Skip to main content

Women and Equalities

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 28 June 2012

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Welfare Reform (Disabled People)

2. What assessment she has made of the cumulative effect of welfare reform legislation on disabled people. (114068)

5. What assessment she has made of the cumulative effect of welfare reform legislation on disabled people. (114072)

The Government consult fully with stakeholders on the impact of policy changes and produce robust equality impact assessments, as required by the Equality Act 2010 and its predecessor, the Equality Act 2006.

I am sure the Minister will be aware of Scope’s recently published report, which labels the Government’s impact assessments as wholly inappropriate when applied to one reform at a time. Does she accept that, unless the impact of welfare reform is considered cumulatively, the human cost of her Government’s austerity measures will be completely overlooked?

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but she knows that neither the Institute for Fiscal Studies nor the Treasury have a methodology to assess such impacts in the way she describes, but I remind her that we have impact assessments and equality assessments for every policy in order to ensure that all the changes that we make benefit the people whom we are trying to support.

The Government’s Welfare Reform Act 2012 will force families to make children with disabilities share a bedroom with their siblings, regardless of the difficulties and disruption that that may cause. Will the Minister prevail upon colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to look again at the issue before the 2012 Act is fully implemented, to show some compassion and to let disabled children have a bedroom of their own, where necessary, instead of wasting Government money pursuing a case in the Supreme Court on the issue?

The hon. Lady is right to make sure that we have the right provision to support families in our communities, particularly those with disabled people, and that is why we have made sure that local budgets and funding are available to local authorities so that they can make such discretionary payments. Every family situation is different, and we need to take those differences into account.

Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether a care component will be built into universal credit, whether it will be subject to work conditionality, whether carer’s allowance will be assessed within universal credit, and whether households in receipt of disability living allowance and personal independence payment will be subject to the benefits cap?

My hon. Friend got a lot of detail into that question, and he will know that we have looked at the issue very carefully. Disability living allowance will not be included in the benefit cap, and importantly we intend to raise the equivalent in universal credit of employment and support allowance from £32.25 today to about £77 in future, ensuring that it includes more support for those who cannot go to work.

9. When disabled people are wrongly found fit for work, it causes a great deal of distress, and of course it is costly to have unnecessary appeals. So the falling rate of successful work capability assessment appeals is welcome and shows some improvement, but three out of 10 being wrongly found fit for work is still too high a figure. What more can the Government do to improve the process, particularly in terms of applying sanctions to Atos when it gets an assessment wrong, so that we can get more decisions right first time? (114076)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to want to drive through more good decision making in that process, and we are doing so across the board by working with Atos to make sure that it adheres to the contracts we have with it, and through the changes that we are making as a result of the Harrington reports, but importantly mandatory reconsideration, which begins in April 2013 for all decisions on benefits, will ensure that more decisions are right first time.

The Government say that their welfare reforms are intended to enable more disabled people to get into work, but a case has been raised with us about a young man who is a wheelchair user, had been desperate to work, found a job but had to turn it down because he would have needed to move and could not find affordable adapted housing. Why are the Government delaying the reasonable adjustment provisions that would help such people to work?

The hon. Lady will know that we have a broad range of support available for people such as the gentleman she refers to through the access to work scheme, for which we are increasing funding by about £15 million over the spending review period, and through local housing payments, such as the one I referred to in a previous answer, in order to ensure that local authorities have the flexibility to support such individuals, so that they can get into work and stay in work.

Will my hon. Friend commend the work of disabled people’s user-led organisations, particularly the Outlook centre in Long Eaton in my constituency, which I visited last week? The parent of a service user told me that they were doing a passport renewal form for their daughter and were not happy about having to complete the children’s section of the form for her because, although she is 40 years old, she has learning difficulties. They felt that this was inappropriate. Will my hon. Friend kindly look into the matter?

We can of course look into the detail of the point that my hon. Friend raises. She is absolutely right also to highlight the very valuable work of user-led organisations such as the Outlook centre, which can provide bespoke support for families who are dealing with benefit claims or other issues to do with their loved ones’ lives. That is why we have launched a significant programme to try to expand and support more user-led organisations up and down the country in doing similar work in all our communities.

Default Retirement Age

The Government’s impact assessment estimates that after one year about 6,000 people will have continued in work as a result of removing the DRA—in other words, between 4% and 7% of employees aged 65 or over.

Does my hon. Friend agree that older workers enable knowledge and skills to be transferred from one generation to the next, and that putting a “best before” date on workers was unacceptable discrimination that this Government have justly got rid of?

