The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Universal Credit: Joint Claimants
We believe that most couples can and want to manage their finances jointly, without state intervention. However, we recognise that there are circumstances in which split payments are appropriate and we will always put that in place when requested.
We understand that the UK Government are carrying out a formal impact assessment of the options put forward by the Scottish Government on delivering split payments, but has the Minister made representations to the Department for Work and Pensions outlining how split payments could help to protect victims of domestic violence?
We are working closely with the Scottish Government to establish the practicalities and nuts and bolts of their proposed pilot. We recognise that domestic abuse, including economic abuse, is a horrific crime that can affect anybody, and we are working across parties and across Government to ensure that it is addressed.
Does the Minister agree that the options put forward by the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People are sensible and deliverable, with the DWP’s assistance, and will he congratulate the Scottish Government on taking forward this fantastic work to make universal credit fairer?
That is not within my specific portfolio, so I cannot comment on the details, but I do know that policy officials in the Scottish Government and in DWP engage on an ongoing basis to determine how workable the Scottish Government’s proposals on split payments are, and that work will continue.
If two people in the same household work for the same employer, they do not receive one wage; they each receive a separate salary at the end of every month. If the point of universal credit is to mimic wages to help people to get back into work, why on earth do the Government insist on not taking forward the idea of split payments for households?
This Government believe, as have every preceding Government, that most couples can and want to manage their finances jointly without state intervention, and it is not this Government’s policy to make split payments by default. However, we are looking at the proposed Scottish pilot and, at the same time, by the end of the summer all jobcentres will have domestic abuse specialists to support work coaches and raise awareness.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has highlighted this and is bringing forward proposals to ensure that the main carer is the recipient. In particular, we are looking at the universal credit application form to ensure that the identification of the bank account can be done in an appropriate way.
That is a very broad question, and I will ensure that the Minister writes to the hon. Gentleman specifically on the work that is being done with Women’s Aid on an ongoing basis. There is a wholehearted strategy on domestic abuse and support for women in this context that is being addressed on a multitude of levels.
The Minister has repeatedly said that split payments would be too difficult and that the Government would therefore be unwilling to consider that option at this time. However, the Scottish Government and the Social Security Minister have proved that it is possible to ensure that split payments are the default. Does he accept that, by not doing this, he is simply compounding financial insecurity and leaving women in potentially perilous situations?
Split payments are available on request. No information is needed to get a split payment. However, 60% of payments are already paid into a woman’s bank account. As I outlined to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), main carer recipient work is being done to ensure that this is done on a practical basis.
Women’s Life Expectancy
Preventing health problems is the best way to improve life expectancy. We are taking action on childhood obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and action to reduce smoking rates. Later this year, my Department will produce a prevention Green Paper, which will set out cross-Government plans for prevention in greater detail.
In Newcastle, cervical cancer screening rates are significantly lower in more deprived areas of the city, and the recent Macmillan cancer inequalities report showed that more deprived areas had worse access to cancer treatment. This is because people on lower incomes are more likely to be on zero-hour contracts and juggling childcare and other caring responsibilities with work, and therefore less able to access fixed-time appointments in places outside their local community. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the healthcare system reflects the lives of those in the poorest areas and to raise incomes so that we have fewer cancer and health inequalities?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. We know that we need to make it easier to book appointments and more convenient for women to attend them. That is why Sir Mike Richards is undertaking a comprehensive review of screening programmes. It will look at how we can improve the uptake and set out clear recommendations on how we can make those screening programmes more accessible.
ONS figures published in March 2019 show that the life expectancy of women in the poorest UK regions fell by 98 days between 2012 and 2017. Given that this is the first time that that has happened in peacetime since the Victorian era, what conclusions does the Minister draw from the fact that it has happened only since 2010?
The conclusion I draw is to look at Public Health England’s recent review, which made it clear that it is not possible to attribute the slowdown in the improvement of life expectancy to any single cause. That is why we are not complacent, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah). The Budget saw us fully fund the situation with a big cash boost, and there will be a prevention Green Paper and we have a prevention vision. All that will contribute towards ensuring that life expectancy, which has not been as good as one would have liked, improves.
