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Women and Equalities

Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2022

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Hate Crime

1. What recent assessment she has made of trends in the levels of police-recorded hate crimes targeting individuals on the basis of their (a) race, (b) religion, (c) sexual orientation, (d) disability and (e) transgender identity. (901837)

I greatly welcome the fact that people feel more willing to report hate crime. We have seen an increase of 26% in recorded incidents and believe that the biggest driver of it is the welcome improvement in police recording. Let me be clear: hate crime is a scourge on communities and will not be tolerated, which is why we are committed to reducing all crime, including hate incidents, and are on track to recruit 20,000 extra police officers.

According to the Office for National Statistics, nationally we have seen a sixfold increase in hate crime over the past decade. Locally, in the recent efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy inspections of Warwickshire police, criticism was made of the way in which the force supports victims in the aftermath of such crimes. This was felt by a constituent who was physically and racially assaulted; his assailant was charged with physical damage of a phone after Warwickshire police failed to complete a case action plan sent to them by the Crown Prosecution Service. Can the Minister advise us of how frequently she meets her colleagues in the Home Office? What is being done to arrest this rise in violent crime?

As I hope the hon. Gentleman will see, I am personally committed to ensuring the best possible response to these terrible crimes and, indeed, to all crimes. There is an online hate crime hub, True Vision, which police can now directly work with; he mentions a constituent’s case, and victims of online hate can submit reports and get the right support, which is equally important. That is there on both sides—it is for the police also.

In his question, the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) did not include hate crimes committed against women, yet we know that the Nottinghamshire police force is doing some great pilot work on recording misogyny as a hate crime in the incidents it encounters. Will the Minister update us on how that pilot is going and whether there are plans to roll it out further? What progress is the Home Office making on its work and consultation on tackling public sexual harassment, which is one of those significant crimes that impacts women every day?

My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I am very interested in both those issues. The consultation on public sexual harassment has been completed and I am currently looking at it. On misogyny as a hate crime, I am aware of the Nottinghamshire police work. It is absolutely right that a number of police forces are choosing of their own volition to record those particular crimes. I will update her further in writing, because there is more to say.

I welcome the new Minister for Women and Equalities to her place.

With reference to the previous question, I should of course say that making misogyny a hate crime is something the Government have stood against until now, when they have been pushed by a Labour police and crime commissioner in Nottinghamshire, but we hope the tide may be turning.

A moment ago, the Minister referred to some statistics on hate crime, but not the most concerning ones. One was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) when he talked about violent hate crime, which is six times higher today than it was 10 years ago. Hate crimes that are reported are up by 269% in England and Wales since 2010. We have also seen the highest number of religiously motivated hate crimes ever recorded this year. What are the Government going to do about this?

The hon. Lady knows that we have some of the strongest legislation to tackle everything that she has mentioned, including religious hate crime. Over the past six years, the Home Office’s places of worship protective security funding scheme has awarded 323 grants of around £8 million with regard to religious hate crime. I will be clear: I am personally committed to the best possible response to hate crime by every force.

Cost of Living: Women in the Workplace

2. What recent steps the Government are taking to help support women in the workplace during the cost of living crisis. (901839)

The Department for Work and Pensions new progression offer will help claimants on universal credit to identify opportunities in their current role or a new role. We have also increased the national living wage, reduced the universal credit taper rate and increased the work allowance to ensure that work pays.

The current Prime Minister famously insulted millions of mums across the UK during the pandemic when he showed a total lack of understanding of the pressure they were under and the discrimination they faced in the workplace. It is probably lost on a billionaire PM, but his Tory Government have overseen the second most expensive childcare in the developed world. According to Pregnant Then Screwed, 62% of parents pay the same or more for childcare as their rent or mortgage. The cost of living crisis will only worsen that. What real actions will the Minister and the new Prime Minister take? Will she and he be in post long enough to actually do anything?

Childcare is an important issue. Since 2010, we have doubled childcare to 30 hours for working parents, with a universal offer of 15 hours, and covering 85% of childcare costs under universal credit. We have also had much discussion in recent weeks about childcare ratios. I will ensure that the relevant Minister writes to the hon. Lady with more detail.

One workplace where women need support is the other place, where an eighth of the seats are reserved for men only. Will the Minister support my Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill and get that anomaly changed?

