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Women and Equalities

Volume 646: debated on Thursday 13 September 2018

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Shared Parental Leave

The Minister for Women and Equalities takes her responsibilities to the House very seriously and regrets that she cannot be present this morning because she is attending an important Cabinet meeting on EU exit. If there are any urgent matters, she will of course be available to discuss them with colleagues this afternoon.

Earlier this year, the Government Equalities Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ran an award-winning £1.5 million communications campaign to promote the take-up of shared parental leave. That was supported by revised guidance and case studies, making it easier for parents to understand and access the scheme.

The introduction of shared parental leave was a momentous step forward for families and for parents in work, with families no longer being held back by outdated stereotypes. Unfortunately, however, official figures show that only 2% of eligible parents have so far taken up the scheme. Many fathers say that they are worried about taking leave because of a perceived negative effect on their careers. What are the Government doing to encourage cultural change to help men to feel that they can take leave, to encourage companies to do more to bring men’s leave pay in line with maternity pay, and to make companies publicise parental leave and pay policies that help to reduce discrimination?

The hon. Lady has hit on the point that this is about not just businesses, but cultural change. That is why we are building the evidence base to understand what works best in encouraging a parent to take up shared parental leave. There are 285,000 parents or couples who can access this scheme across the country, and we encourage them to do so. We are also funding a research programme, which I will disclose more about in response to the first topical question, that will deliver evidence-based tools for employers on what works in closing their gender pay gaps and addressing their employees’ parenting responsibilities.

No awareness campaign on shared parental leave, however welcome, can lead to a significant increase in uptake while structural issues—the fact that men still, on the whole, earn more than women, for example—are making it really hard for families to make this choice. What will the Government do to follow international best practice and make parental leave more accessible and affordable?

Again, we are conscious that this is not just a matter for businesses; it is about cultural change as well. That is why our evidence-based programme will, we hope, bring real results. We look constantly at what other countries are doing to encourage parents to share their parenting responsibilities while maintaining their place in work, because we know that work helps women through financial independence. We want to do all that we can to help parents to maintain their careers while, of course, bringing up their children in a loving family environment.

Just as women should have equal opportunities to work, men should have equal opportunities to be active parents, but they face many barriers to doing so. Will my hon. Friend assure me that she and the Government will be keeping a close eye on their shared parental leave policy to make sure that it achieves its ends?

Very much so. I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who does a great deal of work on gender issues. Before making any changes to shared parental leave and pay schemes, it is important to evaluate the situation, and we will be doing that this year. We will look carefully at what the evidence tells us, and also learn from other countries, before committing to a particular course of action.

Take-up of shared parental leave has been reported to be as low as 2%, and the low rate of shared parental pay is often cited as a reason for that low take-up. Does the Minister agree that if we are serious about tackling the gender pay gap and maternity discrimination, we need to introduce properly paid, stand-alone statutory paternity leave?

As I said, we have to look carefully at the repercussions of any changes to shared parental leave. For example, we want to help self-employed mothers in this space. If they qualify for maternity allowance, they are allowed to share parental leave and pay with an employed father or partner. We are not ruling out providing further support for working parents. We very much agree with the principle of equalising benefits for the self-employed. However, as part of our response to the Taylor review of modern employment practices, it is important that we consider making changes to this area only after careful thought and consideration.

Many colleagues have highlighted their concern about take-up being just over 1% and I must push the Government further. Will the Minister spell out what exactly this Government will do to ensure that taking up the scheme is a real option for parents?

First, I welcome the hon. Lady to her role. I am sure that working with her across the Chamber in the coming months will be a pleasure.

As I said, I am going to make an exciting announcement in response to the first topical question about our detailed programme looking not just at shared parental leave, but at other gender equality issues in the workplace. This Government are committed to leading the world in this space. As part of that, we will evaluate how shared parental leave is working, and get the message out that someone who is a working parent should ask their employer whether they are able to take shared parental leave.

