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Economy: Women’s Incomes

Volume 749: debated on Monday 25 November 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have carried out an economic impact assessment of the effects on women’s incomes and standard of living of their economic policy since May 2010.

My Lords, departments take full account of the impact of their policies on women. In spending round 2013, the Government published an analysis of how their decisions impacted on different groups, including by gender. This was a first for any UK Government. The economy is growing, the deficit is falling and jobs are being created. The only sustainable way to raise living standards for both men and women is to stick to our current economic plans.

I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. I have to say that it does not coincide with the information that I have, which was produced by the House of Commons Library. Its analysis tells us that, of the £14.4 billion George Osborne has raised through additional net direct tax and benefit changes, about £11.4 billion—79%—is coming from women. This includes low-paid new mums, who have lost nearly £3,000 in support during their pregnancy and their baby’s first year; couples with children, who have lost 9.7% of their disposable income; and single mothers, who have lost the most—15.6%? Does the noble Lord think that that is fair, and how does it reflect, “We are all in this together”?

My Lords, I think that those figures are in some respects significantly misleading. For example, 98% of all child benefit goes to women, but it is the whole household that benefits. The single biggest improvement in the position of women under this Government has come from the fact that there are 450,000 women now in work who were not in work in 2010. This is as a result of the Government’s economic policies, which have kept interest rates down so that we have not seen the high unemployment peak that we had in the previous recession.

My Lords, with women three times more likely than men to be in part-time work, does the Minister agree that a gender divide still exists in the labour market that forces many women to compromise their careers in order to care for children, and that this inequality can best be addressed by further increasing the provision of affordable childcare?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. The Government are increasing the amount of free childcare that they are providing, most noticeably from the age of two, for 15 weeks a year, in addition to the existing provision for three and four year-olds. I agree with my noble friend’s comments about pay. It is noticeable, however, that, on most measures, the pay gap between men and women has fallen by between 0.5% and 1% in the past year.

My Lords, the Government are using the question of women’s employment rather incorrectly. They must stop hiding behind that. Rather, I should like an explanation of why the figures cited by my noble friend are misleading and why the House of Commons Library has got them wrong.

My Lords, as I said, one of the big elements in that overall figure is child benefit, which goes to women. It is paid to women in 98% of cases, but child benefit affects the whole family. Therefore, to include child benefit as a benefit for women, as it were, is completely misleading; it is a benefit for the whole household.

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that members of the minority community who are also British citizens are tending to do worse in the pay structure? Is he also aware that about 75% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are not a factor at all in the economic circumstances of Britain? How does that square with the so well supported and so beloved economic strategy of this Government?

My Lords, we would like to see—as no doubt the noble Baroness would—a higher proportion of women from those communities being economically active. We are seeing that a much higher proportion of young women in those communities are economically active than their parents were. However, one of the positive things about the rise in the number of women in employment, which I mentioned earlier, is that there is now a higher proportion of women in the labour market than ever before. That is very much to the benefit of women overall.

My Lords, does the Minister realise that proposals regarding economic policy are to be included in the paper to be produced by the Scottish Government tomorrow? Since the Minister’s noble friend was unable to answer my supplementary question, could he take some advice from the Advocate-General and answer it? A Government can call something a White Paper only if they have the power to implement what is included—and, if the Scottish people were, unfortunately, to vote yes, the Scottish Government’s proposals could be implemented only with the full agreement of the rest of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, perhaps I could refer the noble Lord to the speech made by my noble and learned friend at Aberdeen University last Friday, which very adequately answers his question.