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), the Government have already put in place prevention programmes to ensure a reduction in smoking rates. The prevention vision and the prevention Green Paper will set out the means by which smoking can be reduced further to support people, pregnant or otherwise.
I answered that question just a moment ago. As I said, Public Health England’s recent review made it clear that it is not possible to attribute the slowdown to any one cause. It is therefore important to tackle all the causes of the deterioration in life expectancy, which is why the Government will publish a prevention Green Paper later this year.
Domestic Abuse: Medical Training
Tackling domestic abuse is a key priority for this Government. That is why we have put £2 million into expanding the pilot programme, which will create a model health response for survivors of domestic violence and abuse. Training for frontline medical staff to help identify domestic abuse is included in a wide range of training and education curriculums for health staff.
According to Women’s Aid’s “Survival and Beyond” report, 54% of women experiencing sexual and physical abuse meet the criteria for at least one common mental health disorder. I note what the Minister says about training, but what specific domestic abuse training is the Department considering to ensure that it actually happens?
I commend the hon. Lady’s work on the all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence and abuse. She will know that the Department produced a domestic abuse resource for health professionals that advises them on how best to support adults and young people over 16 who are experiencing domestic abuse, and that training is available now.
The most recent survey of women’s prisons shows that nearly 65% of prisoners have had a significant acquired brain injury, which often relates directly to their offending behaviour. The vast majority of the 65% have suffered domestic violence, so should we not be screening every woman as she arrives in prison to ensure that they get the neuro- rehabilitation support they need?
Domestic violence can be extremely damaging for the children who witness it. What is the Minister doing to support those children?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, because domestic violence clearly impacts the whole of family life, and there is evidence that children are also affected. We need to ensure that there are no legal barriers to sharing data to protect children or vulnerable adults, and we need to ensure that the £8 million we are spending will help those children recover from domestic violence.
Health-based independent domestic violence advisers can identify victims of domestic violence that other services are unable to detect. SafeLives, the national domestic abuse charity, suggests that domestic violence often goes undetected among elderly and black, Asian and minority ethnic victims. Surely, by placing these professionals in an A&E environment, countless victims could be identified and helped. Will the Minister commit to placing independent domestic violence advisers in all A&E departments?
Since 2012, 62,949 start-up loans worth £489.5 million have been made to business owners, and 39% of those loans went to female entrepreneurs. In response to the Rose review, an industry-led taskforce will look at driving greater investment in female entrepreneurs by finance providers. The Government are also establishing a new investing in women code, through which financial institutions will take steps to improve the allocation of funding to female entrepreneurs.
It is worrying that the Rose review concluded that only one in three active entrepreneurs is a woman, so will the Minister take action to respond to the recommendations of the Rose review so that more women can turn their great business ideas into great businesses?
I thank my right hon. Friend for highlighting that particular finding. It is our ambition to increase the number of female entrepreneurs by half by 2030. The new investing in women code will drive more funding for women and encourage more women to start businesses. Alison Rose is already taking several recommendations forward with the backing of industry. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is bringing forward the Government’s strategy to address persistent gender economic barriers facing women across the country at every level.
Is the Minister aware that an increasing number of women entrepreneurs are using digital blockchain tools to start and grow their businesses? Will she meet people who can introduce her to blockchain solutions, and will she say something to her colleagues in the Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority to encourage such use?
I would be very happy to meet women who are using all manner of tools. I met eBay yesterday, and it talked about the work it is doing to encourage women to start their own businesses. It particularly talked about how it is working with retail businesses in Wolverhampton. I am always available to speak about anything that will encourage women in business—in fact, not just women but all people.
The Government strongly condemn sexual harassment in the workplace and are committed to seeing it end. Employers are already responsible for preventing sexual harassment in their workplace and can be held legally liable if they do not, but we are consulting this summer to gather evidence on whether reinforcing this with a proactive duty would lead to better prevention of this terrible practice in the workplace.