Universal Credit Roll-out

2. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effect of the roll-out of universal credit on women. (906867)

8. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effect of the roll-out of universal credit on women. (906874)

Job coaches working with people claiming universal credit treat all people as individuals, whatever their gender, and can provide personalised support to help people into employment and help them make progress at work. Universal credit also provides a safety net of support for those not in work. We have worked hard with partners to support vulnerable customers such as victims of domestic abuse, and Jobcentre Plus has recently launched a campaign to provide additional support for women, including those who are single parents.

What is the Minister’s message to young mothers such as those supported by Home-Start Glasgow North, whose fantastic tartan tie I am wearing today, if they find that the lack of second earner work allowance in universal credit is a barrier to second earner mothers wanting to enter or re-enter the labour market? Will she raise those concerns with the Department for Work and Pensions and ask that the roll-out of universal credit be halted until those anomalies are sorted out?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his tie. A good friend of mine has volunteered for Home-Start, and I know that it is an extremely valuable organisation. Of course, we want to ensure that any parent, including women who are lone parents, have the opportunity to balance their caring responsibilities with employment. We know that that is really important for women, and that it is important for children to grow up in a home where someone is working. I am always happy to raise any concerns, and perhaps we can have a meeting, but universal credit is working, and it is helping people into work.

The Minister mentioned domestic violence. Will she support the amendments to the domestic abuse Bill being brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), which would introduce split payments of universal credit as a default option for survivors of domestic violence?

Of course, all of us in the House need to work day and night to do everything we can to prevent the appalling atrocity of domestic abuse and violence in our country. It is everyone’s responsibility. In the DWP, we take the support of victims of domestic abuse and violence very seriously, and we are working with Women’s Aid, ManKind and a range of other charities to ensure we provide that support.

The Work and Pensions Committee, on which I sit, recently published a report calling on the Government to see whether universal credit can offer more help to victims of domestic abuse. Will the Minister consider our findings?

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent contribution to the Select Committee. We are always looking to see what more we can do to support victims of domestic abuse and violence, and we will take very seriously any suggestions from the Committee.

I have to keep up with the propensity of colleagues one moment to bob and then to cease to bob, but Chichester is bobbing again and should be heard—Gillian Keegan.

Work coaches are critical to the success of the roll-out of universal credit, and the team in Chichester are brilliant, but can my hon. Friend outline what training is available specifically to help work coaches to support women and to spot the underlying issues that victims of domestic violence may be suffering from?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for visiting her jobcentre. I strongly urge all those who are calling for the halting of the roll-out of universal credit to go to their jobcentre and meet the work coaches, to see the excellent work they are doing and the personalised support they are able to offer all their customers. We have worked closely with Women’s Aid and ManKind to ensure that it is a mandatory part of every work coach’s training to identify potential victims and to help them get the support they need.

The Minister mentioned single parents. As she will be aware, 91% of lone parents are women. Does she agree that the new conditionality requirements for lone parents under universal credit will have a hugely disproportionate impact on women? Will she make representations to the Department for Work and Pensions about that?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I simply do not agree with her. As I said, the relationship that a claimant builds up with their work coach is a personal one, and the support is tailored to that individual. We ensure within universal credit that women or, indeed, men who are bringing up children are able to balance their desire to work with their caring responsibilities. It is not until the youngest child in a family starts school that the job coach begins a conversation about the journey to work. It is not until the youngest child in a family is three that those conversations about getting into work begin to happen.

Gender Pay Gap: Reporting Process

May I first thank the hon. Lady for her role in introducing gender pay gap reporting? I have good news because it has emerged that 100% of employers identified as in scope have reported in the first year. I think that may be unprecedented in Government schemes. My thanks, as I say, to the hon. Lady, to everyone in the Government Equalities Office involved in making that happen and of course to the employers. That represents more than 10,000 boards across the country having board-level conversations about closing the gender pay gap, but reporting is just the first step. Employers must also take action to close the gap and we are supporting them in doing that.

