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Topical Questions

Volume 709: debated on Wednesday 23 February 2022

The appointment of Katharine Birbalsingh as chair of the Social Mobility Commission has been a welcome boost to the agenda. I would like to inform the House that she has begun the recruitment process for new social mobility commissioners to support her in delivering change. I look forward to meeting the new board when the process is complete. Its work will be critical to helping the Government to deliver our levelling-up agenda.

Under new rules introduced last month, out-of-work universal credit claimants have just four weeks to find work; the previous limit was three months. Given that women are more likely than men to claim universal credit, as Welsh charity Chwarae Teg has highlighted, will the Minister confirm what consideration, if any, was given to how women would be affected? Has a full equalities impact assessment been carried out?

I am reassured by one of my colleagues that that is not the case. Individual circumstances are taken into account. I am sure that if the hon. Lady writes to us, we shall be able to provide more details in order to correct the record.

T2.   As the Minister will know, a hate crime occurs when a crime is committed and is aggravated by the victim’s protected characteristic, yet in recent weeks we have seen the existence of a statue described as a hate crime, along with the sale of Midget Gems in a supermarket. Neither is a crime, let alone a hate crime. Does the Minister agree that trivialising such incidents and misrepresenting hate crime will make victims of disability hate crime less likely to report those crimes? (905720)

I fully agree with my hon. Friend and would encourage all of us to choose our words wisely. It is important to remember that hate crime is a devastating and often violent crime, requiring evidence to be presented in court and proved to a criminal standard. I would encourage victims always to report such crimes.

Black, Asian and ethnic minority women face overwhelming health inequalities in our country, as has been revealed by the recent NHS Race & Health Observatory report. The Government promised us a comprehensive women’s health strategy by the end of 2021, and they have broken that promise. Instead, we have had a vague vision document, and now a taskforce to increase understanding of the problem, but no concrete steps to solve it. The Conservatives have had 12 years in which to act. When are they going to do so?

I am afraid it is not the case that nothing has been done. I have been working very closely with Ministers across Departments, looking at the very issues the hon. Lady has raised. We did launch a women’s health strategy in December, and more will be coming. She may not have noticed this, but on 23 December the Government published “Our Vision for the Women’s Health Strategy for England”, and there is far more detail to come. These are not issues on which we ever stop working, and I hope to be able to work with Members across the House to deliver on the strategy.

T5. I have a tragic case in my constituency. A 14-year-old girl was a victim of rape, and now her attacker has been allowed to live 120 metres away from her, causing her and her family intolerable distress. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the case, and will she work with me to ensure that victims can live safe in the knowledge that their abusers will never be allowed to live near them again, and that judges will prioritise the rights of victims over their attackers? (905723)

I am of course appalled to hear of that tragic case, and either I or a Minister from the Ministry of Justice will be happy to meet my right hon. Friend. It is vital that we protect the public, particularly from sex offenders, which is why offenders on licence are subject to a number of conditions, including where they live and work.

T3. We know that hate crime is often intersectional, especially in diverse constituencies such as mine. Many victims have more than one identity: they may be black, and they may also be LGBT women. However, the current legislation does not allow multiple characteristics to be recorded, so often the data lacks accuracy and depth. Will Ministers please work with us to address this, so that we can build a real picture of the people who are being targeted by hate crime? (905721)

The hon. Lady raises a very interesting and important point. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities and I will work on this, and see what more we can do to address that specific issue.

T7. Shared parental leave was a brilliant idea, introduced by a Conservative Government, but there is one type of new parent who receives almost no support: the kinship carer of a baby. What can my hon. Friend do to ensure equality for all types of parenting? (905725)

The Government value the vital role that kinship carers play. Eligible kinship carers who adopt are entitled to adoption leave and pay, and employed kinship carers may also be eligible for other leave entitlements to balance work with caring, including emergency leave, the right to request flexible working, and unpaid parental leave. However, we will continue to look at this issue.

T4. I want to share the words of one of my constituents with the House:“I am emailing you because of the unfairness of people on legacy benefits who did not receive the extra £20 a week support because of Covid… This is discrimination of Disabled people which I am one of… I could not leave my home for nearly eighteen months because of Covid, this money would have helped with heating costs.”This month, Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK, said:“With rising energy bills, increasing inflation and benefits pegged at a horrendously low level, millions of Disabled people are living in conditions comparable to the nineteenth century work house.”Can the Minister let me know— (905722)

In relation to the challenge in the High Court to the Government’s decision not to extend the universal credit uplift to those on legacy benefits during the pandemic, Mr Justice Swift said:

“My conclusion is that the difference in treatment…resulting from the 2020 Regulations was justified”.

I would ask the hon. Gentleman’s constituent to please use the benefits calculator on and to talk to his work coach in case there is any support locally that he is missing out on.

Four in 10 young women in this country have received an unsolicited naked image of a man’s genitals. This sort of abuse has absolutely no place in our society. Will my hon. Friend please ensure that this is made a sex offence in the online safety Bill?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her consistent campaigning against this disgusting form of abuse against women and girls. I can do no more than refer to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is sitting behind me and who has himself committed to introducing cyber-flashing as an offence as soon as possible.

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