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Volume 556: debated on Thursday 10 January 2013

The Government are committed to reducing the pay gap and guaranteeing equal pay for women. The latest figure, based on median earnings, shows that the pay gap continues to narrow and currently stands at 19.7% for all employees, but there is, of course, much more to be done, because the existence of a pay gap is unacceptable.

We are making good progress with “Think, Act, Report”, which promotes gender equality and transparency. More than 60 major companies have signed up to it, representing more than 1.2 million people and more than 11% of the target work force.

What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on the retirement incomes of low-paid women of excluding all those who earn less than £9,440 a year from the new workplace pensions? Does she realise that 1 million people who could be saving for the future are being left out in the cold, and that 77% of them are women?

Saving for pensions is very important. That is why the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), has been promoting workplace pensions. We are introducing the system gradually, because suddenly having to pay money into their pensions that they have not previously had to pay could have a real impact on people’s current incomes, but our plan is, over time, to ensure that everyone saves for a pension.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the introduction of shared parental leave will lead to more equality in the workplace, including equality in incomes? Men will be encouraged to take a greater share of child care, which will allow women to return to work earlier if they wish to do so.

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Shared parental leave is crucial in not just enabling families to share the care of their children in a way that works for them, but dealing with some of the inequalities which, sadly, persist in the workplace. We know, for example, that maternity discrimination still goes on. One of the positive side-effects of shared parental leave will be the reduction of incentives for employers who have been tempted to break the law, and who may now decide that that is not a sensible thing to do.