I thank the Minister for that response. I congratulate her on the—almost suspicious—100% compliance, but I am sure the House will agree that that is good news. It is simply unfair that people earn less because they happen to be women, have brown skin, have a disability or come from a working-class background, yet there is clear evidence of pay gaps for all those characteristics. The gender pay gap reporting has clearly made employers pay attention to inadvertent and structural biases in their pay arrangements, so will the Government consult on extending pay transparency and reporting to tackle those wider injustices?

That is a very good point. We are committed to looking not just at gender, but BAME and issues such as mental health. This reporting is opening up conversations about gender, as I say, but we hope that, as part of that, it will open up conversations about how employers treat their workforce generally and ensure that fairness is extended to everyone regardless, as the hon. Lady says, of gender, how they look and so on. One thing we are keen to do is to ensure that, as part of the reporting, employers put their action plans out there. About 48% of companies are already doing that. We would like them to do more.

It is good news and should be celebrated that 100% of eligible businesses have reported on the gender pay gap, but may I press the Minister further? What further steps will she take to see that action flows from the reporting of this gender pay gap?

Very much so. We have a packed agenda of meetings with business leaders but also with industry leaders, so that we can trickle down good practice from the largest employers, who obviously have the most resources in terms of HR departments and so on. We want to get the best practice from them and trickle it down so that we help those employers who under the legislation are required to report. My aspiration is also for employers who fall under that threshold to start adopting the same good practice as well.

LGBT Equality

In July, we launched the Gender Recognition Act 2004 consultation and a 75-point LGBT action plan in response to the findings of the national LGBT survey. The action plan includes a £4.5 million fund to support delivery of these commitments—ranging from bringing forward proposals to end conversion therapy to appointing a national LGBT health adviser. This work marks a culture change to ensure that LGBT people feel respected at every level of our society.

The “Safe to talk to me” initiative pioneered by Dr Mike Farquhar gives badges, such as the one I am wearing, to NHS staff to encourage members of the LGBT community to understand that they can raise such issues in an open and safe environment. Will my hon. Friend welcome that initiative?

Very much so. I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she does in the national health service looking after ill children. I am admiring her badge from afar. It looks very colourful. I hope that it will draw exactly the sort of reaction intended—namely, encouraging people who perhaps need extra reassurance that they are welcome and they are safe in the NHS to talk about their needs.

Does the Minister agree that we need to do more to help our LGBT friends around the world, particularly those who are seeking asylum? Will she therefore condemn the Home Office’s approach at the moment? It is deporting one of my constituents back to Venezuela after he has applied for asylum and married someone here and lived in Britain for three years. The Home Office still says that Venezuela is a safe place for an LGBT person to live. It even recommends that his husband moves back with him.

Of course I am concerned to hear about LGBT people in Venezuela being treated as despicably as the hon. Gentleman has described. If I may, I will take the opportunity to invite him to write to the relevant Minister. I would certainly hope that we can look into the matter in more detail.

Very recently, the Government reduced the waiting time for gay people who want to give blood from 12 months of celibacy to three months, which was welcomed by the LGBT community. Will my hon. Friend update the House on how that progress is going?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work. I know that he campaigned strongly on this issue, and he adds colour to the House, as I am sure he added colour to that campaign. I regret that I do not have the precise figures to hand, but if I may, I will take the opportunity to write to him, and I would, of course, be happy to discuss the matter with him after this session.

As you know, Mr Speaker, I entered a civil partnership eight years ago, yet the Government are still consulting on what to do about civil partnerships—there is a threat that you are going to abolish us! [Interruption.] Well not you, Mr Speaker, but the Government are threatening that they might abolish civil partnerships. There is joy, there is passion, and not so much celibacy in civil partnerships, so would it not make far more sense to extend them to straight people as well?

I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman’s civil partnership ceremony which, if memory serves me correctly, took place on 27 March 2010.

