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Women and Equalities

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 14 April 2016

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

New Junior Doctor Contract

1. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the effect on gender equality of the proposed new junior doctor contract. (904441)

16. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the effect of the proposed new junior doctor contract on women in that profession. (904458)

The Secretary of State fully understands his obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and his public sector equality duty. He is aware that he must pay due regard to each of the statutory equality objectives, which cover all of the protected characteristics, not just those that affect women. The new contract is a huge step forward for achieving fairness for all trainee doctors. For the first time, junior doctors will be paid and rewarded solely on the basis of their hard work and achievement, whether they work full or part time. Pay progression will be linked to the level of training rather than arbitrarily to time served. On 31 March, we published the equality analysis and family test alongside the new national contract.

By next year the majority of doctors working in our NHS will be women, yet the Government have freely admitted in their own equality impact assessment of the new junior doctor contract that aspects of it will disproportionately hit female doctors, so how can the women and equalities department possibly condone this shocking treatment by the Government?

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this important matter to the attention of the House. I know that she will want to read the full equality impact assessment over the weekend, and she will find if she does so that it makes it clear that this contract is good for women, that it is a fairer contract and that it does not directly or indirectly discriminate against women. That is why I am very keen to see it implemented as fast as possible.

What estimate has been made of the expected drop in the number of women doctors five years after the contract has been imposed, and how will the skills gap be filled?

We anticipate that this contract is better for women in a series of different ways and we expect women to be able to engage more easily with the workforce than they have under the previous contract. We believe that it is better for working mothers and better for women who are taking time out for maternity leave. For those reasons, we hope that it will reinforce the continued progression of women in the medical workforce, of which we are very proud in the Department of Health.

Can the Minister confirm that the new contract will mean that those who work the most intense and unsocial hours will be better rewarded?

I can confirm that. It will also ensure that women will not be subjected to the enormously onerous hours enforced under the current contract, which make the balance between work and family life completely impossible.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that under the existing contract two doctors doing the same job with the same level of responsibility and the same hours can be paid differently, but that under the new contract the total number of hours that can be worked will be reduced from 91 to 72, and that that will be especially welcomed by female doctors?

I can confirm that and it shows once again my hon. Friend’s attention to the detail of the contract. It should be made clear to the House that the British Medical Association agreed almost all of the contract that we are now putting in place, including many of the aspects that the Opposition are now seeking to attack.

It surprised me to hear both the Minister today and the Prime Minister, during Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, claiming that the contract is good for women, when the equality impact assessment provided by the Minister’s own officials specifically says that it will have a disproportionate impact on women—an equality impact assessment that the Minister will not be at all surprised to hear that I have read in detail. How can it be right to introduce a contract, announce its imposition in Parliament in February and then only sneak out the equality impact assessment six weeks later during recess? Will he and his colleagues get back to the negotiating table and negotiate a contract that is good for patients and good for all junior doctors?

The hon. Lady is an expert in the history of equality impact assessments and the Equality Act 2010, and she understands it well. I must reassure her that through the entirety of the process the Secretary of State has been mindful of his duties under the Act, but not just for form. He is very keen to ensure that this contract is good for women, which is why at every single stage, both in negotiations with the BMA and in internal discussions, he has been mindful of his duties while trying to ensure that the contract is an improvement on the existing one. To be frank, we cannot return to negotiations with a party that does not wish to talk, and I urge the hon. Lady to get her colleagues to condemn the completely unnecessary action taken by the BMA, which put patients in danger.

State Pension Age

2. What steps the Government are taking to address the effect of the increase in the state pension age on women. (904442)

6. What steps the Government are taking to address the effect of the increase in the state pension age on women. (904447)

All women affected by faster equalisation reach state pension age under the new state pension system, which is more generous to many women than the previous system. In the first 10 years, around 650,000 will receive £8 per week more on average, due to the new state pension valuation.

Is the Minister aware of the recent Dutch case of a woman who was affected by changes to her retirement age, with more notice than many women in the UK have received? In that case it was found that the woman’s human rights had been breached. Does the Minister think women in this country have had their human rights breached by the action that his Government have taken?