Women who work in the retail and hospitality sectors in the UK have little protection when they face workplace harassment, which is something that happens far too often. As last year’s Presidents Club scandal shows, employers have no duty to protect their staff. May I encourage the Minister, when she carries out that review, to give serious consideration to reinstating section 40 of the Equality Act 2010 to give women the protection at work they have every right to deserve?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this, because it is important; every woman—indeed, every person—should be able to enjoy their place of work without the threat or risk of sexual harassment. I take issue gently with him on section 40. He may know that it was used only twice when it was in force and it had the three strikes approach, which we believe was one reason why it was not used as often as it should have been. We are very open-minded; we have this consultation, and I encourage everyone to participate in it, so that we can find solutions that suit not just employees, but responsible employers.
Has the Minister thought about looking at the system of protected conversations that was introduced by the coalition Government? Given the nature of such conversations, that system could give a licence to employers to engage in harassment in conversations that then, under statute, cannot be quoted at subsequent hearings.
I am happy to look at that. As I say, we will be consulting in the summer. We want also to understand the scale of sexual harassment in the workplace. By definition, it tends to be activity that is hidden and there is stigma to it. We want absolutely to make the point that it is not right for anyone, of any gender, of any sexuality, to suffer this sort of behaviour in the workplace.
Gender Pay Gap
Gender pay gap reporting provides transparency for everyone in holding employers to account, and many organisations already recognise that closing the gap makes good business sense. I am writing to public sectors employers who are within scope of the regulations to urge them to develop action plans, and meeting influential business leaders to press them to take action in their sectors to make the best of the potential that their female employees can provide to them.
Before I answer that, I feel obliged to wish my hon. Friend good luck in the London marathon this weekend, as I do to all Members of this House who will be running those 26 miles—we hope it will be good weather.
I am sure the whole House joins me in being delighted that we have exceeded last year’s compliance levels, with 95% of all employers believed to be in scope in the regulations having reported their data by the deadlines. We are confident that 100% compliance will be achieved shortly, and we have already seen the reporting rates rise to 98%.
When across 45% of firms the discrepancy in pay increase is in favour of men this year, it is now clear that the Government’ s policy of asking companies simply to report on the gender pay gap is not enough. I welcome the Minister’s response to the question about encouraging people, but will she now heed our advice and make it mandatory for companies also to produce action plans on how they will defeat this inequality against women?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I know she shares my enthusiasm and determination on this point. She will be pleased that already just under 50% of employers within scope are publishing their own action plans—they are doing that because they understand it makes good business sense. We believe that this is the best approach. Interestingly, 56% of employers have reported either reductions in their gender pay gaps or the fact that they are staying the same. There is a great deal of work to do, but we have to bring business with us; businesses have to realise that it makes good business sense to close their gap and to treat their female staff properly. We believe that by encouraging them we will bring about the best result.
I welcome the progress that has been made in closing the gender pay gap and increasing the representation of women on company boards, but what are the Government doing to support low-paid, low-skilled women, who often seem to be left out of the conversation?
My hon. Friend has distilled into his question the important point that the gender pay gap is not just about the heads of companies—directors and so on—important though that aspect is; it is also about helping women at the very lowest ends of the pay scales. We want to encourage them to seek better jobs and have better incomes. That is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is setting out a strong strategy on economic empowerment for women, so that they are treated fairly in the workplace, no matter their pay level, and ensuring that employers realise that if they are going to get the best of their workforce, they need to pay their female staff properly.
Universal Credit: Effect on Women
Universal credit treats all genders equally, and female employment is at a record high. The changes to the tax threshold and the national living wage and the increases to the universal credit work allowance will specifically assist women more on an ongoing basis.
On behalf of the Go Girls, a group of young parents in Newport, may I raise with the Minister one of the unfairnesses of the universal credit system? Lone parents who are under 25 get paid a lower rate than they would have been paid under tax credits, causing great hardship to young parents and children. Will the Minister help me to lobby the Department for Work and Pensions on the issue?
I note the point, which I have discussed with the hon. Lady previously. I am happy for the Minister with responsibility for this specific matter to sit down with the hon. Lady and her particular constituents to ensure that it is addressed, but I should make the point that this April we brought in the £1,000 increase to the UC work allowance, which should make a difference in the interim, before such a conversation takes place.
