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Topical Questions

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2023

In my last topical statement, I spoke about the unacceptable rise in antisemitism and hostility towards the Jewish community since 7 October, and I am updating the House on what further action I can take to promote social cohesion. The Equality Act 2010 is a shield against discrimination, and the public sector equality duty is part of that shield. It is particularly important that all public authorities take the duty seriously. To ensure that they understand how to comply with the duty, I will be publishing updated guidance shortly. I will then write to leaders of public authorities that have a key role in promoting social cohesion, to show how they can foster good relations, promote equality of opportunity and eliminate unlawful discrimination.

I thank the Minister for that answer. As the Women’s Budget Group has rightly pointed out, women are more reliant on benefits, due to care-giving roles, and they have been disproportionately impacted by regressive social security changes since 2010. What consideration has the Minister given to the abolition of the poverty-inducing benefit cap and the hated two-child limit, to prevent further poverty and destitution among women and children, and will she raise that matter with her Cabinet colleagues?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we disagree with the propositions that he has set out, and we have said so time and again at this Dispatch Box. We believe that the two-child policy is important. We know that there is a cost of living crisis caused by rising energy costs and the war in Ukraine, which was caused by Russia. The Government are doing everything we can to limit the impact on households.

T2. A Museum of London report has bizarrely concluded that black people were more likely to die from medieval plague. Will the Minister for Women and Equalities ensure that such sensationalist research findings and woke archaeology have no impact at all on current health and pandemic policy? (900640)

I do agree. I am not even sure whether we can call it just sensationalist or woke. The research apparently was based on phrenology, which is a completely discredited type of science. I agree with my hon. Friend that this type of research is damaging to trust, to social cohesion and even to trust in health services. I have written to the director of the Museum of London to express my concern.

In 2020, women’s life expectancy in the poorest parts of the UK was almost 19 years shorter than those in the most affluent. Thirteen years ago, Labour introduced a socioeconomic duty in the Equality Act 2010 to make the NHS and other public bodies tackle this gap. Why have Ministers failed to implement it?

The hon. Lady is right that the socioeconomic duty she references is not commenced in England. It is in Scotland, however, and the figures are worse there, which shows that the duty is not the solution to the problems she raises.

T8. My North Devon constituency is in the lower quartile for social mobility. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to improve social mobility outcomes for remote, rural and coastal communities? (900646)

I agree with my hon. Friend that the circumstances of a person’s birth or where they live should not be a barrier to social mobility. That is why we have established things such as the Social Mobility Pledge consortium with businesses, and 120 have signed up. There are 12 community renewal fund projects serving her constituency and the wider area, and £1.2 million from the shared prosperity fund to achieve those aims.

T3. The Etherton review was published five months ago, and we are due to have a statement later today. May I seek assurances from the Minister that the Department will work with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that its recommendations are published at pace? (900641)

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. It was a very important review, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made an apology at the Dispatch Box. There will be a statement later, and I suggest that she asks the Defence Minister a question at that point.

Every year, 800 women pass through immigration detention, including centres such as Yarl’s Wood in my constituency. Many of those women have been trafficked or are victims of sexual abuse. I am working with a group, Women for Refugee Women, to provide a snapshot of the backgrounds of these women. Will the Minister agree to meet us to analyse the results of their findings?

I would of course be happy to meet my hon. Friend. Women who have survived trafficking or sexual abuse are detained only when the evidence of vulnerability in their individual case is outweighed by immigration removal considerations. Victims of torture have their case considered by a single specialist team, autonomous of general caseworkers, and victims of modern slavery undergo a needs assessment to identify recovery needs.

T4. Gender bias plays a key role in the misdiagnosis and under-diagnosis of conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism in women and girls. What action are the Government taking to ensure that every girl with special educational needs receives support from their school or college, as she is entitled to by law? (900642)

We are working with more than 42 integrated care boards across the country to improve the timelines for diagnosis of autism and ADHD. Some ICBs are doing particularly well, but others need a lot more help and support.

Many people with impaired mobility conditions depend on their cars for the freedom to live the lives they want to lead. Will the Government therefore crack down on Labour’s anti-car policies in local government, such as the expansion of the ultra low emission zone and low-traffic networks and the building over of station car parks?

This Government are clear in our condemnation of Labour’s attack on motorists, whether it is in London or Wales. That is why, in the summer, the Prime Minister ordered a review of low-traffic neighbourhoods, which are making some parts of London inaccessible for disabled people, whether they are using public transport or cars.

T5.   Keep Prisons Single Sex has disclosed that police forces are still failing to adequately record the sex of offenders at birth and sometimes record self-identification. This can have a considerable effect on criminal justice data. Will the Minister take any steps to ensure that the correct data is given, so that appropriate analysis can be given and we do not have skewed information? (900643)

That is something that my Department is working on. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to ensure that data is accurate, that people understand what is being recorded and that this does not have an impact on how public services are delivered. If he has any further information that he would like to share, I would very much like to see if there are specific constituency circumstances we can look into.