I thank my hon. Friend for her impressive campaigning on this issue. I was privileged to be in the Chamber when she made some of her speeches about it this year. I will look into the matter and ensure that I write to her about it.

Last month, the new Minister for Women and Equalities told investors in New York that the Government were going for growth in a big way. She said of that economic strategy:

“We know it is bold. We know it comes with risk. But in these volatile times, every option, even the status quo is risky.”

One month on from the catastrophic mini-Budget, will the Minister explain what impact going for growth had on women’s finances?

We have provided lots of cost of living support for families and particularly for women. We will write to the hon. Lady further about the issue.

I am disappointed by that brief response, because today we have found from the latest statistics that women need more than 12 times the average annual salary to buy a home. Our average real-terms wages have plummeted by almost £600 a year since 2010. The Government have simply removed the possibility of home ownership for millions of women. In her speech last month, the Minister for Women and Equalities described the UK as “Europe’s unicorn factory”. Are not her Government Britain’s chaos factory, with working women paying the price through lower wages and lost mortgages?

I completely dispute that characterisation of the Government. We have not only taken comprehensive steps to support people financially this year, targeting support at vulnerable households and families and putting in place an energy price cap, but increased the national living wage and changed the universal credit taper rate. We have taken a number of steps to help people with their finances and we will continue to do so.

This Tory Government have committed to introducing an employment Bill at least 20 times, but it is nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, labour market inequalities become all the more acute, especially in the cost of living crisis. The Minister could tell us that she will fix the sick pay system, introduce the day one right to flexible working, improve parental leave and pay and strengthen protections against pregnancy and maternity discrimination, but her Government are making a choice not to do those things. That is a real contrast with the Scottish Government’s recent “Building a New Scotland” paper, which sets out how an independent Scotland would deliver fair working practices. Why do this Tory Government support inequality in the workplace?

The changes in flexible working that we saw during the pandemic have been helpful to women. The Government have taken action in consulting on flexible working. It is a matter for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, so I will ensure that the relevant Minister writes to her about that issue.

Women in British Motorsport

3. If she will take steps with Cabinet colleagues to encourage more women into British motorsport. [R] (901840)

This Government and I are absolutely committed to supporting women’s sport at every opportunity, pushing for greater participation, employment, commercial opportunities and visibility in the media. We want to continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that all aspects of women’s sport continue to flourish. I welcome the W Series, as it provides equal opportunities for women to compete competitively in motorsport. I also recognise what organisations such as Motorsport UK and the British Women Racing Drivers Club are taking forward to increase women and girls’ participation within the sport.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. As she said, the all-female W Series championship is another jewel in the crown for British motorsport, won for the third time this year by British driver Jamie Chadwick, but it has sadly had to curtail the season by three races, with the sad reality being that women’s sports such as the W Series have much lower funding available than their male counterparts. Will my hon. Friend commit to working with the W Series to help it continue to support women drivers, engineers and mechanics into motorsports?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for motorsport, and, as he knows, I am more than a little bit of a petrolhead myself. I approach motorsport with an enormous amount of enthusiasm and almost no talent, which is probably the problem. I also add my congratulations to Jamie Chadwick. I did watch the championships and she did a phenomenal drive. It is disappointing that the season was cut short, and we want women’s sports to thrive. The Government are unable to intervene directly, but the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working with the wider support sector on the commerciality of women’s sport and how it can be promoted.

One way to encourage more women into motorsport and, indeed, into every job and every industry is to make workplaces endometriosis-friendly. One in 10 women have endometriosis, and it has a huge impact on the workplace. What encouragement can the Minister give to companies to adopt the Endometriosis UK strategy to make all workplaces endometriosis-friendly?

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. Women’s health issues are coming to the fore in the workplace. Although I do not have the level of detail to commit exact policy, I will get the Department of Health and Social Care to write to her about the matter.

Disabled People: Building Adjustments

4. What her timescale is for the commencement and implementation of provisions in the Equality Act 2010 on reasonable adjustments to common parts of buildings for disabled people. (901841)

We are committed to the commencement of this provision of the Equality Act 2010. Our consultation on the detail of implementation closed on 18 August 2022, and we are analysing responses before taking further steps. We expect to introduce regulations and prepare comprehensive guidance prior to commencement in England and Wales in due course.

