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Women: Economic Policies

Volume 723: debated on Thursday 16 December 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on women of their economic policies.

My Lords, all departments will assess the impact on gender, race and disability of our economic policies as required by the equality duty laid down in legislation. This is the first time that has been done. The Treasury published an overview of the impact of the spending review on equalities alongside the main spending review announcement.

I thank the noble Baroness for that response. It is all well and good, but has she read the Women’s Budget Group report on the impact of the CSR on women? Will she accept that there are different kinds of fairness and that women often lose out due to their caring responsibilities, among other things? Will she also accept that this impacts on their employment opportunities, and say whether an assessment has been made of that?

My Lords, I have read the report. I am very keen to support the fact that this Government are making fairness a key priority. I do not accept that the report sets out exactly what the Government are doing. Therefore, it is only right that noble Lords are informed that we have taken out of income tax 880,000 of the lowest paid workers, who are predominantly women. We are also protecting the lowest paid public sector workers from the pay freeze. Added to that, we are including and increasing flexible working for all people, rather than for just mothers and carers, so that we can enable women to enter a workplace that suits their needs rather than the needs always of employers.

My Lords, earlier this year the Women and Work Commission estimated that improving women’s participation in the workforce is worth between £15 billion and £23 billion to the economy each year. With the British economy clearly in need of such extra financial input, what plans do the Government have to ensure that both the private and the public sectors maximise talent at its appropriate qualification level? I ask this not least in light of the drastic cuts being made to government services, which will mean that the major job losses are in fact for women.

My Lords, in responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, I pointed out that the Government take seriously the fact that the impact will fall predominantly on the lowest paid workers. That is why the Government have decided it is much better to ensure that flexible working is available to far more people. It means that women who often work in jobs below their potential are able to work at times better suited to them and their families, and that fathers are able to take more responsibility for caring at home.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the present Government aim to have more women on the boards of major companies? Does she think it is important to have women at that level coming through? If such board representation existed, it might have a filter-down effect that helps women all the way down the scale.

My noble friend raises an absolutely crucial point, and it is why we have asked the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, to look at how government and business can work together to make sure that the boardrooms of public and private bodies are better represented. It is unacceptable that measurements taken in 2009 show that only 12.5 per cent of the board members of the FTSE 100 companies were women. We need to ensure that we are able to do this by having better arrangements for flexible working and through a culture change within those organisations.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that among families with children, those headed by women face double the cuts in benefits and services of other families? Is she further aware that among pensioners, those who are single, female and elderly—mostly widows—face double the cuts of other pensioners? How can it possibly be “fair”—a word the Minister used extensively in response to my noble friend Lady Massey—that those women, who are the poorest, who earn least and who own least, face double the cuts of everyone else?

We need to take on board that we have introduced the triple guarantee to uprate the basic state pension by the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent from 2011. This is a difficult time for most people. Unfortunately, it is the result of what we have inherited.

Is the Minister aware that during the passage of the Equality Bill the previous Government completely failed to tackle the problem that the provisions of the laws dealing with unequal pay for work of equal value for women are tortuous and unworkable? Do the Government have any plans to look at those provisions with a view to making the law effective and persuading employers to look at their pay scales and practices to eliminate direct and indirect sex discrimination?

My Lords, we are ending the pay secrecy clauses and working with businesses to ensure that they voluntarily work towards ensuring that pay between men and women is far more equalised. The equality duty that we will bring in in April will ensure that organisations are more transparent in how they are engaging across the board, not only on gender issues but on minority and disability issues, to make sure that everyone will be able to access a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

My Lords, why out of the £16 billion being brought back into the Treasury from direct tax benefits will £11 billion come from the tax benefits to which women were entitled?

My Lords, I go back my first response. We have taken 880,000 of the lowest paid workers out of income tax. The majority of them will be women.