There are so many ways I could go with this. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on his civil partnership. He will know that my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is promoting his Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill, and I will have the pleasure of responding to that as the Minister responsible. We are conducting a consultation and carefully considering the Supreme Court judgment because, all joking aside, we know that these issues matter to people and we want to ensure that our country continues to be a place of equality.

Sexual Exploitation: Accommodation

6. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on increasing the number of successful prosecutions of people that offer rent-free accommodation in return for sex. (906871)

The practice of offering sex for rent is unacceptable. It preys on vulnerable people who are seeking affordable accommodation and was, I believe, the subject of a recent “Inside Out West” programme. Such behaviour is already a criminal offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and the decision on whether to prosecute and for what offences rests entirely with the Crown Prosecution Service, rather than the Ministry of Justice. My officials have been working, including with the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to raise awareness of the offences available to prosecute such behaviour.

I thank the BBC’s “Inside Out West” for its investigation into this despicable practice which, as the Minister pointed out, is illegal, although it continues to target vulnerable women and men. Will the Minister continue to work with me, as we did on upskirting, and consider a code of conduct, or perhaps go even further and consider binding legislation to prevent websites from hosting these adverts?

The CAP code, which is the independent Advertising Standards Authority’s rulebook for non-broadcast advertising, including print and online, does not apply to classified adverts, but it does prohibit ads for illegal products and services. DCMS colleagues are working to ensure that technology companies meet their responsibilities of preventing their services from being used for criminal activity, and they are further exploring how classified ad websites are used to facilitate crime. I would be delighted, as always, to meet the hon. Lady.

When someone facilitates accommodation, money, food or services in exchange for sex, it is abuse. It degrades the victims, and unfortunately financially benefits the facilitators. The Government must commit to legislation that punishes those who profit from such abuse.

It is a pleasure to take a question from the hon. Lady, and she is right to highlight this despicable crime. As I have said, we believe that such practices are already against the law under the 2003 Act, and as I said to the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), I am happy to continue looking at what more we can do.

Maternity Discrimination

My hon. Friend asked this question at the previous Women and Equalities questions. I suspect he is keen to know what is happening with the pregnancy and maternity discrimination consultation, which we said would be published over the summer. I would like to reassure him that we intend to publish the consultation shortly.

It is a pleasure to be the first to congratulate the Minister on her appointment. Recent studies suggest that businesses, in particular small businesses, are not sufficiently aware of maternity discrimination rules. What can we do to increase that awareness?

My hon. Friend raises an extremely good point about this challenge. To be honest, the awareness of the rights and obligations among small businesses and individuals is a challenge. To help to tackle this, ACAS has produced and promoted new guidance on pregnancy and maternity discrimination but, regarding this question, we are also looking at improvements that we can make to gov.uk.

Access to Abortion Services

9. What steps the Government are taking to ensure access to abortion services for women that travel to England from Northern Ireland. (906875)

Since June 2017, women from Northern Ireland have been able to access abortion services in England free of charge. We have also introduced a central booking system to simplify the process and there is support for travel costs where appropriate. The numbers of women from Northern Ireland accessing abortion services in England and Wales has increased as a result: up 25%, to 919 in 2017, which is the highest level since 2011.

Recently, the Government announced that they will echo Scotland in giving women the right to take early medical abortion pills at home. In Scotland, however, there is a residency test for this healthcare, which, if copied in England, will deny the 28 women a week who are now coming from Northern Ireland for an abortion in the UK, that choice of procedure. Will the Minister pledge to work with the Department of Health and Social Care to prevent that happening, or will she now listen to the Supreme Court, which said that this was a human rights abuse in the first place? Let us get on and give our Northern Irish sisters the right to access healthcare and abortion at home, just as our sisters around the rest of the UK have.

Department of Health and Social Care Ministers only have the power to approve English homes as a class of place for medical abortion. The definition of what “home” means in this context is not straightforward and will be determined as we take this work forward. DHSC officials are working with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to develop a protocol that will set out criteria for which places should be covered by the term “home”, as well as contradictions for use at home and other relevant issues. We will look at how the schemes are working in Scotland and Wales and learn from their experience. The hon. Lady knows, on the wider point of abortion, that we call upon representatives in Northern Ireland to get their act together and get the Assembly working again, so that Northern Irish people can make their decision on this very important topic.

