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Topical Questions

Volume 618: debated on Thursday 8 December 2016

Last month, the Government welcomed the first report of the independent review by Sir Philip Hampton and Dame Helen Alexander of women in the executive pipeline, and we are pleased to welcome their recommendation that FTSE 100 companies should have at least 33% of their executive pipeline positions filled by women by 2020. In addition, this week the Government laid draft gender pay gap regulations that, if passed, will give unprecedented pay transparency to everyone working for a private or voluntary sector employer with 250 staff or more. That means the regulations will affect around 8,000 employers and over 11 million employees.

How can the Minister possibly believe that a budget reduction of 70% will enable the Equality and Human Rights Commission to fulfil its statutory functions, and why have the Government continued to refuse to complete a full equality impact assessment of the implications of the cuts for the work of the EHRC?

The EHRC performs an important and valuable role, and its chair, David Isaac, and his board are well equipped for this task. The commission receives, and will continue to receive, sufficient funds to enable it to fulfil its full range of statutory duties.

T2. Research from Guide Dogs has shown that 42% of surveyed assistance dog owners were refused carriage by a taxi driver in the past year, despite its being illegal. Ministers in the Department for Transport are showing great determination to address this wholly unacceptable discrimination, including through enforcement and education. What will the Minister’s Department do to support these efforts? (907746)

Assistance dogs are vital to the independence of many disabled people, and their continual refusal by a minority of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers is inexcusable. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), for his commitment to addressing this issue and eliminating this discrimination. My hon. Friend makes a profound case, and my Department will do all it can to support this important work.

We have commissioned research revealing that as of the autumn statement 86% of net savings to the Treasury since 2010 through tax and benefit measures had come from women—an increase on the last autumn statement, when the figure was 81%. When will the Minister deem this issue serious enough to warrant action from the Treasury—when the figure reaches 88%, 90%, 100%? And when will she agree to listen to the EHRC and the UN, among others, and publish a cumulative gender impact analysis of the Government’s policies?

One of the best things we can do to help women financially is to make sure we have a strong economy, and that is precisely what we have done, hence the record employment levels for women, which are good news. The hon. Lady’s question missed out our raising of the personal allowance, which has disproportionately helped lift women out of tax altogether.

T3. One of the changes to the state pension that everyone should welcome, but which is not as well known as it should be, is the recognition given to the years spent by women bringing up children, which now count as a national insurance credit towards a full state pension. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the number of women starting to benefit from this and its estimated value during a mother’s retirement? (907747)

By 2030, over 3 million women stand to gain on average £550 extra per year as a result of these changes. For women reaching state pension age in 2016-17, their median net income in retirement is estimated to be approximately £207,000. This is more on average than women have ever received.

T6. According to Age UK, there is clear evidence that older people with cancer are too often under-treated, owing to judgments made on the basis of their age rather than their overall health and fitness. Age discrimination in the NHS is illegal under the Equality Act 2010, so will the Minister tell us what discussions she has had with colleagues in the Department of Health about a plan to improve cancer survival rates for people of all ages? (907750)

As the hon. Lady will know, the Department for Work and Pensions has recently published the work and health Green Paper, and we are looking at working very closely with the Department of Health on a whole range of issues to make sure that older people and our pensioners are treated fairly by all Government Departments and services.

T4. A little earlier, my right hon. Friend stated that she did not wish to see a gender pay gap, so what steps are the Government taking to reduce it? (907748)

Eliminating the gender pay gap remains an absolute priority for this Government. Transparency is one of the most important and powerful tools for shaping behaviour and driving change. That is why we will be requiring large employers to publish their gender pay gaps. Draft regulations were laid on Tuesday 6 December, and if Parliament approves this legislation, which I hope will happen, the regulations will commence in April 2017.

T7. Does the Minister agree with the Resolution Foundation that cuts to the work allowances of universal credit risk undermining work incentives for disabled people? Should not those cuts be reversed now? (907752)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, changes were announced in the autumn statement to the taper rate of universal credit. The reality of our changes to the welfare system is that universal credit is encouraging more people into work, and once they are in work, it is helping them, via our work coaches working in every single jobcentre, to make sure that they get more work and indeed better work.

T5. Research shows that nine out of 10 parents tell us that they want sex and relationship education in our schools to be compulsory. Do the Government agree with them? (907749)

I very much welcome the report that my right hon. Friend’s Select Committee published on this issue. That is precisely why we want to look actively at this issue. She will know from our recent meeting that I think it important to have SRE that works for the 21st century. It is indeed time to look at this, and I am very conscious of the House’s overall view that this is a matter that we should now take on board. My right hon. Friend will know from her previous role as the Minister for Women and Equalities that it is a complex issue, but we are looking to see what we can do to address it.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has found that this Government’s pursuit of an austerity agenda, resulting in cuts to benefits, meets the threshold for human rights violations of disabled people. What are the Government going to do to rectify that?

The Government are committed to providing support for disabled people who need it, as reflected in the fact that spending to support disabled people and people with health conditions will be higher in real terms in every year to 2020 than it was in 2010. The core intention of the recommendations set out by the UN is already incorporated in UK policies, and our response sets that out in more detail.

My right hon. Friend has committed to issuing by the end of the year a consultation document on the future of caste discrimination legislation. Will she update us on when that document will be released?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and he is absolutely right that we intend to issue a full public consultation shortly on how best to provide the legal protection that we want to see against caste discrimination. When we do that, I am sure that my hon. Friend and his community will want to participate fully in the consultation.

It took the Government almost a year to come up with a very thin eight-page review on the care and management of transgender offenders. That referred to

“a number of events linked to transgender prisoners”

that attracted attention last year. Those so-called “events” were, in fact, the deaths in the space of a month of two transgender women held in men’s prisons. Will the Minister tell us why the Government failed to acknowledge those tragedies in their review, and why their proposals are so meagre?

I question all those statements. The response is not meagre; it is thorough. The Government are firmly committed to ensuring that transgender offenders are treated fairly, lawfully and decently, and that their rights are respected. A revised instruction drawing on the conclusions of the Ministry of Justice’s “Review of care and management of transgender offenders” was published on 9 November. It is already being applied, and will be implemented fully by 1 January.

In the two months between 14 September and 15 November, the tax credits of 24,219 families were reinstated after being unfairly removed by Concentrix. What work have the Government done to assess the impact on women—particularly single mothers—who have been disproportionately affected?

The hon. Lady has raised an important issue. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury decided not to renew the Concentrix contract precisely because of some of those challenges, and I will ensure that my hon. Friend contacts her with further details relating to her specific question.