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Women and Equalities

Volume 602: debated on Thursday 26 November 2015

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Gender Pay Gap

1. What steps the Government are taking to tackle the gender pay gap; and if she will make a statement. (902379)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I could not be clearer: we want to consign the gender pay gap to the history books. We are therefore introducing new regulations that will require larger employers to publish their gender pay gap information. That will encourage companies to take action and to drive change on this important issue. Transparency is important, and we also want to tackle the underlying causes of the gap, which is why I want to see girls entering the broadest range of careers and reaching the top of their professions.

Will the Secretary of State, who I know cares about this issue, symbolically forgo her salary from 9 November until the end of the calendar year so that she knows from personal experience what it feels like to do the work of a male colleague but for 20% less salary? Does she not think that all Governments have failed in this field, and that now is the time not to have declarations about change over a generation, but to seize the legislative agenda, for which she would have massive support across the House, finally to bring pay equality to women in our country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question, but I am not interested in tokenistic gestures. He can give up his salary if he feels so strongly about it and wants to make a statement. The important thing is that this Government are taking action on the issue, which his party did not do in 13 years of government. He is right to say that the matter now needs to be tackled by legislation, and the Government will publish regulations shortly to make that happen.

Women over 40 endure the biggest gender pay gap. What specific policies does the Minister have to address that problem?

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for her question, and I know her Committee will be considering this area. She may be interested to know that figures published earlier this month show a 1.6 percentage point drop in the gender pay gap for women aged between 40 and 49, and that is repeated in the over-50s and the over-60s. She is absolutely right to say that this matter needs to be tackled. I have mentioned the regulations, which will provide the necessary transparency. We are also doing a lot of work on how we can help women to juggle caring responsibilities, which come when they are older. Of course they can also request flexible working as introduced by this Government.

At the gender gap presentation the other evening we heard how gender diversity must not be an add-on to another role, and yet it seems that, as Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Lady has had her role added on. What action will she take to ensure that there is someone dedicated to the task in every Department to get rid of the gender gap?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was a Member of this House in the last Parliament when I was Minister for Women and Equalities. I was delighted to take the role with me into this Parliament. In fact, I have been Minister for Women and Equalities longer than I have been Secretary of State for Education. It is a role about which I feel passionate. Just by looking at the array of Ministers on the Front Bench today, he will see that this Government take very seriously their equalities responsibilities. Whether we are talking about the gender pay gap or any other matter, those responsibilities run right the way through all the Departments in this Government.

Will the Minister put in the Library the gender pay gap of all Government Departments and all Government quangos, because an awful lot of Government quangos have a gender pay gap? Perhaps the Government should sort out their own house first, before they go round lecturing everyone else.

The hon. Gentleman tempts me very much. He might be interested to know that the overall gender pay gap for all civil service employees fell from 13.6% in 2014 to 12.8% in March 2014. The gender pay gap in the Department for Education is 9% and it is 11% in the Ministry of Justice. The regulations that we are publishing will also apply to the public sector. As that information is public, I would be very happy to write to him with it.

According to figures published last week in the annual survey of hours and earnings, the gender pay gap in the UK fell by 0.8 percentage points to 9.5%. However, in Scotland, the gap dropped by 1.8 percentage points to 7.5%. Will the Minister learn lessons from the action taken by the Scottish Government who are cutting the gender pay gap further and faster?

The hon. Lady is right to say that the gender pay gap in Scotland is lower, and that is why I was delighted to visit Scotland recently to meet counterparts in the Scottish Government, successful female entrepreneurs and Professor Lesley Sawers, who has, at the request of the UK Government, been doing a lot of work in Scotland on women in enterprise. One reason we are stronger together is that we can all learn lessons from each other.

At 35%, the gender pay gap in the finance and insurance sectors is the biggest in the land. What are the Government doing to tackle that?

I am delighted to say that those sectors are already taking responsibility for tackling the issue. They are learning from the Government’s voluntary approach to women on boards, and I am pleased that Jayne-Anne Gadhia from the finance sector and others in the insurance sector have recently launched voluntary initiatives to ensure that companies publish their own gender pay gap. Larger companies will, of course, also be caught by the regulations that we are due to publish shortly.