Employment Opportunities

10. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to promote employment opportunities for (a) men and (b) women in sectors in which they are proportionally under-represented. (906877)

Through the industrial strategy and our response to the Taylor review, the Government’s ambition is to increase the earning power of men and women throughout the UK, and to support the creation of good-quality jobs. Where women are under-represented in sectors of the economy, the Government are actively supporting business-led reviews to increase participation and the representation of women.

Male teachers are massively under-represented in primary schools. What are the Government doing to put that right?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He raises an important point. He clearly recognises the value and benefits that more men entering into primary school teaching can bring. We are committed to developing a diverse teaching workforce and to undertaking a range of activities to achieve that. We convened a roundtable with the sector to discuss equality and diversity, and to drive progress to meet these challenges.

Islamophobia

Let me be clear; the Government deplore hate crime, and we are determined to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get on in life free from harassment and fear. We are strengthening the cross-Government working group on anti-Muslim hatred. My Department and the Home Office fund Tell MAMA, which is the leading service for recording anti-Muslim incidents and supporting victims.

What discussions has the Minister had with social media companies about improving the way in which they take down anti-Muslim and Islamophobic hate crime messages from their platforms?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is important that we continue dialogue with social media companies. Across Government, colleagues are already having such discussions with social media companies, and it is important that anything that incites hatred is taken down immediately. I hope that the social media companies are listening.

Topical Questions

The Government are committed to ensuring that the UK is an international leader on gender equality research, so that employers have the tools and knowledge to act on their gender pay gaps. We are investing £3.1 million in research on gender equality in the workplace over the next two years. That includes £2 million in the gender and behavioural insights programme, to help us to understand what works to change employers’ behaviour and improve gender equality in the workplace. In June, we launched the workplace and gender equality research programme—a two-year programme that will invest more than £1 million in new research and deliver evidence-based tools for employers on what works to close their gender pay gaps. That reflects the Government’s strong commitment to ensuring that evidence supports employers and employees.

Research from Wales TUC showed that as many as 85% of women who took part in its survey felt that the menopause had adversely affected their working life. Will the Minister press colleagues to consider workplace policies on the menopause, so that women get more support and employers cannot ignore the welfare of women with menopausal symptoms?

One of the advances of this Parliament is that we are beginning to talk about the menopause and its effects more than we did three, four or five years ago, and I think that that is a good thing. I very much take the hon. Lady’s point about encouraging employers to recognise the effects of the menopause as part of their treatment of employees. That goes to the point that we have been talking about, whether it is the gender pay gap or the treatment of black and ethnic minority employees and others. It is about employers treating their workforce fairly in a way that gets the most out of people’s potential and makes them feel valued.

T6. Mrs Darlington’s Jams in Cheshire was set up by Marion Darlington in 1980 from her farmhouse kitchen. It has expanded to produce more than 400,000 jars of jam every year and to export all over the world. What steps are the Government taking to help women who want to follow in Mrs Darlington’s entrepreneurial footsteps? (906886)

There are now 1.1 million women-led small and medium-sized businesses in the UK, and I want that number to grow, having been a small business owner before I arrived in this House. It is fantastic to hear about my hon. Friend’s constituent, Mrs Darlington, and I am pleased to hear about her success. The Government-supported Start Up Loans company had given loans worth nearly £450 million, nearly 40% of them to women, by March this year. We also have 38 growth hubs across England providing information and support to anyone—that includes women—who wants to start and grow their own business. I wish Mrs Darlington continued success.

We welcome the fact that upskirting has been made into a specific sexual offence. It cannot be right, therefore, that victims of revenge porn are not afforded the protection of anonymity. The Government’s new victim strategy, which was released on Monday, failed to address the lack of protection for victims of image-based sexual abuse. When will the Government close this loophole in law and give all sexual abuse victims the protection that they deserve?