Nobody denies that the state pension age needed to be reformed, but it is the transitional arrangements that the Government have or have not put in place that have caused so much consternation. I cannot help wondering whether a cynical calculation has been made that those women will have reached retirement age anyway by the next general election. May I ask a straightforward question? Do the Government genuinely believe that the transitional arrangements are fair—yes or no?

The transitional arrangements that were put in place in 2011 were debated in both Houses. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that initially it was proposed that the equalisation should be fast-tracked by two years. Following various debates and intensive negotiations, that was reduced to 18 months, at a cost to the Treasury of £1.1 billion. Transitional arrangements were made in 2011 and the Government have no plans to review them.

13. This is about women and equalities. We know that a woman born in early 1953 will already have retired; a woman born in early 1954 will not retire until the second half of 2019—two and a half years later. That cannot be right. In a spirit of fairness, will the Minister look at this again and give some solace to the women who have to wait an unbelievably long time to collect what is rightly and fairly theirs? (904454)

We need to accept that equalisation was necessary, first, because it was required by European Union directive and, secondly, because people are living longer. Women on the whole recognise that we need to equalise the state pension ages. We are not doing so as fast as some other countries, such as Germany and Denmark, which have already achieved what we are seeking to do.

Following the resignation of the previous Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Pensions Minister Baroness Altmann stated that he had

“often been obstructive to my efforts to resolve important pensions policy issues such as on women’s pensions.”

Now that the main impediment to change has been removed from Government, when can we expect an update on progress for the women of WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality—who have been so unfairly treated for so long?

I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s assessment. As I said in my previous answer, the Government do not intend to review this matter because it was heavily debated and dealt with in 2011.

I thank the Minister for his response, but what is the purpose of the Department and, indeed, of the women and equalities ministerial role if they do not address the inequalities that exist? We have had four parliamentary debates on the issue, MPs have asked dozens of questions, 186,000 people have signed a petition and we voted in this House to agree that the policy is unfair, so after all that, why is the Minister still prepared to defend an indefensible position?

The hon. Lady was not in the House in 2011, but the issue, as I said, was heavily debated. A vote was taken after a Backbench Business Committee debate. As she knows only too well, a point of order was raised after that debate and the person sitting in the Chair at the time happened to be the first and former Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee. She made it abundantly clear that votes taken after debates tabled by the Backbench Business Committee are not binding on the Government.

Effects of 2016 Budget

10. What assessment she has made of the effect of measures in the 2016 Budget on different genders. (904451)

The 2016 Budget helped 790,000 women and 540,000 men by cutting their income tax to zero. It helped 7.4 million women and 5.6 million men with an increase in their state pension, thanks to the triple lock. It helped millions of men and women drivers by freezing their fuel duty. Finally, the national living wage gave an immediate pay rise to 900,000 women and 500,000 men this month.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but she might be aware that the Labour party has commissioned research which shows that, since 2010, 86% of the total amount of cash saved from benefit changes and tax savings has come from women, disproportionately. Since the autumn statement, that figure has increased by 5%. How much more do women have to take the brunt of this Government before action is taken?

We completely do not accept that analysis, which, by the way, has not been published. It appears to take into account the fact that the child benefit for higher rate women, such as myself, has been removed. Is the hon. Gentleman making the case that that child benefit should be returned to higher rate taxpayers? Also, that analysis has not even been published, but similar analysis assumes that extra Government borrowing can make everybody better off—that does sound like the Labour party.

The Government’s own figures show that since 2010 there has been a dramatic drop—more than 10,000—in the number of women taking equal pay cases to the tribunal, yet over the same period there has been a significant increase in the number of men doing so. Can the Minister explain those figures?

I would have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that the gender pay gap is narrowing so much. In fact, the steps that we have taken in the 2016 Budget, which will increase the pay of 900,000 women, mean that the gender pay gap for the lowest paid will have been eliminated by 2020.

Does the Minister agree that the Chancellor’s measures on small business rates will be hugely beneficial to business women across the country?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I also point out that we are making substantial progress on the number of businesses in this country owned and managed by women, which I believe will also lead to greater gender equality.

