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Women in the Workplace

Volume 764: debated on Thursday 9 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the European Institute for Gender Equality’s 2015 index; and what steps they are taking to improve women’s quality of employment, and their participation and integration in the workplace.

My Lords, the gender equality index provides a measure of gender equality across the EU. The UK’s overall score in the 2015 index is above the EU average and based on data collected in 2012. We continue to make good progress, particularly in the domain of work, with more women in work than ever before, more women-led businesses and a gender pay gap that is the lowest ever and has been eliminated for full-time workers under 40.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, but the Government should surely be concerned that the EU Institute for Gender Equality figures show that progress on gender equality in the UK has gone backwards in key areas. Yesterday the Chancellor had the gall to talk about equality for women in his speech but his Budget is going to hit women more than twice as hard as men. Where is the equality in the fact that, according to the Commons Library, 70% of the £34 billion in welfare savings in the Budget yesterday will come from women? What impact does the Minister think this will have on women and their participation in the workforce? Will the Minister commit to monitoring and publishing the impact of the Budget on women and work?

My Lords, women will be able to avail themselves of the new living wage, which will help take women out of state dependency and into a very decent wage for the first time. There will, of course, be a tax-free allowance of £11,000 of which women will be able to avail themselves; an increase in free nursery provision from 15 hours; and an extended right to flexible working. I think that this Government have done more for women than any other Government in living memory.

My Lords, did my noble friend notice the article in the Economist several months ago that urged a great deal of caution when using these rankings, because the results are greatly influenced by the methodology used?

My noble friend is absolutely right that methodologies vary in different analyses. His comment also touches on the fact that these figures are quite often old ones. Those referred to in the noble Baroness’s Question go back to 2012, and much progress has been made since then.

In introducing the new living wage, the Chancellor referred to the Resolution Foundation with commendation, and rightly so. Is the Minister aware that the Resolution Foundation made it clear that the living wage could be £9 an hour if working tax credits were maintained, but that without working tax credits it would need to be £12? Are we going to hear an announcement to that effect?

My Lords, the noble Baroness said that women are better off under her Government than any other Government, yet all the independent analyses show that a woman who is a lone parent with two children and works earning the minimum wage—the living wage, as the noble Baroness now calls it—would gain around £400 from these changes but lose more than twice that from the other changes that the Government are bringing to tax credits. How does that help working parents stay in work? How does it benefit women?

My Lords, the living wage helps everybody, including women, get a decent wage for going out to work. Free childcare certainly helps women who want to go out to work. Also, taking women out of tax for the first £11,000 certainly helps women get back to work.

My Lords, how are gender equality issues addressed in government departments? Is there an adequate system of monitoring and, if so, how are results published? If the results are not favourable, is it not time to invite the Equality and Human Rights Commission to audit to see why women’s representation does not reflect their presence in the community?

The noble Lord asks a good question. The ONS monitors gender pay differences by department. I am very pleased that, in my own department, four out of seven of the senior executives are women, including the Permanent Secretary.

Is there not serious evidence of inequality in that a far higher percentage of women are employed than men?

In other words, we are going in the opposite direction. I think it is only a good thing that more women are employed in senior positions. This Government have made a real effort in that direction.

My Lords, would the noble Baroness have another go at answering the question from my noble friend Lord Kinnock? She implied that in some way the £9 living wage to which the Government aspire will mitigate the losses that people incur in the loss of tax credits, but she did not answer his question about the evidence which the Resolution Foundation put forward that, in fact, the needful figure would be £12. What is her answer to that question?

I apologise as I only took one of the questions from the noble Lord. I have not read the report from the Resolution Foundation. I am happy to respond in writing.

Are the Government relying on a magic wand to introduce the living wage, or has the legislation that will be required been thought through, and when will it be announced?

My Lords, how will the imposition of the proposed increase of around £70 a week in council rents for households with a joint income of £40,000 a year in London or £30,000 elsewhere help to improve equality of employment and participation of women in the workforce?

My Lords, the introduction of those rents recognises that people on higher salaries should be able to play their part in contributing to rents.

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned free childcare. As I understand it, free childcare will not come into operation until 2017 for those who are working the extra hours. How will that help families immediately, who will find that they are extremely short in a working week?

My Lords, the noble Baroness said in answer to my noble friend that those on higher incomes should pay a higher rent, and she quoted the figure of £30,000 income for those outside London. That is the correct figure; we have read the figures. However, is she aware that that could be the joint income of two people on a basic living wage of £15,000 a year? Does she think that £15,000 a year is a higher income?

My Lords, I did not quote that figure; it was the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. However, I recognise that those are the figures. This Government must balance the reduction of the deficit and growing the economy. Everyone has to play their part.

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the only occasion on which the wartime coalition Government were defeated on the Floor of the House of Commons between 1939 and 1945 was on an amendment to Mr Butler’s Education Act 1944 to the effect that, after the war, women teachers should be paid as much as male teachers? That amendment was moved by the late noble kinsman of my noble friend Lord Eccles. It was carried by one vote, but it was carried by Conservative votes.

My Lords, following the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, will the Minister say why the Government have pushed the introduction of tax-free childcare on by another year? Surely the watchword of this Budget was not “a Budget for security” but “jam tomorrow for hard-working families with children”.

Will the Minister answer the question that I asked about monitoring? Since she and I disagree about the impact on women and working women, it is very important that the Government monitor and publish an impact statement on the effect of this Budget on women and work.

My Lords, as I said, the ONS publishes figures on the gender pay gap in the Civil Service. We are tasking companies with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gaps.