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Topical Questions

Volume 698: debated on Wednesday 7 July 2021

As we look to build back better, we want to make it easier for people to work flexibly. Normalising flexible working will help turbocharge opportunities for women, boost employment outside major cities and support a diverse workforce. We have already reconvened the flexible working taskforce, and I am working with ministerial colleagues to champion flexible working practices.

May I ask what research the Government have commissioned into the causes of the inequality of educational attainment that disadvantages children living in coastal communities? If they have not, why not, and will they?

I can tell my hon. Friend that we have commissioned the equality data programme to look specifically at the issue of geographical inequality. We will be announcing the early results of that programme in July, and the Department for Education has already announced an £80 million extension of the opportunity areas programme, including helping coastal towns.

Disabled people account for two thirds of deaths from covid, and recent research by the BBC showed that 78% of disabled people said that their mental health had got worse during the pandemic and 72% said that their disability had deteriorated. This Government’s failure to comply with their public sector equality duty and undertake equality impact assessments has cost disabled lives. Does the Minister acknowledge the extent of those failures? When will her Government finally bring forward the delayed national strategy for disabled people, and will they finally treat disabled people with dignity and respect and tackle those fatal inequalities?

I will get the Disability Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), to write to the hon. Lady with a specific answer to her specific questions, but I can assure her that yes, when the consultation is responded to, it will be in full detail and will address the points that she raised.

A third of people who use social care are working-aged disabled adults, and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission recently recommended that the Government enshrine in law article 19 of the UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities, to support them to live independently. It has now been over 700 days since the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised that he would fix social care, yet there are still no plans, so what steps is the Minister taking with her colleagues to guarantee that the long-overdue plans for social care will adequately support disabled people to live independently, as recommended by the EHRC?

Nine in 10 school-aged girls are being subjected to indecent exposure on their phones, iPads and computers, but they are told that that is not a crime. Often, the picture is of male genitalia. When will the Government make the non-consensual taking, making and sharing of all intimate sexual images a crime for adults and children? Surely, we do not need yet more review before action is taken. (902487)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to this issue. As part of its review of harmful online communications, the Law Commission is considering offences around the sharing of intimate images, including things like cyber-flashing, which she mentioned, and is looking to identify whether there are any gaps in existing legislation. It will publish the results of the review very shortly, and we will consider them all very carefully.

After I was told by a local school student of her experience of sexual harassment working in a restaurant, and of the power imbalance that made it difficult to raise that harassment with her employer, I have worked with the Sheffield Star, the business improvement district, the chamber of commerce, the council, the police and others on a campaign to “Know The Line” for zero tolerance of sexual harassment in the hospitality sector. Will the Secretary of State back our campaign, and will she say when the Government will finally respond to the results of the 2019 consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace? (902490)

I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss his campaign, and I can assure him that we will be bringing forward our response very shortly.

During the Batley by-election, Labour circulated a leaflet saying: “Don’t risk a Tory MP who is not on your side”, featuring a picture of the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Modi of India. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning that as divisive, and designed to stoke up anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiment? (902488)

First, I want to welcome the new hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) and commend her for her dignity in standing up to intimidation during the campaign. I do agree with my right hon. Friend about the very divisive nature of the leaflet that she talks about. Politicians should not be stoking division: instead, we should be working together to unite and level up our country.

Relative to the average working wage, the UK state pension is the worst in Europe. We have had the WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—women scandal, where the Government did not do anything, and now they are going to take £1.2 billion from the mineworkers’ pension scheme. This Government do not solve inequality; they add inequality, do they not? (902501)

I wholeheartedly reject the comment by the hon. Gentleman. The state pension has gone up dramatically under the triple lock—by £2,000 since 2010 —by the coalition and Conservative Governments. We have a system that is taking forward real change and making a real difference to state pensioners.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on