My hon. Friend is right. One of the lasting legacies of this coalition will be that, after years of its being talked about, we finally abolished age discrimination in the workplace. To give him an example, research has found that McDonald’s restaurants that employ people over 60 have, on average, far higher customer satisfaction than those that do not.

Is the Minister aware that the experiences of men and women who work beyond retirement age are very different? Nearly two thirds of those who work beyond retirement age are women, and of those most—nearly two thirds—work in lower-skilled jobs, whereas, in contrast, the smaller group of men are working in higher-skilled jobs. What is he going to do about dealing with the poverty of women in old age?

The hon. Lady is right. Successive Governments have failed to deliver an adequate pension to women. That is why we are reforming the state pension, as the Prime Minister confirmed on Monday, to deliver a pension that is simple, decent and, in particular, treats women fairly for the first time.

Forced Marriage

6. What steps she has taken to ensure that the criminalisation of forced marriage does not discourage victims from bringing complaints forward. (114073)

Forced marriage is a hidden problem, and criminalising this abhorrent act will give victims the option of seeking the toughest form of justice. To ensure that victims and others are not discouraged from coming forward, civil remedies will remain available to them. We are also providing a package of support to ensure that victims know what help is available, and we are better equipping practitioners to deal with cases of forced marriage more effectively.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. However, victims will clearly be intimidated in reporting family members who are committing these crimes. What more can be done to encourage other family members and potential witnesses to report the crimes, and what more can she do to raise awareness that this practice will not be tolerated?

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. We have retained the twin-track approach of the criminalised route or the civil remedy route precisely because of a concern about those who may not want to report people because of the criminalisation aspect. Raising awareness is incredibly important. That is why we are putting in place a support package, working with practitioners to help them to identify the signs that somebody might be about to be taken away for a forced marriage. We are also going to run a summer awareness campaign aimed at young people so that they understand the signs as regards not only something that might happen to themselves but what is happening to their friends, and are more willing to come forward.

Black and Minority Ethnic Communities

7. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of recent labour market trends on black and minority ethnic communities. (114074)

Tackling unemployment is a priority for this Government. Our approach is to support people according to their individual needs and circumstances rather than segregate them according to ethnicity. That is why we have introduced personalised support through the Work programme, the youth contract, and the Get Britain Working measures. The significantly increased flexibility that we have given to providers and Jobcentre Plus means that interventions can be tailored to address an individual’s specific needs.

Given, however, that 44.4% of economically active 16 to 24-year-old black people are without work, compared with just 20% of white people, is not this policy not working?

The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of the number of young black men who are out of work. However, the recent press coverage gave inaccurate figures. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that less than a third of black men aged 18 to 24 are unemployed. The Government recognise that that figure is still too high, which is why we have introduced tailored and personalised support to help people get back into the labour market.

The whole House recognises the difficulty of getting certain groups of people into work. Does the Minister agree that payment by results is the way to ensure that the right level of resources is targeted at those who are hardest to help?

My hon. Friend highlights exactly the right point. Work programme providers are encouraged by payment by results, which means that when a young black man comes in, the providers will not get paid unless they remove the barriers that are prohibiting him from getting work, whether through education, training, skills or whatever else.

Is not the fact that young black men are still being hit hardest of all by the Government’s economic failure? Should not the Equalities Minister commit to publishing a full audit of what is happening to young men from different BME backgrounds and the impact that that is having? The latest figures show that unemployment among young white men has gone up by three percentage points since the election, and among young black men by 14 percentage points. There is currently no targeted support for young black men in getting apprenticeships, and the Work programme clearly is not working. Faced with this growing crisis, will Ministers now take serious action to provide the support for jobs and opportunities that young people from all backgrounds need, and consider a bankers’ bonus tax so that they can do so?

The Work programme introduces the conditions that will get young black men into work. That is something that never happened under the Labour Government. The number of people from ethnic minorities who are in work is up by 179,000 compared with 2010. Moreover, on the issue of BME apprenticeships, which the right hon. Lady raised, 2010-11 saw the highest ever percentage of BME apprentices start their training. The labour market trend for the number of people starting apprenticeships has gone up significantly in recent years, from 167,000 in 2003 to 457,200 in 2010-11. We are doing what Labour failed to do.

8. What recent discussions she has had with her ministerial colleagues on unemployment levels in black and minority ethnic communities. (114075)

Following on from what has been said, black and ethnic minority people seem to figure higher in the unemployment figures in Scotland. Has any of the Ministers present discussed this matter with any Minister in the Scottish Government?

We work closely with the Scottish Government on this issue. As I said, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I have given. We have put in place a Work programme that will deliver results; Labour never did.