It is incredibly important to provide support and a route back to work for people who have taken time out to care for others, and we want to find out the most effective way of doing so. Today, I am announcing that, as part of our returners programme, we are awarding grants to the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation; to One Ark in Liverpool; to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, for projects in Yorkshire and Humber; and to Carer Support Wiltshire. These grants will be used for a number of initiatives to make it easier for people to return to the labour market and to discover how best to keep people economically active.
The housing association Habinteg recently launched a new advisory group for disabled people. The group has highlighted the impact that not having an accessible home has on people’s employment, health and wellbeing. Will the Minister agree to meet representatives of the group to discuss their real concerns?
There is no excuse for new build homes especially not to be accessible. The Global Disability Innovation Hub set a challenge and has demonstrated that accessible homes can be built with no greater footprint and at no greater cost, so there is no excuse for local authorities not to do so. I would be happy to meet those representatives, and will suggest that to the Minister for Disabled People, too.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point, and the Government take these issues very seriously. For example, our apprenticeship diversity champions network is working in partnership with employers to help to overcome gender stereotypes in sectors such as science, technology, engineering and maths and industries such as construction. My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that since 2010 there has been a 26% increase in the number of girls entering STEM A-levels in England, and that in the United Kingdom the number of women accepted on to full-time STEM undergraduate courses since 2010 has increased by 28%.
On 22 April, we marked the very first National Stephen Lawrence Day. It has been 26 years since his tragic racist murder. Sadly, as the Prime Minister acknowledged, racism and racial discrimination are still very prevalent in our society.
In 2018, the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance stated that any measure that directly or indirectly targets and undermines the rights of marginalised groups must be understood as breaking international human rights law. This Government have presided over an immigration enforcement system in which people are being unfairly racially profiled; refused to allow people to bring forward discrimination claims based on more than one aspect of their identity; introduced voter ID, which will disenfranchise marginalised communities; failed to act on the results of their own racial disparity audit; and introduced hostile-environment policies. Will the Minister inform the House whether, as well as breaking the UN’s human rights law, her Government are institutionally racist or just do not care?
The hon. Lady raises some very important issues. I am sorry about the tone of her question, because I do not recognise the attitude that she implies among my colleagues, including the Prime Minister, who has done some groundbreaking work in this area. What I would say to her and other hon. Members who rightly are concerned about these issues is that part of the motivation for moving the Government Equalities Office into the Cabinet Office, so that it can sit alongside the race disparity team, is to look at these things in the round. As well as the issues that she identified, individuals in this country face multiple discrimination. For example, an enormous number of people sleeping on the streets in London are young, gay, black men. Only by working together and looking at the disaggregated data will we really understand how we can improve lives for everyone in this country.
Being part of the LGBT community is not a lifestyle choice and learning about LGBT issues is not what makes someone gay, lesbian or trans. What is being done by the Government to ensure that those outdated views have no place in our future society?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s question. We have been clear in introducing relationships education and relationships and sex education that they are designed to foster respect for others and for difference, and to educate pupils about the different types of healthy relationships. Teaching about the diverse society that we live in can be delivered in a way that respects everyone’s views.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her FBU question. I would suggest that the FBU—[Interruption.] I have said this before, because it concerns me that there are no women on the FBU executive council. If the fire brigades workforce are to be looked after as we want them to be—Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recently published a report looking at facilities for female firefighters across the country and was concerned to see, for example, two services with no designated shower facilities for female firefighters—then these changes must be made from the very top of our fire brigade community, making sure that women’s voices are heard, because they are absolutely essential as part of our firefighting workforce.
Department of Health guidance in Northern Ireland says that Northern Ireland doctors referring women to GEO-funded free abortions in England could be breaking the criminal law. Will the Minister publish her legal advice to enable the Department of Health to change that guidance, which surely is erroneous? Will she update the House on what she is doing to help women in Northern Ireland, such as Sarah Ewart and others, who are being required by law to continue pregnancies where doctors have already told them that their babies will die before they are born or shortly after?