I welcome the Minister to her place. Access to public buildings is one of issues that my constituents most often bring to me: those who have a problem with accessibility feel that they are excluded in many ways. I know that, in England and Wales, there are almost half a million wheelchair users who are awaiting the results of the consultation for their own homes as much as for public buildings. I welcome the Minister’s statement, but can she assure us that this matter will not be put aside in the recent chaos?

That is something that we have committed to. Obviously, it is important to properly address the cost implications of implementation given everything that is happening, and we will do everything that we can to further this piece of work.

Higher Education: White State-Educated Children

5. If she will take steps with the Secretary of State for Education to help ensure that the proportion of white state school educated students obtaining a place in higher education is raised to the same proportion as mixed heritage, black, Asian and Chinese students. (901842)

Ensuring that everyone can access world-class education remains a priority. In 2021, we saw record higher education progression rates for disadvantaged white students who had free school meals. The Government are investing £3.8 billion more in high-quality education, skills and training provision, leading to good outcomes for young people and getting them the skills needed for economic growth, whichever good-quality route they choose.

On the Government’s own figures, the percentage of state school pupils getting a higher education place by ethnicity is Chinese 72%, Asian 55%, black 49%, mixed heritage 41% and white 33%. Are the Government concerned about those widening disparities, and if so, what are they going to do to level up university entry?

As a meritocrat, I believe not in positive discrimination, but in a society where people are judged on their character and ability. Access to HE should be based on a student’s attainment and their ability to succeed, rather than their background. As I said, 2021 saw a record high number of white students who receive free school meals progressing on to higher education, but since the publication of the report, “The forgotten: how White working-class pupils have been let down, and how to change it”, we have tasked the Office for Students with refreshing its entire access and participation work and with looking into that.

Cost of Living: Children with SEND

6. What steps she is taking with the Secretary of State for Education to help ensure equality of opportunity for children with special educational needs and disabilities in the context of the cost of living crisis. (901843)

For pupils with complex needs, high-needs education funding is increasing by £1 billion in the 2022-23 financial year, bringing the total funding to £9.1 billion. The Department also provides £27.3 million per annum to deliver grants to support low-income families raising disabled or seriously ill children and young people.

I welcome that support, but constituents who are parents of disabled children often tell me that they feel it is like an obstacle race and there are many hurdles put in their way to get the support they need for their children, both at home and at school. Can the Government make it easier to access essential special educational needs and disabilities support?

My right hon. Friend raises an important question. The SEND and alternative provision Green Paper proposals aim to improve experiences and outcomes for children and young people with SEND within a fairer and more sustainable system. We are investing £301.75 million jointly with the Department of Health and Social Care to transform start for life and family support services in 75 local authorities across England.

As we face the worst cost of living crisis in memory, it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to provide important life experiences for their children. Springfield House in Birmingham is a wonderful SEND school, which many students across Coventry North West attend. For many years it has provided away nights for pupils, giving children the chance to spend time away from home, with their peers, in a safe environment. Because of Government cuts, those away nights are being axed. Will the Minister speak to her counterpart in the Department for Education to ensure that families in Coventry do not lose that much-needed service?

The Government are doing some amazing work, and I point the hon. Lady’s constituents and those of MPs across the House to a fantastic website,, which demonstrates the great services open to people who are having difficulties.

Topical Questions

I am delighted to have been appointed as Minister for Women and Equalities. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, this Government will bring

“compassion to the challenges we face”,

put people’s needs above politics and reach out to communities across the country. My priority will be to deliver our groundbreaking Inclusive Britain strategy, our cross-Government work to improve the lives of disabled people, and to break down barriers to opportunity for people from all backgrounds up and down the UK.

I recently met the chair of the Chesham mosque committee, who had been told that medical examiners in our area will be available only five days a week and not at the weekend. That will cause significant problems for our Muslim and other religious communities who bury their loved ones as soon as possible following a death. Will the Minister meet me and my constituent to find a way forward to ensure that the new system does not infringe the rights of religious communities?

I did not fully hear the question, but if the hon. Lady writes to me in more detail about what she requires, I will be able to follow up in better detail.

T2. Back in the 1990s, a colonel in the Royal Marines said to me that he would rather have a gay Marine alongside him who could shoot straight than a straight Marine who could not. My right hon. Friend will know there was much persecution of gay people in the armed forces. Can she update us on how the LGBT veterans independent review is getting on? (901853)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I can tell him that under Lord Etherton as chair, this important independent review has launched a call for evidence on the experiences of LGBT veterans who served between 1967 and 2000, when LGBT people were barred from openly serving in the armed forces.