The Minister has rightly highlighted the fact that the public sector is very good at closing the gender pay gap, in comparison with the private sector. The Resolution Foundation estimates that care workers are collectively paid £130 million below the national minimum wage because of employers’ failure to pay for travel time and deductions for essentials such as uniforms, mobile phones and petrol. What steps is the Minister taking to close the pay gap in that part of the private sector, in which 78% of workers are women?

The hon. Lady is right to point out that certain sectors—not only care, but clerical, secretarial and others—are very female dominated, which contributes to the ongoing gender pay gap. That is why I welcome the focus, which we will come to in later questions, on raising girls’ aspirations for their jobs and careers. The Government are committed to enforcing the national minimum wage, and only recently we published the names of employers who do not pay their employees the national minimum wage. That is unacceptable and we will continue to make that information public.

Body Confidence in Young People

The Government have continued the work started under the coalition Government to encourage body confidence with the aim of promoting young people’s media literacy and resilience, supporting good practice and raising awareness. For example, in March we started work with the PSHE Association to publish guidance on teaching about body image using accredited resources.

Next week, models, agents, academics and professionals are coming to Parliament to discuss what the fashion industry can do to lead the way in promoting positive healthy ideals for young people. Does my hon. Friend agree that a collaborative approach is essential if we are to tackle the issue of low body confidence and lack of self-esteem that affects too many young people?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fantastic work that she does as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on body image. She has been a fantastic champion on this important issue and she is absolutely right that effective change will be achieved only by co-operation and collaboration. I recently met the British Fashion Council and the campaign group All Walks Beyond the Catwalk to discuss how we can make this happen for the good of those who are in the fashion industry, those who aspire to it and, most importantly, those who are influenced by it.

I was very pleased that the Minister mentioned personal, social, health and economic education. Is it not the case that establishing good-quality PSHE on a statutory basis in all schools will help instil good body confidence in young people and also keep them safe from inappropriate relationships, which often happen when children and young people have low self-esteem?

The fact that a subject is a statutory requirement does not mean that it is taught well, and we want all schools to put high-quality PSHE education at the heart of their curriculum so that all young people leave school prepared for life in modern Britain. The majority of schools and teachers already recognise the importance of good PSHE education and naturally know that healthy, resilient and confident pupils are better placed to achieve academically and fulfil their potential in life.

As the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) will know, it is frequently thought that this problem only affects young women, but it affects boys and young men as well. Will my hon. Friend the Minister assure the House that she has not lost sight of that and tell us a little more about what the Government are doing in that regard?

My hon. and learned Friend makes an excellent point. There is even a name for the problem; it is called “manxiety”. We are not blind to the fact that this issue affects an increasing number of young men and boys, which is reflected in the worrying increase in the use of steroids. That is why the Government’s body confidence work is blind to gender and tackles the problem by dealing equally with boys and girls.

Part of body confidence can be better understanding of what our bodies are for. What will the Minister do to promote breastfeeding in the PSHE curriculum?

It is up to schools to decide; we do not want to give them a prescriptive list or tell them how to teach PSHE. As I said, we want our young people to leave school prepared for life in modern Britain, with a resilient and healthy attitude to life, and breastfeeding is clearly a strong part of that.

School Attainment

3. What assessment she has made of the difference in levels of attainment between boys and girls at school. (902381)

Thanks to our reforms and the hard work of teachers across the country, more pupils—boys and girls—are getting the education they deserve. Girls outperform boys on average at both primary and secondary school, but while girls have higher attainment, they are less likely to pursue subjects such as physics and maths. As Education Secretary, I am aware of all those issues and determined to tackle them.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but the sad reality is that, in 2014, 10% fewer boys attained A* to C at GCSE, including maths and English. What steps will she take as Minister for Women and Equalities and Education Secretary to close this gender gap and help boys to achieve their full potential?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. There is certainly more that we need to do to tackle underachievement among boys, especially among white working-class boys, I am sorry to say. The Chancellor has committed to the pupil premium, worth £2.5 billion, for the rest of this Parliament; a quarter of white British boys are eligible for that funding. We need to do more to explain to young men the careers that are out there and why they will need skills such as maths, but we also need to think about parental engagement—a lot of the messages will come from home that education is very valuable and that boys as well as girls need to focus in school.

