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Covid-19: Support in the Workplace (Protected Characteristics)

Volume 701: debated on Wednesday 22 September 2021

8. What steps the Government are taking to support people with protected characteristics in the workplace during the covid-19 outbreak. (903595)

As the hon. Lady will understand, the vaccine roll-out is key. I was delighted to have my third jab this morning, and I would urge all colleagues to make the case for the vaccine roll-out, which is important for everyone but particularly for those with protected characteristics and those of us who are in the 1% who were shielded throughout the pandemic.

The outbreak of covid-19 posed a risk to all workers, but especially to those with particular disabilities and those who are immunocompromised. The UK Government’s national disability strategy could have made progress in supporting those workers by introducing statutory timescales on reasonable adjustments for employers, but it did not. What priority on the strategy is the Minister communicating to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy? Will representations be made to add timescales for statutory reasonable adjustments?

The Government are working on a number of issues, but the hon. Lady will be aware of the Access to Work programme, which has introduced a more flexible working offer to support disabled people to move into and retain employment, including with homeworking support and mental health support. Of course, the kickstart scheme also has more than £2 billion of funding.

Baroness Lawrence’s report, “An Avoidable Crisis”, found that the Government’s failure to ensure workplaces are covid secure had a disproportionate impact on black, Asian and ethnic minority workers. They are more likely to be trapped in low-paid, precarious work, more likely to be overlooked in decisions on workplace protections and more likely to be struggling to self-isolate due to the risk of financial loss. Why are the Government still refusing to require employers to report occupational covid infections and to publish their risk assessments to keep these workers safe?

I am sure the hon. Lady will meet the relevant Ministers, but she will be aware of the disability strategy and the Access to Work programme that we have introduced, which has a more flexible working offer for disabled people with the chance for homeworking support and mental health and wellbeing support. There are also 20 black, Asian and minority ethnic mentors working across the country, from Birmingham to Brent and from Glasgow to Manchester, to ensure there is true access.

I thank the Minister, and I hope he will at least attempt to answer my second question. People with protected characteristics have taken a disproportionate hit to their workplace income during the pandemic. Ethnicity pay reporting is a vital tool to address that. Three years have passed since the McGregor-Smith report recommended it, yet two days ago a Minister said that the Government still need to work out even what it makes sense to report on. Why are the incomes of black, Asian and ethnic minority people of apparently so little interest to this Government?

I would make two points. First, the Minister for Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), has reminded me that the Government will be responding to the matter this autumn. Secondly, I was shielded myself. I had my third vaccine this morning. We need to make the case that everybody needs to go out and get their third vaccine or their booster straightaway.

Being online is a critical part of a politician’s work, yet in the past two weeks we have seen such an appalling level of abuse targeted at women and people of race that a Conservative Member has come off social media and an Opposition Member has been unable to go to their own party conference. Will the Minister please set out what we can do to get online companies to take more care on the level of abuse and harassment they tackle online?

Order. It is not related really to the question. Are you sure you can answer it in relation to the question, Minister?

I can, Mr Speaker. This is a very serious matter and it does touch upon the point raised. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and many others deserve the full protection of the police and so many others, in our workplace, out of our workplace, on an ongoing basis. We stand with all of them, regardless of party.

Following the 2008 crash, pregnant women and new mothers were made redundant in their thousands, unfairly selected because they were mothers, in what has been described as “straight up discrimination on an industrial scale”. The Taylor review and the UK Government research both confirmed that such discrimination still exists. So as the furlough scheme ends, pregnant women and new mothers need immediate action on this. Will the Minister press his colleagues to bring forward the much-delayed employment Bill and take immediate action to tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination?

I refer the hon. Lady to the answer given by the Minister for Care, who represents the Department of Health and Social Care. I also respectfully invite the hon. Lady to meet Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy specifically to raise the employment status of the women she identifies.