May I start by thanking my right hon. Friend and the Women and Equalities Committee for an incredibly important piece of work? It not only looked at the legal and human rights issues, but got on record public opinion and the opinion of healthcare and legal professionals in Northern Ireland and showed the complete paucity of care being endured by women in Northern Ireland. With specific regard to the legal advice, I clarified in my evidence to her Committee via a letter that the legal advice that we received when the scheme was set up meant that it would not be a crime to refer to those services and that the issue that she raised in her question does not stand.
I have also met with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who looks at health inequalities. She believes that she already has the powers to provide guidance to ensure that no one is deterred from referring someone to a healthcare service that they need, and where their life may be in danger if they do not receive it, because of fear that doing so might be a crime. That is completely bogus, and she has undertaken to do that immediately. However, there is obviously more to do to put right this issue—with apologies for adding to my answer, Mr Speaker—so that every citizen of the United Kingdom can have the healthcare services that they need.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who has done a great deal of work on this issue in her constituency. We are keeping this matter under review. We are keen that local councils are able to use the powers that they have under the antisocial behaviour laws, if appropriate in their areas.
Recent research shows that the HPV vaccine has led to a dramatic decline in cervical cancer. Having a vaccination saves lives, so can we use this opportunity to urge mums and dads across the UK to ensure that their kids have the measles vaccine?
As the hon. Lady will know, we are doing a great deal to support women, and men, who have suffered from domestic violence. The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently being looked at. The Government have pledged an additional £20 million over this Parliament to support victims and organisations combating domestic abuse. Women’s Aid does a fantastic job.
In light of recent objection to the Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that would address the discrimination against daughters when it comes to inheritance, when do the Government intend to end the practice of male primogeniture?
The Daughters’ Rights campaign was started after one new mum was told that her new arrival being a girl must have been a disappointment to her. This matter and the issue of courtesy titles are complex matters, but we do need to look at them in this modern age. My Department is working on that, and I welcome the Daughters’ Rights campaign.
The Northern Ireland Office has the lead on this issue, and it is waiting on a potential declaration of incompatibility. There has never been a case of such a declaration being issued and the Government not taking action. I alluded earlier to the fact that I am focusing on what we can do with the powers that we have to ensure that, within the current restrictions, every woman who needs particular healthcare services has access to them.
Shared parental leave is a good option for families, but take-up remains low. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging the Business Secretary to introduce a standalone period of parental leave just for partners, to give families more choices and help women to balance work and family?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has been doing to campaign on this issue, along with a number of our Conservative colleagues. We are looking at this as part of the women’s economic empowerment strategy. We want parents to have the choice as to how they share caring responsibilities, and we know that there are practical, as well as cultural, barriers to them doing so.
Both are growing, but female in particular.
I refer the hon. Lady to a written ministerial statement I tabled this week for an update. The first meeting of the taskforce will be in June, and we will be making announcements about who will be on it, but it will have three co-chairs: one from Government, one from the private sector and one from the charity and social sector.
In the response to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004, what consideration is being given to the approach of the International Association of Athletics Federations and its use of testosterone levels to determine whether a trans athlete competes in a women’s or a men’s race?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue, although it is slightly separate from the very narrow remit of the Gender Recognition Act. Every Department is facing all sorts of issues in relation to trans people, so we have brought together a team of Ministers and officials across Government to make sure that policy is where it needs to be. I have also had separate meetings with the Minister for Sport to discuss both elite and community sport. Many of these decisions, particularly at the elite level, are for sporting bodies to lead on, although there are safety issues as well. I can assure her that these will be ongoing meetings across all Departments and that we will make sure that every Department provides services and support and has the right policies in place for modern times.
I know that the hon. Lady is passionate about this, and I am pleased she has taken up this very important campaign. The Ministry of Justice is looking very closely at it. I have mentioned before that the civil procedure rule committee is looking at the issue she has raised in the past about applications to court. It will have a further meeting at the beginning of May, and I will be very happy to update her on that when the meeting has taken place.