Addressing the education attainment gap is important, but equally important is addressing the gap in work. A recent event held in Northern Ireland by the STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—industries showed that men outnumber women three to one in the workforce. What steps have been taken to reduce the gender gap, not only in education, but in wider employment?

I am delighted to hear about that successful event. That illustrates the point I was making about needing to inspire young people—boys and girls—about the careers that are out there and the importance of STEM subjects. I am delighted to say that maths is now the most popular subject at A-level, and there have been 12,000 more STEM A-level entries from girls since the start of the last Parliament, but there is a long way to go.

Has my right hon. Friend considered whether the disparity between the numbers of male and female teachers, especially in primary schools, is affecting the attainment level of boys?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Young people benefit from strong role models, and we have an excellent workforce in our primary schools, with 82% of teaching in those schools rated good or outstanding. I would like to see more male teachers; equally, I would like to see more female headteachers in our secondary schools.

Freedom to Donate Campaign

4. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the Freedom to Donate campaign; and if she will make a statement. (902382)

Making sure that the blood supply is safe is an absolute priority. Donor deferral for men who have sex with men was changed from lifetime to 12 months in 2011, but four years later it is time to look again at the question. Public Health England has just undertaken an anonymous survey of donors, and I am pleased to say that SaBTO—the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs—will review the issue in 2016.

The safety of blood is of course paramount, but the Minister will know that when I met her in December 2014 to discuss the issue, there were two matters about which I was very disturbed. One was someone from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs saying that the word of gay people was somehow less valuable than the word of straight people—that was disgraceful. Secondly, the Minister promised me that survey work would be available at the time of the general election, but when I put down a written question about it, she said that, in fact, such survey work was not being done—although she now says it is. I felt that she misled me at the time. Can she say more about how we are finally going to achieve equality in this matter? Many clinicians feel it is long overdue.

My hon. Friend and I did have a meeting, and I can confirm that the Public Health England survey has been undertaken and is currently being analysed. I do not recall that an official made that point. It is important to put it on the record that the blood service does not discriminate on sexual orientation: lesbians are free to give blood and their blood donations are much appreciated. The deferral period is based on sexual activity and it applies to a number of groups other than men who have sex with men. As I say, SaBTO will review the issue in the light of the PHE survey. I am always happy to discuss this with my hon. Friend.

Safety in Public Spaces

This Government are clear that women should be confident that they are safe in public spaces. We are bearing down on those whose criminal actions impinge on this right. We have made progress. Last year Crown Prosecution Service data showed the highest ever number of convictions for crimes of violence against women and girls. We are refreshing the cross-Government VAWG strategy, including providing more options on intervention to prevent harassment, assault and abuse.

Bristol’s women’s commission is leading the campaign to make Bristol a zero-tolerance city towards gender-based violence and exploitation. How can the Government help Bristol and other cities achieve a zero-tolerance approach?

I am very pleased to hear about the work taking place in Bristol. This Government are committed, as I have said, to making sure that violence against women and girls is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in society. I look forward to hear more about the work being done in Bristol.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital to provide extra protection for victims of stalking—who are often also affected by domestic violence and who are sometimes targeted and followed from family courts—in order to bring more perpetrators to justice?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Testimony that I have heard from victims of stalking shows the incredibly invasive nature of this crime and how damaging it is psychologically and emotionally. We are determined to tackle it, including by introducing the domestic abuse coercive control offence, which we passed in the Serious Crime Act 2015 and which we will be commencing shortly, to make sure that all domestic abuse is an offence and that the police have the weapons they need.

19. Councillor Michael Pavey of Brent council organised a fantastic event recently on women’s safety, female genital mutilation and domestic violence. He was disappointed, however, that the audience was overwhelmingly female. Does the Minister have any ideas about how to increase awareness of these issues among men, especially young men? (902397)

The hon. Lady makes a very important point, and as the Minister with responsibility for preventing abuse and exploitation I know that far too often I go to events where the audience is predominantly, if not exclusively, female. Yesterday, however, I was pleased to support the white ribbon campaign, which is the campaign for men against violence against women. The more we can do with such campaigns and more awareness raising, the more we can encourage people to understand that this is an issue that affects all members of society, no matter what their gender.