T4. Why was the post of Minister for Disabled People demoted? What message do we think that that sends to disabled people, who already feel like an afterthought for this Government, and will the Government reverse that decision immediately? (901855)

This continues to be an important ministerial post in Government. The Secretary of State will have strategic oversight, but let me leave the hon. Lady in no doubt about how important the issue is to this Government. With 1.3 million more people in work, billions more in funding for children with SEND, a new BSL Act, Down’s syndrome Act and special rules for end of life, this continues to be a very important area for this Government.

T3. I am delighted that two entrepreneurs, Janet Percival from Jaspels cider and Stacey Chadfield from Emberwood Creative, will be coming to Westminster as part of the Savvitas MP HERoes initiative. Does my hon. Friend agree that our entrepreneurs are the backbone of our economy, particular in places such as Ynys Môn? (901854)

With family on the island running businesses, including my own—businesses based in Llangefni and Aberffraw, a wonderful part of the island—I absolutely support the work that the Savvitas MP HERoes have done to celebrate female-led enterprises across all areas of the UK. I particularly want to take this opportunity to thank Helene Martin Gee for her excellent work in this area. I am also delighted to announce that to date, 40% of start-up loans issued by this Government have gone to female entrepreneurs.

T5. Women’s Budget Group analysis shows that 100,000 lone parents, mostly women, and 200,000 children will be forced into poverty if the Government raise benefits in line with average wages rather than inflation. Will Ministers confirm that they will push the Chancellor to uprate benefits in line with inflation so that women are not forced into further hardship because of the Government’s economic incompetence? (901856)

The hon. Lady will know that we do not make fiscal policy in Equalities questions. She will have to wait for the Chancellor to give a statement to get an answer to her question.

T6. The Government have an excellent opportunity to grant investment zones in South East Cornwall. What work are the Government doing to ensure equality of opportunity for those investors? (901857)

My hon. Friend is a role model to all the female entrepreneurs in her constituency. Whether through investment or expressions of interest by different areas, or making sure they take account of equality of opportunity in their conduct, the Government recognise that a diverse and inclusive business ecosystem is good for investors, entrepreneurs, businesses and my hon. Friend’s society.

T7. It is widely acknowledged that public spending cuts impact most on women. The Chancellor has signalled that he will seek such cuts in an effort to close the £40 billion hole his predecessor recklessly blew in the public finances. Will the Equalities Minister now undertake to publish an equality impact assessment on the 17 November autumn statement, as required by the Equality Act 2010? (901858)

We will undertake all due assessments on fiscal statements, as we regularly do over the course of things.

T8.   The Government rightly want to see more disabled people in employment, but what more can the Minister say about encouraging in-work progression for those with a disability and, most importantly, getting more disabled representation on company boards to drive wider corporate change in business? (901859)

My hon. Friend has always been a passionate advocate for compassionate conservatism. We are looking at the issue very carefully. We are going to accept all the recommendations of the Holmes review of public appointments and I point my hon. Friend in the direction of the DWP progression work that we are doing.

Next week, we come together to recognise National Fertility Week, and yesterday I had the great opportunity to meet Fertility First, a fantastic charity that provides information to everyone who requires fertility treatment. What more can the Minister do to ensure fair and equal access to fertility treatment for everyone in the UK who needs it?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that subject, which I would be happy to meet with her to discuss in due course. As she knows, I returned to this role only a few hours ago, so I do not have a full answer for her now, but I am happy to work with her on this issue.

What is the Secretary of State’s response to the allegations made yesterday, following her appointment, by Ben Cohen of Pink News?

I know everyone wants to start Prime Minister’s questions quickly, but please forgive me, Mr Speaker, if my answer to this question is a tad longer than it ordinarily would be.

I am afraid that this particular individual is one who uses Twitter as a tool for defamation. He has even been sued by people in this House, such as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). As we begin a new era of equalities, I would like to say that the Equality Act is a shield, not a sword. It is there to protect people of all characteristics, whether they are young or old, male or female, black or white, gay or straight. We are running a compassionate equality strategy and we should not be distracted by people who use Twitter as a way to insult or accuse Members of Parliament.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on I welcome the Prime Minister and call Dr Alan Whitehead to ask the first question.