexity of regulation and legislation involved. Is there more that we can do to help people in that situation?

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point about the benefits and flexibility for women of establishing a business or being self-employed. She also makes an important point about getting rid of red tape and bureaucracy, which are barriers to people who are either growing their businesses or setting them up in the first place. That is why the Government have launched the red tape website, which enables people to challenge regulations. The Equality Act 2010 appears on the website. It is not the Government’s intention to abolish the Equality Act. We are putting it in place, but we want to hear from businesses how we can do regulation better to ensure that they can improve their businesses and employ more people.

I know that the right hon. Lady shares my concern about the lack of women at the top of business. Will she do as Lord Davies recommended, and insist that companies disclose annually how many women are on their boards in senior executive positions, and how many women are employed throughout the whole organisation?

I am grateful to Lord Davies for his report and his excellent proposals. We are working with business to ensure that that will be done, particularly encouraging larger businesses to set the trend so that it can then cascade down to others. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary to ask how we can get the same message out to private as well as public sector companies. I am pleased to say that the Home Office is setting a good example in that of the four non-executive directors on its supervisory board, two are female.

Does the Minister agree that better, bolder and more ambitious career advice for our girls when they are at school and university could help bring on more female entrepreneurs?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. It is necessary to look at the career advice given to girls to ensure that they are aware of all the opportunities open to them. That will help to increase their ambition about the sort of careers they can go for, and it is also important in respect of equal pay to let them know the financial consequences of the career decisions they make.

The right hon. Lady will know that the regional development agencies did some excellent work across the country, helping women to support and start their own businesses, but those agencies are now being abolished. Women and small businesses are also being hit by the cuts to child care tax credits, cuts to Sure Start places and child benefit, while a Netmums survey found that one in five mums say they will have to give up work as a result of what is happening to the child care tax credits alone; many are extremely angry as a result. Women are also being hit twice as hard by the Government’s tax and benefit changes. Has she raised these concerns and this anger from women with the Prime Minister—or did he just tell her to “calm down, dear”, too?

On that last comment, I have no intention of suggesting that the right hon. Lady should calm down on this matter. She makes a point about what the Prime Minister said, but when I heard it, I immediately thought of Michael Winner. Sometimes I just think Opposition Members need to get a bit of a sense of humour. On the issue of women and the regional development agencies, we are abolishing the latter for extremely good reasons and putting in place local enterprise partnerships, which will ensure that opportunities are opened up for all businesses at local level. Through initiatives such as the desire to extend the right to flexible working and flexible parental leave, we are going a great deal further than the last Government in ensuring that there are opportunities for women in the workplace.


The Government’s aim is to achieve lasting growth in employment by tackling the deficit that we inherited from the last Labour Government, improving the competitiveness of the economy and encouraging the growth of new business. We aim to ensure that women are well placed to take advantage of the jobs created by a successful economy through universal credit and the Work programme. We are also reforming the welfare system to ensure that work pays and that women are provided with the support they need to fulfil their potential.

Let us see whether we can get an answer to the question asked earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). Does the Minister believe that cutting the child care element of the working tax credit will make it easier or harder for women to gain employment and stay at work?

The hon. Lady will be aware of the decision by her Government to increase the child care element of the tax credit from 70% to 80% in April 2006. What is now clear to everybody is that that was a decision this country could not afford. We have already made it clear that with the universal credit, we have an opportunity to ensure that child care support gets to those who need it most. We will invest at least the same amount of money in child care as under the current system and we will aim to provide support for those making their first moves into work. I am sure that the hon. Lady, like me, wants to ensure that women who have taken time out to have a family can have access to child care to get back into work, if working fewer than 16 hours. I am sure she would like to support that.

Does the Minister recognise that decisions made by local councils such as the Tory one in Derby to close Sure Start projects is another example of where women are losing out and finding their opportunities for employment much diminished?

Like the right hon. Lady, I am a huge supporter of Sure Start. The Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), has ensured that funds are available to maintain the network of Sure Start centres. That is certainly happening in my county of Hampshire, where savings are being made in the management structures behind the front-line services, and I urge all councils to take a similar approach.

State Pensions

8. What recent assessment she has made of the potential effect on women of the proposal to introduce a flat-rate state pension. (54187)

9. What recent assessment she has made of the potential effect on women of the proposal to introduce a flat-rate state pension. (54188)

We are consulting on two options for reform to make the state pension system simpler and fairer for those—including many women—who have historically experienced poor pension outcomes. We will publish a full assessment of impacts when more detailed proposals for reform are published.

Many of my constituents, particularly female constituents, have raised concerns about the proposals. Will the Minister explain how the funding has been planned?

We are spending the budget that was already planned for state pension expenditure in what we consider to be a better way. There will be a simpler system, which will reward saving and be fairer to women in particular. Some of those with the highest earnings who would have received higher earnings-related pensions will ultimately receive smaller pensions than they would have otherwise, but we think that the system will be fairer and simpler.

I too have received correspondence from several constituents about the proposed changes in the state retirement age. What assurances can the Minister give that their concerns will be listened to, and that the Government will take all possible steps to ensure that women are not disadvantaged?

We are already listening to representations. Although more rapid equalisation inevitably affects women more than men, it affects men as well through the impact on the state pension credit age. However, I can encourage the hon. Gentleman by telling him that the new single state pension, if we proceed with it, will be of particular benefit to women, including those affected by the change in the state pension age.

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the question of fairness. However, people are living longer, and in a state pension system in which no money is put aside to pay for pensions, someone must find that money. We do not believe that it would be fair for all the cost to fall on today’s workers and today’s firms. There is a balance to be struck.

Pensions (Gender-Reassigned Women)

10. What discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on the payment of pensions to gender-reassigned women. (54189)

In order to meet our obligations under European Union law, a specialist team is being set up to determine equal treatment claims in line with the Court of Appeal’s decision on the payment of pensions to gender-reassigned women.

The Minister will be well aware of the case of my constituent Bernadette Rogers, who, with the help of both her former and her current Member of Parliament, has been fighting the anomaly in the system for quite a long time. Will he agree to meet me, and her, to try to sort the problem out once and for all?

My hon. Friend and his predecessor, Lord Boswell, have been very assiduous in taking up the case of Bernadette Rogers. I discussed her case with officials earlier this week.

I am always happy to meet hon. Friends, but we believe that we can resolve Ms Rogers’s case in the very near future. I will write to my hon. Friend shortly giving the final details of how that is done, and if he and Ms Rogers are not happy with that response, I shall be happy to meet him at that point.