What assessment has been made of the impact of the two new specific offences introduced in 2012 of stalking and stalking involving fear of violence, adding protection for victims and also bringing perpetrators to justice?

We have seen some success with the stalking offences that my hon. Friend asks about. We are seeing more and more police forces using the stalking offences and making sure that victims are protected. It is so important that we protect victims and give them the support they need, and make sure that perpetrators are dealt with in such a way that they cannot get to those victims and that they suffer the right penalties.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic women face particularly high incidences of violence and abuse, and research the other day from the charity Tell MAMA showed that incidents of hate crime against Muslims had risen by more than 300% since the appalling attacks in Paris, and particularly against Muslim women. What steps can the Minister take to stamp out gender, faith and racially motivated violence against women and girls?

The hon. Lady will know that the Government recently announced that we are publishing new data sets to show racially motivated hate crime, particularly hate crime against Muslims, because we agree that we need to understand the scale of the problem and we need to make sure it is absolutely clear that it is not acceptable. There can be no excuse in any religious text for hatred and nobody should think they can get away with it.

I am grateful to the Minister. Does she recognise that the women’s sector is under enormous pressure, particularly specialist organisations that, for example, support black, Asian and minority ethnic women? The charity Eaves was forced to close earlier this month, Imkaan reports that 67% of its members are uncertain about the future sustainability of their funding, and generic providers are increasingly being commissioned to provide specialist services. Is it not time for a proper, sustainable funding strategy for services for victims of domestic and sexual violence, rather than gimmicky short-term fixes such as the tampon tax, which only women pay for?

It is a shame that the hon. Lady makes that comment. While we are in the position of having to pay that VAT, it is right that we use it to provide additional support for the services in question, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) on coming up with the idea. The hon. Lady is quite right that we need those specialist services, but it is not that many weeks since the Labour party voted for a 10% cut in police funding. The Conservative party has maintained police funding, which will make sure that victims of these horrendous crimes get the support they need.

Gender Economic Inequality

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at our party conference last month, we cannot have true opportunity without real equality. I am very proud that we now have more women in work, more women on boards and the lowest pay gap on record across the UK, but we must continue to make progress. Women will be the main beneficiaries of the new national living wage and the rise in the personal allowance.

I thank the Minister for that response, but as she acknowledged in response to an earlier question, the overwhelming majority of care workers are women, and they face low pay, zero-hours contracts and non-payment of travel time as a consequence of financial pressures on the sector. Professor Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, among others, is clear that yesterday’s announcement by the Chancellor will not plug the funding gap in the care sector. What will the Minister do to secure a fair deal for care workers?

One of the greatest things we can do is introduce the national living wage, which will proportionately benefit more women than men, and employers in the care sector and other employers will have to pay it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that people should be able to pursue their career without worrying about their sex, sexuality or sexual identity, and that everyone has the right to pursue a full role in the workplace?

I thank my hon. Friend, who puts it really well. I particularly want to answer that question in the context of transgender people, who often face discrimination in the workplace as well as in their day-to-day lives. That is why I am today publishing guidance for employers and service providers to improve knowledge and understanding about supporting those who are transgender. It is an important step, but I want us to continue to raise awareness of the issues and discrimination facing many transgender and non-binary people.

STEM Subjects

8. What support the Government is providing to encourage more girls to choose STEM subjects in schools. (902386)

The Government are determined to increase the number of young people, particularly girls, studying science, technology, engineering and maths. There have been 12,000 more STEM A-level entries for girls over the last five years, but of course more needs to be done. That is why we are supporting schools through professional development and enrichment activities, including the Stimulating Physics Network, STEMNET and the inspiring Your Life campaign, which will transform perceptions of science and maths.

I thank the Minister for her reply. As a former engineer, I know at first hand the benefits of choosing STEM subjects in schools, and I am pleased that the Government are encouraging more girls into the area. Does the Minister agree that alongside the promotion of STEM in schools, it is vital that young people, particularly girls, receive good careers advice and guidance so that they can go on to succeed in the STEM-related industries?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We know that girls often outperform boys in STEM subjects at school but do not necessarily go on to study those subjects at A-level or go into STEM careers. That is why I am delighted that we have set up the new Careers & Enterprise Company, which will strengthen the links between employers and schools and hopefully inspire the next generation of engineers by showing them just how interesting and varied careers in engineering can be.