The hon. Lady has raised this matter with me on previous occasions, and I know that she will welcome what is in the victim strategy. She highlights an important issue. As she will be aware, in terms of tackling the publication of upskirting images and voyeurism online and via social media, the Law Commission is looking, as part of the DCMS-commissioned review into online abuse, into the sharing of intimate and sexual images. I believe that that is the right way for us to proceed with looking at the important issue that she rightly highlights.

The Government have responded today, in a written ministerial statement, to the inquiry that I requested—as the then Minister for Women and Equalities—into whether we needed a national buffer zone system for abortion clinics. They have concluded that we do not. May I ask the Minister what arrangements individual councils or areas will have in the absence of such a system?

Let me add that I welcome the conclusion reached in the written ministerial statement. Now that I am able to travel slightly less conspicuously, I took the opportunity to visit the abortion clinic in the constituency of Ealing Central and Acton to take a look for myself. I observed that there was no longer any harassment taking place, which I believe continues to reflect the conclusion in the statement.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her question, and, obviously, for her work on this issue.

I asked for the written ministerial statement to be issued in advance so that Members would have an opportunity to question me about it today. Having looked at the evidence, we have discovered that 363 hospitals and clinics in the country offer abortion services, and that in 36 of those locations there have been demonstrations, or protests—however people wish to phrase it. On the basis of that evidence, we have concluded for the moment that we should continue the current scheme of enabling councils to apply for public space protection orders which target their localities, but we will of course keep this matter very much under review, because we want to ensure that people who need to access such services can do so safely.

T2. LGBT youths are significantly over-represented among young people facing homelessness. Will the Government support a shift to mandatory monitoring of gender and sexual orientation by publicly commissioned homelessness services? (906882)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue. I know about the work that she does alongside the Albert Kennedy Trust, which does fantastic work in supporting young people. We recognise that 24% of homeless young people identify as LGBT. That is a shocking statistic, and one that we cannot ignore in the LGBT action plan or in the rough sleeping strategy that we have just announced. We have committed ourselves to undertaking research, along with the Government Equalities Office, on the nature and scale of the problem. We have also committed ourselves to taking concrete next steps to address LGBT homelessness in the first annual “refresh” of our strategy, which the research will inform.

The arrival of Blake Bridgen on 8 September means that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) will have the opportunity to engage in shared parental responsibility. Can the Minister assure me that we will continue to promote the “share the joy” campaign, so that other men can benefit from shared parental leave?

Very much so, and I am delighted to hear about my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen). That was news to me, and I am sure that we all share his joy. I look forward to his taking some shared parental leave—if that is permitted under house rules.

T3. My constituent came to the United Kingdom when she was 12, but her immigration status consistently made education, work and benefits inaccessible. She now faces being deported for being unable to contribute financially to the system. What steps is the Department taking to support black and minority ethnic women who are suffering at the hands of the Government’s immigration policy? (906883)

The hon. Lady will, I hope, understand that I cannot comment on cases on the Floor of the House, but if I can extend an offer to meet her—or arrange for the relevant Minister to meet her—I will of course do so.

May I take up a point that was made earlier? During the summer recess, I visited Corby jobcentre and met the very dedicated staff there. They told me unequivocally that universal credit was working locally. Is it not the case that more women are in work, and that universal credit is helping that?

I thank my hon. Friend for taking time out of his summer recess to visit his local jobcentre. If more Members were to do the same, they would see that not only are more women in work, but many more older women are in work—and, indeed, that we have record levels of employment across our country, and wages are beginning to rise. We all want people to have more money in their pockets.

Order. I am sorry, but we are running very late. I must ask colleagues to put single-sentence questions, and let us also have very brief replies.

