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Topical Questions

Volume 706: debated on Wednesday 12 January 2022

We are five months away from Safe To Be Me, the UK’s first ever global LGBT rights conference. Everybody should be free to be themselves, but that is not true in too many parts of the world. We will work with friends and allies across the globe to turn the tide on authoritarianism, spread freedom and end the criminalisation, persecution and violence experienced by far too many LGBT people.

Aylesbury has a sizeable Pakistani diaspora. We have seen excellent campaigns locally and nationally to encourage uptake of vaccines among this community, but in the town’s central wards fewer than half of the people have had the booster so far. What steps is my hon. Friend taking across Government to encourage vaccine take-up among ethnic minority groups, especially those who do not have English as their first language?

My Department has been working across Government to promote vaccine uptake among ethnic minorities. We have worked with trusted local voices such as faith leaders to spread messaging, and we publish key information and advice via community TV and radio stations, translated into a range of languages including Urdu and Punjabi. In May, I met the high commissioner for Pakistan to consider other ways we can reach out to diaspora groups to promote vaccine confidence and uptake. I should say that between April and October 2021, the largest increase in vaccine uptake among the over-50s was in the Pakistani and black ethnic groups.

Department for Work and Pensions data show that four in five black people have less than £1,500 in the bank. More worrying is that approximately one in four black British, British Bangladeshi and British Pakistani people have no savings at all. Energy bills are going up, food prices are up and taxes are up. The increased cost of living will hit minority communities hardest. What action will the Minister take to ensure that minority communities are not pushed into greater hardship this winter?

We have put, on average, £1,000 a year more into the pockets of the lowest earners through changes to universal credit, increasing the minimum wage next April to £9.50 an hour, and helping with the cost of fuel bills. Our multibillion plan for jobs, which was recently expanded by £500 million, will help people across the UK to find work and to boost their wages and prospects, and this will disproportionately benefit people in minority ethnic groups.

In May 2020, Professor Sarah Gilbert, with help from the Downing Street team, was working on the AstraZeneca vaccine. What more can my right hon. Friend do to encourage more women in biomedicine?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about Sarah Gilbert’s achievements. She was part of our Gender Equality Advisory Council, working across the G7 to give women more opportunities and to enable more entrepreneurship, ideas and innovation around the world.

T2. Does the Minister share my concern that many older workers who lose their job find it difficult to get back into work, either because of employer prejudice or because of an artificial requirement for paper qualifications, with no allowance made for capability or experience; and what is she going to do about it? (905008)

The DWP has launched 50Plus Choices, which specifically addresses the issues the right hon. Gentleman raises. I will get the Minister responsible for that matter to write to him.

Outcomes for people in Blackpool in education, health and employment are among the worst in the whole country. I welcome the equality data programme, which is examining how factors such as social background and geography contribute to inequality. How does the Minister expect the programme to reduce the inherent inequalities that have disadvantaged people in Blackpool for decades?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Where one lives often has a bigger impact on outcomes than anything else. For example, the wage gap between London and the north-west is, on average, £5.22 an hour. We are examining the drivers of those disparities, and we have appointed Katharine Birbalsingh to lead the Social Mobility Commission and help to propose the policies that will sort this out.

T3. As co- chair of the all-party parliamentary group for black, Asian and minority ethnic business owners, I have been working closely with special adviser Diana Chrouch to identify and address the barriers to accessing finance that BAME entrepreneurs experience. A significant issue is the lack of data collected by banks and other financial institutions on the ethnicity of business owners. Will the Secretary of State meet me and the APPG to discuss how better collection of business owners’ ethnicity data can be driven forward across Government? (905009)

I am keen to hear what the APPG thinks the solutions are to this issue. The hon. Lady will know that collecting ethnicity data is a sensitive issue and it is not something that all people want to do, but I am happy to work with her and the APPG to learn about how we can come to some resolution.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that increasing diversity in the STEM sector is not only good for the individuals who will benefit from well paid, creative and rewarding jobs, but brings a wealth of talent and creativity to an ever more important sector?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need all the talent in Britain on the pitch, which is why it is so important we get more people into STEM, particularly girls and women.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on