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Topical Questions

Volume 738: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2023

As the Minister for Women and Equalities, it would be remiss of me not to reflect on the way religious communities in the UK have been impacted by the terrible events in the middle east. All our citizens have a right to feel secure and at peace in Britain. One of the reasons we have been able to integrate people from all over the world is an unwritten rule that people with roots elsewhere do not play out foreign conflicts on the streets of this country. We owe a duty of care and civility to our neighbours, whatever their ethnicity, religion or background. All of us are free to practise our faiths and celebrate our cultures, but we must do so in a positive way, consistent with fundamental values that are the bedrock of Britain.

I am afraid to say that in recent days we have seen that social contract being breached. In particular, I believe that the hostility directed towards our Jewish communities, the calls for jihad, the ostentatious indifference to the victims of terrorism, the aggressive chanting by mobs brandishing placards of hate, and the odious people ripping down posters of missing children do not reflect our values as a nation.

We must all stand firm on the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, particularly in the public space that we all share. That is why today I am reminding public sector organisations that they have a legal obligation, as part of the equality duty, to consider how they contribute to the advancement of good relations in communities as they deliver public services. Where organisations are having difficulty doing that, I urge them to write to me as soon as possible for advice on how they can fulfil their legal obligations.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. There should be no place for hatred in our communities.

As a woman in her 50s—[Hon. Members: “No!”]—I know how challenging the menopause can be, especially when you have a busy job. What support is there for working women with the menopause?

I hope that my right hon. Friend feels that she is supported by all of her colleagues. I am delighted to let her know that there will be a full debate on menopause tomorrow, led by the Minister for Social Mobility. I am proud of the great strides that Helen Tomlinson has made since her appointment as the Department for Work and Pensions menopause employment champion. The report “No Time to Step Back” details this progress and looks forward to the next six months, including the sector-specific workshops.

T2. In less than a decade, the proportion of female pensioners in the UK living in poverty has risen by 6%, which means that one in every five female pensioners are below the breadline, despite the fact that the number of female pensioners has fallen due to the rise in state pension age, which disadvantaged tens of thousands of older women. Does the Minister for Equalities share my concern that in the UK today 20% of female pensioners are living in poverty, and what action will she take to address that? (906707)

I thank the hon. Lady for her point. In 2021-22, there were 200,000 fewer female pensioners in absolute poverty than in 2009-10, after housing costs. I point the hon. Lady to the Barnett consequentials of the household support fund in Scotland, which is there to be distributed by her Government to those in need.

T3. As you will know, Mr Speaker, Watford is a thriving multi-faith community, and it is a privilege to take part in so many celebrations and learn about the history of each culture that makes Watford unique and amazing. Will the Minister join me in encouraging colleagues to attend the event that I will be hosting with the Inter Faith Network on 14 November to promote a national organisation to understand how we can all engage better with the different faiths in our communities, and will he please also consider attending the event, if diaries permit? (906708)

Faith is a vital part of people’s identities and of their communities. We fully support the invaluable work being done by people around the country who are inspired by their faith. My hon. Friend is a great advocate for the work that goes on in his own constituency. I certainly encourage people to attend that event, and I will do everything I can to pop in myself.

T5. A year ago, the Public Order Bill was passed in this House, and with it my new clause, which was overwhelmingly supported in a free vote by MPs on both sides of the House, to stop women being deterred from using and entering the doors of abortion clinics by protests outside. A year on, intimidation is worse than ever, because the legislation is not being enacted. Will the Minister look into why that is and fix this now? (906710)

If the hon. Lady has a specific example of where that is happening, I will be happy to look at it if she raises it with me.

T4. In its 2021 census, the Office for National Statistics estimated that there are 260,000 transgender people in the UK. Does the Minister agree with the separate Office for Statistics Regulation that, due to skewed methodology, this number is likely to have been a huge overestimate? (906709)

I share the concerns that the Office for Statistics Regulation has raised and, in February, I asked my officials to explore with the ONS whether because of a lack of understanding of the question the census had the number right. We need to be very careful about language. People do not often understand what we mean when we use terms such as transgender and gender identity. We have to make sure that they understand them. The ONS will be conducting and reporting on research to explore that issue, and it should publish the results by the end of the year and will monitor them going forward.

T6.   Some years ago, the United Nations found that disabled people’s rights were being systematically violated by Conservative Ministers. Recently, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that nothing at all had changed. Is the Minister not ashamed? (906711)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that matter. The point regarding the EHRC is that it is an independent and public body, but I do not think that any Member comes to this House to erode anybody’s rights whether they are disabled or have a health issue. I absolutely refute what the hon. Lady says. She should look at our actions and our record of the work that we have done around British Sign Language and more widely. We stand by all constituents whatever their needs.

Just before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to welcome to this Chamber the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.