In September, Medway’s new engineering university technical college opened, and I am thrilled that many local girls chose to be part of the first intake. To what extent has industry been involved in the Your Life campaign to inspire more girls to consider a career in STEM?

As my hon. Friend outlines, Your Life is a fantastic industry-led and industry-funded campaign. Everyone is committed to inspiring the next generation of boys, but particularly girls, in the importance of STEM. I experienced that at first hand when I visited the Ford motor company in Dagenham—the spiritual home of the fight for equal pay—and saw a team of schoolgirls racing cars around its test track and really understanding the value and excitement of careers in STEM.

Engineering

The Government have supported a range of initiatives aimed at inspiring young people, including many girls, to take up engineering. Since 2010 the number of women starting engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships has trebled to 4,800. I am pleased that at the National Physical Laboratory in my hon. Friend’s constituency over half the apprentices are female. By protecting the science budget we are ensuring a strong science and engineering base that will benefit the entire country.

I urge the Minister to come to the NPL with me, because there are exciting projects there with graduates. I also invite him to Jack and Jill nursery school in my constituency, which is promoting engineering for six and seven-year-olds by inviting our great inventor Trevor Baylis to show them what can be done with Meccano sets. Will the Minister join me in asking toy manufacturers to make these kits for five-year-olds and upwards, instead of eight-year-olds and upwards, because we start really young in Twickenham?

I am always delighted to go to Twickenham. I am delighted also to welcome this very successful initiative. Twickenham, in this respect, is part of a much bigger national story in which we have more women-led businesses than ever before—about 1 million. As of 2014, 20% of all small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK are now majority led by women—an increase of 170,000 on the number in 2010.

It is really important to show young girls and boys the fantastic careers that engineering provides. To do that specifically for girls, we need engineering companies to engage with schools. What discussions is the Minister having with other Ministers to ensure that there is a central point where engineering companies can find the schools they can engage with?

I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Education in this respect. The Careers & Enterprise Company that is set up in the Department for Education plays precisely the co-ordinating role that the hon. Lady mentions.

Immigration Detention of Pregnant Women

10. What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on immigration detention of pregnant women. (902388)

Published Home Office policy states that pregnant women should not usually be detained unless there is a prospect of early safe removal. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw, the former prisons and probation ombudsman for England and Wales, to review the detention of vulnerable individuals. His report and the Government response will be published before the Immigration Bill completes its passage through Parliament.

I welcome the Minister’s statement. In 2014, 99 pregnant women were detained at Yarl’s Wood, and I understand that there are some remaining cases. Will the Minister use her good offices to expedite those cases?

I will make sure that the Home Office looks carefully at all the cases my right hon. Friend has raised. I repeat that pregnant women should not routinely be detained. The Home Office is currently considering Stephen Shaw’s review on detainee welfare, and we will publish his report before the Immigration Bill completes its passage.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman). This is a big problem, but it is about the providers. What discussions will the Minister have with Serco, Mitie, G4S and other providers about the detention of pregnant women?

The Home Office has regular discussions with all providers to make sure that appropriate treatment is given to all vulnerable people held in detention. I repeat that the Stephen Shaw review will be published shortly.

Boards of Public Institutions: Representation of Women

12. What steps the Government are taking to increase the representation of women on the boards of public institutions. (902390)

We are making real progress in increasing the number of women on public boards, with 44% of new appointments going to women last year, up from 39% in the previous year. Steps to increase diversity include streamlining the application process and increasing awareness of opportunities via a central website and social media.

There has been success in non-executive roles on boards but much less success in decision-making, operational roles. Only 8% of FTSE directors are women in executive positions. Does the Minister agree that quotas that focus on the wrong metric could undermine progress in this key area, which is judge and jury of success in this regard?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that there is an abundance of talented women who have the right skills and experience for board positions. Government and business must work together to level the playing field and encourage those women to work their way up the executive pipeline. That is why the Government will establish a new review focusing on that all-important executive layer in FTSE 350 companies.