The Opposition welcome the Budget announcement about the removal of VAT on tampons, following the campaign led by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff). However, given that the Chancellor has previously reassured me that the £15 million raised from this tax would be providing funds to domestic violence charities and women’s refuges, can the Minister clarify something for me? Did the Budget include a £15 million cut to women’s charities, and where is this Government’s long-term economic plan for women’s safety?

I can confirm that the £15 million announced in the Budget will be allocated to the charities that the Chancellor announced. We have also announced a further £80 million of support for those kinds of initiatives to tackle violence against women in our society.

Maternity Discrimination

I want to start by thanking the Equality and Human Rights Commission for the research it has led and for its report. The Government have accepted the great majority of its recommendations and will work with it, ACAS and employers to root out discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace.

I welcome the Minister’s answer. I am aware of a number of cases of new mothers in my constituency who have lost their jobs after giving birth or experienced some other form of discrimination at work. Will he set out a timescale for implementation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s recommendations, and will he create an opportunity, through the usual channels, for a debate in the House on that work?

I am very happy to take up with the Leader of the House the possibility of having such a debate, because I would welcome it. The report made for depressing reading in some respects. Although it is welcome that 84% of employers think that it is important to support pregnant women and new mothers, it is frankly depressing that three in four mothers interviewed said that they had had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during their pregnancy. We need to achieve a wholesale change in culture. I will resist putting a timeframe on implementation of that change in culture, because ultimately that is something that Governments on their own cannot do. However, a debate on how we can all work together to achieve that would be very welcome.

Many women still face difficult decisions when it comes to having a baby, particularly women in high-powered careers in places such as London, where house prices are extremely high and working part time simply is not an option. What are the Government doing to encourage businesses to adopt a modern approach, allowing women the prospect of a balanced work and family life and flexible working hours, where possible?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but I know that he will welcome the introduction of the right to request flexible working and all the Government’s interventions to provide further childcare support for working women of all ages and all income levels. I believe that that will help women who want to be able to balance engagement in the workplace with bringing up young children.

LGBT Young People

8. What steps she is taking to ensure that support and advice is provided to LGBT young people. (904449)

We want every young person, regardless of their sexual orientation, to reach their full potential. That is why in March I announced a further £1 million fund to support schools to address homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, in addition to the £2 million fund I announced in October 2014.

With Stonewall research showing that 55% of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experience bullying, I am pleased to hear that the Government are spending extra money, but what else will they be doing to ensure that those issues are covered in the curriculum as well?

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention the 55% figure. That is, of course, a drop from 65% in 2007, but we cannot in any way be complacent. In 2012, 96% of LGBT pupils reported hearing homophobic language in school. The PSHE Association published some excellent new guidance in October 2014 on diversity and relationships in its programme of study, as well as providing support to help teachers to tackle issues around bullying. Of course, having good personal, social, health and economics education and relationships advice, including material targeted at LGBT pupils and all their colleagues, is very important.

Albert Kennedy Trust research has identified that 24% of the homeless youth population are LGBT. That is a disturbing figure, and the Government are planning to cut housing benefit for people under the age of 21. Does the Secretary of State think that the situation is going to get worse or better for those young people?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we gave just over £48,000 to the Albert Kennedy Trust in 2014-15 to develop national online mentoring services. We have also protected homelessness prevention funding for local authorities, totalling £315 million by the end of this Parliament.

Trans young people experience unacceptable and unlawful discrimination. Three months ago, the Women and Equalities Committee published a groundbreaking report outlining more than 30 recommendations to improve the lives of trans people. When can we expect a response from the Government?

I had the pleasure last week of visiting the Young Transgender Centre of Excellence, which has just been opened by the LGBT Centre in Leicester, funded by BBC Children in Need. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention the groundbreaking report published by the Committee that she chairs. She also mentioned the 30 recommendations, which we are working through. I am sure that, like me, she wants us to make sure that when we respond, we do so in a full and open way. The report calls for significant changes to the law, complex changes to the NHS and changes to the policies and practices of more than a dozen public bodies, and I want to make sure that we get the response right.

This Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, have done great things for equality for LGBT people, particularly with regard to gay marriage, but there is one area of terrible inequality—at least one. A promiscuous straight man can have sex with different women every night, and yet that man can give blood. A gay guy can be in a monogamous relationship, and yet he is completely forbidden to donate blood unless he is prepared to certify that he has been celibate for 12 months. That is medical and scientific nonsense. It is also unfair. When will it change?

My hon. Friend and I have discussed this matter, and he knows that I have also discussed it several times with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison). The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), has also been listening to what my hon. Friend had to say.

We have lifted the lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have had sex with men. As my hon. Friend will know, the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, which sets blood donation guidelines, has announced that it is reviewing the evidence and the policy. We expect to hear from it sooner rather than later.

Earlier this year, LGBT mental health charity PACE was forced to close, citing cuts to its local authority budget as a major factor. Given that PACE had previously identified that more than a third of LGBT young people had made at least one suicide attempt, does the Minister share my concerns about the level of mental health support currently available for LGBT people?

Members on both sides of the House will know of my long-standing interest in mental health issues for all young people, and of the priority that we give it in the Department for Education, which flows through to the priority we give it in the Government Equalities Office. In the financial year that has just ended, we provided £4.9 million to 17 voluntary and civil society projects delivering support to children and young people with mental health issues, including almost a quarter of a million pounds £250,000 to Metro Centre to establish a mental health service for LGBT young people and to those working with them across London and Kent. We are obviously looking at what we can do in this financial year to make sure that services will continue to be funded. Again, I will work with my colleagues in the Department of Health to make sure that people of all ages with mental health issues get the support they need.

Order. You should start by just saying, “Question 11”. You can build up to your peroration ere long.

Gender Pay Gap

11. What steps her Department plans to take to encourage businesses with fewer than 250 employees to close the gender pay gap. (904452)

We are absolutely committed to eliminating the gender pay gap in a generation, which is why we are requiring larger employers to publish their gender pay gap, as well as their bonus gap. We will support all businesses to do that, regardless of their size, with a £500,000 package, which includes UK-wide conference events, online software and, of course, targeted support to some of the male-dominated sectors. We also have the Think, Act, Report initiative, which is available to businesses of any size.

Last July, the Prime Minister promised that companies with more than 250 employees would have to disclose their gender pay gap. This has already been pushed back by two months. A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has found that only one in four firms has done any analysis of this. Does the Minister think that progress in this area is good enough, and what will be done about it?

Of course, this is more progress than we had under any previous Government, but this Government are not complacent. The gender pay gap is the lowest on record and has virtually been eliminated for women under the age of 40 working full time. However, we have brought forward the quite demanding regulation that larger employers will now have to publish both their gender pay gap and their bonus pay gap, and also why we have released a big package of support to enable to us to support them through that process.

Since the Government introduced tribunal fees, the number of equal pay claims has fallen dramatically. The Government talk the talk on equal pay, but why are they making it more difficult for women to challenge unfair pay claims?

We are reviewing this at the moment, but the hon. Gentleman must be aware that many more cases are going through ACAS—over 80,000 more cases went through ACAS last year. Surely he agrees it is actually much better to sort something out through mediation—in a friendly and consolidated way—so that people can go back to their workplace without stigma or any form of hostility.

Welfare Reform and Disabled People

12. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effect on equality for disabled people of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. (904453)

The Government set out our assessment of the impact of the welfare policies in the Welfare Reform and Work Act on 20 July 2015. Spending on disabled people will be higher in real terms in every year to 2020 than in 2010.

A Lords Select Committee report published last month said that the Government had hurt disabled people disproportionately through inaction on the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, through spending cuts and cuts to legal aid, and through removing protections with their red tape challenge. Will the Government apologise for their lack of respect for disabled people and for the complete contempt in which they hold them?

If we look at the facts, we find that the Government are spending £50 billion every year on benefits alone to support people with disabilities or health conditions—that is more than 6% of Government spending. I think that answers the hon. Lady’s question very clearly.

Research by Unison indicates that no group will be more adversely affected by welfare reform than people with disabilities. We are at risk of regressing on issues of equality. When will the Government actively heed the voice of people with disabilities and reverse these damaging policies?

