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Topical Questions

Volume 682: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2020

Alongside sex, race and sexual orientation, geography and social economic status can affect opportunity. I want to widen the focus of our understanding of equality to include outcomes for white working-class children, so we can ensure we are levelling up our country. I have therefore asked the Equality Hub to consider the importance of geography and background alongside factors such as sex, ethnicity and disability. That will make sure we truly level up Britain.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should be focused on its responsibility to enforce equality and human rights law?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am delighted that we have been able to put forward Baroness Kishwer Falkner as our preferred candidate to chair the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I know she is committed to making sure the commission’s focus is on enforcing our important equality laws.

The Equality Act 2010 sets out that the Government must seek to advance equality of opportunity in relation to its functions, yet throughout the pandemic Ministers have repeatedly failed to do so. It is vital that the Government take proactive steps to prevent the disproportionate impact of covid on disabled, black, Asian and minority ethnic people. Failure to do so is neglect. It is discriminatory, and it is unlawful. What evidence does the Minister have that her Government are fulfilling their public sector equality duty as set out in the Equality Act?

It is completely false to say that the Government have not acted and to deliberately ignore the significant measures we have put in place to reduce the spread of the virus in all communities across the United Kingdom, which we have repeatedly stated in this House. As I mentioned earlier, I will be making a full oral statement tomorrow, but it is known that we have taken many key measures to ensure that NHS frontline staff—in particular, those from ethnic minority backgrounds—are best protected and to ensure we fully understand the links between the virus and ethnicity.

Two and a half thousand deaths could have been avoided during the first wave of the pandemic had people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities been adequately protected. Last month, I wrote to the Minister asking what steps her Government had taken to address the disproportionate impact of covid, but I have yet to receive a reply and we are now in a second wave. The Minister says she will be giving a statement tomorrow, but I ask her as it is oral questions today. She still has not given an update on progress in implementing the recommendations of the Public Health England report. It has been over four months, so will she give us an update on the seven recommendations and when they will be fully implemented?

The shadow Minister has written many letters to me over the past four months, and I have replied to them. It is simply untrue to say that she has not received a reply. She knows the work we are doing is progressing the recommendations throughout government. The oral statement tomorrow will give ample time for me to fully address and explain all the work the Government have been doing and what the evidence has shown us. I encourage her to attend the oral statement tomorrow, because there is very much that she could learn on this topic.

Will the Minister tell us what assessment has been made, and what steps are being taken, of the impact the increasing numbers of covid-19 cases and the pandemic are having on the LGBTQ+ community? (907893)

We have been looking at the disproportionate impact the virus has had on very many groups. That is not a group where we have seen a disproportionate impact in terms of the effects of the virus. What has impacted that community is their inability, like the rest of the population, to access healthcare services. We hope that will be addressed through how we are managing local lockdowns and being able to keep pressure off the NHS.

Will my hon. Friend detail what steps her Department is taking to ensure that girls can access period products during the pandemic, especially when only 41% of schools are taking advantage of the Government’s offer of free period products? In Environmenstrual Week, does she agree that, wherever possible, those products should be free of plastic? (907891)

The Government are taking a range of actions to ensure that everyone can access affordable period products. We are providing fully funded access to free period products in schools and colleges across England. The scheme remained in operation during partial school closures, and we expect uptake to have significantly increased as schools have fully opened. The scheme provides a wide range of products, including environmentally friendly tampons and pads, alongside reusable products such as menstrual cups and reusable pads.