T4. Mid- lothian is home to some fantastic, world-leading science and innovation institutes, but my young, female, particularly working class constituents feel that they cannot access them, especially the jobs at the very top. What is the Minister doing to help? (906884)

The hon. Lady is right to raise that question. The number of women now accepted on to full-time science, technology, engineering and maths courses has increased by 25% since 2010, but we are working hard to drive that figure up further. In my constituency, for example, BAE, from the private sector, is working with education providers and university technical colleges to drive women and young people into those areas, but the Government need to keep working to close the gap further.

The victims strategy rightly focuses on domestic violence, a scourge of our society. How does the Minister propose to make sure that women are aware of what he is proposing?

We have, through the media, statements in the House and, I hope, colleagues such as my hon. Friend, done everything we can thus far to make people aware of the strategy, but we will continue to promote it so that everyone is aware of what we are proposing and how it will help them.

T5. It is extremely important that the injustice suffered by the WASPI women is not allowed to slip off the political agenda, because many women in my constituency are suffering terribly as a result. Will the Minister stand up for women and commit today to urging the Chancellor to put in place transitional arrangements at the autumn Budget? (906885)

The hon. Lady will be aware that £1.1 billion of concessions have been made, and it is really important to note that as a result of our reforms, more than 3 million more women will receive £550 a year more by 2030.[Official Report, 9 October 2018, Vol. 647, c. 2MC.]

Forced marriage is outlawed in this country, but it still happens, and schools do not do enough about it. It does not help either that children can get married at 16 in this country. Will the Minister meet me and Jasvinder Sanghera from Karma Nirvana to discuss this issue?

It was a pleasure to sit in for my hon. Friend’s 10-minute rule motion on exactly this point last week, and I would be happy to meet her to discuss the marriage age. Forced marriage is illegal, of course, and the Home Office is doing a great deal of work to spread the message around communities particularly affected by it that it is simply not acceptable in the 21st century.

T7. I am pleased to say that the 220,000 member-strong Women’s Institute has joined more than 20 other national organisations, 77% of the public and more than 150 MPs across the House to support my private Member’s Bill to measure the true levels of UK hunger. Does the Government’s continued resistance to my Bill not show their indifference to rising levels of hunger on their watch? (906888)

It does not show that at all. The Government have a record of trying to push people into work, because we see work as the best way of tackling hunger and poverty. That is why we are trying to make universal credit taper more easily—so that when people get into work, they keep more of their own money. It is also why we raised the threshold at which people start paying income tax—again so that the lowest paid keep their money rather than paying it to the state. It is also about extending educational opportunities to children so that when children leave our schools they have had a good or outstanding education.

What progress has my hon. Friend made in developing the legislation required to remove caste as a protected characteristic from the Equality Act 2010?

I always look forward to the six-weekly question from my hon. Friend on this matter. The Government completely oppose any discrimination on the basis of a person’s origins, including any perceptions of their caste, which is why we issued a public consultation on caste and the Equality Act. It ran for six months and closed in 2017. We responded in July and now propose to ensure there is appropriate legal protection against caste discrimination through reliance on existing case law. In our view, this shows that a statutory remedy against caste discrimination is already available. As for a date, I am afraid he will have to keep pressing me, because, as he will appreciate, machinations are in place.

I am pleased that today the previous Home Secretary’s review of abortion clinic protests has seen the light of day—and that the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) is in her place given the last episode of “Bodyguard”. However, the conclusions are a bit disappointing as the word “women” does not occur in there once; the review talks about pregnant persons. It seems to say that a disproportionate number of women must be affected before any action takes place. May I suggest that the Minister has a meeting with her boss, the Home Secretary, me and the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, because there are other ways of proceeding than the blanket ban that the Government have rejected?

I commend the hon. Lady for all the campaigning and other work she has done to stand up for her constituents and those visiting her constituency for the services provided by the clinic there. I am of course happy to meet her and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee to discuss this issue further. We will keep it under review. We are particularly interested to see how the public spaces protection order in Ealing is working. We understand from Marie Stopes that it considers it to be working well, but of course we will keep it under review.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018

Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018

Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018.