I remind the hon. Lady that this Government have done more for disabled people than any Government before us. [Hon. Members: “Rubbish!”] I have just outlined the amount of money that this Government are spending. Under this Government, there are more than 3.2 million disabled people in employment. Employment helps people to have more fulfilled lives. We do not give up on people, unlike the Opposition parties.

Employment Tribunal Fees

14. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the effect of the introduction of employment tribunal fees on access to justice for women who have experienced discrimination at work. (904456)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a post-implementation review of the introduction of fees in employment tribunals. That will consider, so far as is possible, the impact the fees have had on those with protected characteristics who use employment tribunals, as well as the types of case they bring.

The review has apparently been on the Minister’s desk since February, so I hope we get to hear the outcome soon. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, less than 1% of maternity discrimination claims now proceed to an employment tribunal. That means that 99 out of every 100 women who are discriminated against because of their pregnancy have no legal redress. Is he proud of that record or ashamed?

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination are unlawful and totally unacceptable. That is why the Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission jointly funded independent research into the matter. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the review will take into account some of the findings of that research.

Public Appointments

15. What steps the Government are taking to increase the proportion of public appointments made to women. (904457)

Increasing diversity is essential to appointing the best people to our public boards. We are making real progress in increasing the number of women who are appointed. In 2014-15, 44% of new appointments were made to women, which is up from 39% in 2013-14. The steps that we have taken to increase diversity include streamlining the application process and increasing the awareness of opportunities through outreach and other events, a central website and the use of social media. We have introduced unconscious bias training for senior personnel in the Cabinet Office, including permanent secretaries and, indeed, senior Ministers.

I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply, which has pre-empted my supplementary. I wonder whether, in some cases, it is a lack of confidence that inhibits women in making an application for a public appointment. Could more be done to communicate to women that their applications are encouraged and will be successful?

It is really important that we get the very best people into public appointments. Women will play a crucial role in that. We recently received a report from Sir Gerry Grimstone that was commissioned to make appointment processes much more efficient, effective and streamlined. We have hit the highest figures ever recorded for women in public appointments, but we have not done enough. We want to go much further and to hit the 50% target we have set ourselves.

Gender Pay Gap

17. What steps she is taking to tackle the causes of the gender pay gap (a) in general and (b) in STEM careers. (904460)

Closing the gender pay gap is good for women and, of course, for employers and our economy. That is why we are requiring large employers to publish their pay gap data. Occupational segregation is one of the main causes of the pay gap, which is why we have announced the ambition of a 20% increase in girls taking A-level maths and science by 2020.

I thank the Minister for that answer. A continuing cause of the pay gap is the lower incidence of women studying science and engineering at university. Does she agree that closing the STEM gap is a prerequisite for closing the pay gap?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics carry a significant wage premium. Although women make up 50% of STEM undergraduates, that simply does not translate into the workplace. That is why we have set up a new careers and enterprise company to bring schools and businesses together to inspire and inform young people. We have also published guidance called “Your Daughter’s Future” to help parents to guide their daughters in subject and career choices.

The Women and Equalities Committee’s report on the gender pay gap showed strong and compelling evidence that increasing the availability of well-paid flexible work would make a significant difference in reducing the pay gap. What will the Government do to make flexible working easy and to encourage employers to offer it from the date of employment rather than having to wait for six months?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. That is why this Government have done more than any before to extend the right to flexible working to all employees. We will continue to work with businesses to encourage them to get the very best out of every single one of their staff.

The private sector has made great progress in gender equality in recent years, but there is still a big problem. Research by Simon Fanshawe has proved that there are more men called Andrew, David and John in senior positions in FTSE 100 companies than there are women. What more can the Government do to incentivise good practice and better gender equality in the FTSE 100? [Interruption.]

Yes, more Carolines. The hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) is absolutely right, which is why the Government have done more than ever before to encourage FTSE 100 companies to address that issue. There are now no all-male boards in the FTSE 100. The next stage is to look at the executive pipeline and to make sure that we are encouraging women at every stage, so that we have more women on boards than ever before.