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Topical Questions

Volume 689: debated on Wednesday 10 February 2021

Tomorrow is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and, as we build back better, we want to see a new generation of female tech and science entrepreneurs. Promoting science, technology, engineering and maths among girls is vital to this. Since 2010, 31% more girls and 34% more women are studying these subjects at A-level and university respectively. We are building on that programme with STEM ambassadors to encourage even more girls and women to come forward.

Many disabled people, and their carers too, are still in receipt of legacy benefits, which means they are not getting the £20 uplift that universal credit claimants have been getting. Does the Minister agree that that is discriminatory and needs to be addressed?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I appreciate that many people are facing financial disruption due to the pandemic, which is why the Government have put an unprecedented package of support in place. Legacy benefits were increased by 1.7% last year and will increase by 0.5% from April, in line with prices.

I thank the safeguarding Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), for all her hard work to combat violence against women and girls. Will she join me in encouraging everybody who has experienced violence or supported those who have to submit their views to the Government’s consultation on the next violence against women and girls strategy, which closes next week, on 19 February? (912115)

I thank my hon. Friend for promoting the Government’s call for evidence on tackling violence against women and girls. We are asking the public, victims, charities, employers, health professionals, universities, colleges, the armed forces, the NHS and many more for their views, so that we can develop a national strategy that is fit for the 2020s. This is the largest ever call for evidence on crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls, because we want to hear from all parts of society. I ask all hon. Members to play their part and encourage their constituents to contribute to this vital call for evidence before it closes on 19 February.

South Asians, particularly Bangladeshi and Pakistani people, are still experiencing three times the risk from coronavirus in this second wave, so take-up of the vaccine is vital. We know that historical issues of mistrust and culturally inappropriate public health information have contributed to the legitimate vaccine hesitancy. The Government have had time to plan to mitigate all this, but they have still not produced a clear strategy to engage with our black, Asian and ethnic minority communities. What steps has the Minister taken to ensure that the vaccine roll-out reaches all our communities, particularly those who are unequally impacted?

I will be providing a second covid disparities report at the end of this month, which will provide more comprehensive detail of steps we have taken. However, this is an issue that we recognise is very serious. The disparities are changing for different groups; we have seen some progress, for instance, among black groups. However, we do emphasise that vaccines are the best way to protect people from coronavirus. The Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS are working closely with black, Asian and minority ethnic communities to support those receiving a vaccine and to help anyone who may have questions about the process. As part of that, we are working with faith and community leaders to give them advice and information about the universal benefits of vaccination and how their communities can get a vaccine.

The Government have failed to consider the impact on equalities resulting from their responses to the pandemic. Covid mortality rates are twice as high in deprived areas, and the lowest-paid are more than twice as likely to have lost their jobs. That is why the Government have a legal duty, as set out in the Equality Act 2010, to consider the effects of policies on inequality, whether Ministers agree or not. As the Minister for Women and Equalities has yet to reply to my letter dated 14 January, can she now say that she will work to ensure that all Departments undertake and publish equality impact assessments on all their responses to this pandemic?

I completely reject the hon. Lady’s assertions. We do have a strategy, one part of which is to ensure that ethnic minorities are not stigmatised. The issues around coronavirus are complex. We have released information in various reports showing what the risk factors are and we have also outlined a plan to address them.

There is growing concern that an increasing number of women are becoming victims of online gambling addiction, with the resulting financial and mental health issues. What steps are the Government taking to truly understand the scale of the problem and safeguard women from predatory recruitment tactics? (912118)

Rates of problem gambling among women remain very low, but we know how devastating its impacts can be. The Gambling Commission is looking at how it collects data on gambling participation and problem gambling to make sure that we have access to even more robust and regular data on the issue. The Government are also reviewing the Gambling Act 2005 to make sure that we have the right protections in place to make gambling safer for all.