I beg to move,
That this House
notes with concern the disproportionate impact of the Government’s policies on women;
further notes that, as a result of proposals in the 2016 Autumn Statement, 86 per cent of net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit changes since 2010 will come from women, according to the House of Commons Library;
notes with concern analysis from the Women’s Budget Group which states that by 2020, in every income group, black and minority ethnic women will lose the greatest proportion of their individual income and that low income black and Asian women will lose around twice as much money as low income white men as a result of tax and benefit changes;
and calls on the Government to affirm its commitment to ensuring that women and protected groups are not disproportionately affected by tax and benefits changes, to conduct an urgent assessment of the cumulative impact of its policies on women since 2010, to take the necessary remedial steps to mitigate any disproportionate burden of tax and benefits changes on women, to publish a full equality impact analysis with the 2017 Budget and to develop and publish a gender equality strategy to improve the position of women over the remainder of this Parliament.
It is a pleasure to be here today to discuss this important topic. The advancement of equal rights for women is often associated with certain historical milestones, such as the right to vote, the movement to end violence against women and girls, and reproductive rights. Although those are obviously hugely important, the key facet of the ongoing battle for gender equality is gender economic equality. Many women never question their right to open a bank account, own property, or even buy wine or beer in a pub, but those rights, now taken for granted, were actually hard-won. For much of history, and even up to 40 years ago, women were not allowed to handle money, and having a job was seen as a sign of financial desperation. It was only in the 19th century that women were allowed to own their own home. Until the Married Women’s Property Act 1882, common law in Britain deprived women of the right to keep their own property or even hold their own money. As late as the 1970s, working women were refused mortgages in their own right, and were only then granted mortgages if they could secure a male guarantor. It is only since 1980 that women have been able to apply for credit in their own name, and it was not until 1982 that women were allowed to spend their own money in pubs with the confidence that they would actually be served.
Those changes involved fearless and outspoken people challenging the status quo, questioning out-of-date assumptions, and pushing Governments and society to the realisation that economic equality and independence for women must be the norm. Today, Labour is pushing for the next step in this battle for economic equality: for the Government to ensure that their policies advance, rather than hinder, progress. Unfortunately, all the evidence points to the Conservative party turning back the clock on gender economic equality, and nowhere has that been more apparent than in their major financial announcements, such as the autumn statement.
Research from the House of Commons Library, commissioned by Labour, has revealed that as of the most recent autumn statement, 86% of net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit changes since 2010 will have come from women. That figure is up on the one at last year’s autumn statement, which was 81%, but remains the same as the one at the Budget earlier this year. Someone who happens to be a woman from a black or minority ethnic background is set to lose out even more under this Government. Joint analysis from the Runnymede Trust and the Women’s Budget Group has shown that low- income black and Asian women are paying the highest price for this Government’s failed austerity agenda.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when we talk about the disproportionate cuts affecting women, what that so often means in practice is their children going without? That is why we have seen a huge spike in child poverty, reversing all the good work that the last Labour Government did.
My hon. Friend, who has long been a campaigner in this area, is absolutely right about that. I do not understand why people do not consider the economic impact on the entire country if we hold back certain sectors of our population.
That is a wonderful thing, and what we want is for them to reach their full economic potential, rather than, as happens at the moment, getting paid less than they ought.
The analysis shows that by 2020, individuals in the poorest households will lose most from tax and benefit changes, but in every income group, BME women will lose the greatest proportion of their individual income. Low-income black and Asian women will lose around twice as much money as low-income white men as a result of tax and benefit changes. The Women’s Budget Group has also highlighted analysis showing that disabled people are losing significantly more as a result of those changes than non-disabled people, and disabled women are losing more than disabled men. According to its analysis, disabled men are losing nine times as much income as non-disabled men. Disabled women are losing twice as much income as non-disabled women. By 2020, families with both disabled adults and disabled children will lose more than £5,000 a year as a result of tax and benefit changes, as well as services to the value of nearly £9,000 a year as a result of Government cuts to services. Do Ministers believe that that figure is acceptable and in line with assertions from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor that their party is the champion of equality and fairness? We know that Budgets and policy decisions are simply not gender-neutral.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that she seems to be suggesting having no plan and no sustainability? Does she accept that welfare spending tripled in real terms between 1980-81 and 2014-15? We believe that that is unsustainable and does not balance the books.
I think I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Does she recognise that there are groups in our society now that are being made poorer by this Government? That is the position that we are in, and that is what the statistics are telling us.
It has been proved that this Government frequently do not recognise gender differentials, and that assumptions are made in policy making that include biases in favour of existing unequal gender relations. Women are particularly vulnerable to being hit harder by Government policies, for a number of reasons. First, social security payments make up a greater share of women’s income than men’s, as women earn less in the labour market. Secondly, women pay less direct tax than men, because they tend to earn less. Women make greater use of public sector care services than men, because they have greater caring responsibilities. Finally, women are hit harder by Government policies, because a higher proportion of women are employed in the public sector. I ask the Minister how those factors were taken into account in the drafting of the most recent autumn statement?
Labour has already committed to a gender audit of financial statements when in government, the aim of which is to make gender equality a significant element in considering and recommending policy options. That would ensure that proposed measures contained no legal, economic, social or cultural constraints to gender-equitable participation and that policies were implemented in a gender-sensitive and equitable manner.
That process, which is often referred to as gender auditing or gender budgeting, now takes place in more than 40 countries around the world. It was originally inspired by the early experiences of countries such as Australia and then given further momentum by the United Nations commitment to gender budgeting in the Beijing platform for action.
I wish to draw the House’s attention to two particular examples of best practice, in Sweden and Spain. Gender impact assessment is a relatively common instrument to support the gender mainstreaming of policy implementation in Sweden. It is strongly embedded and is carried out by different levels of government, from local to national. In national Government offices, gender impact assessments are most regularly performed when drawing up documents such as Government Bills and terms of reference for inquiry committees. The implementation of those assessments is conducted in the framework of the Swedish Government’s gender mainstreaming strategy.
In Spain, gender impact assessments have been required by law in the Basque country since 2005, in the framework of the Equal Opportunities between Women and Men Act. Since 2007, gender impact assessment reports have been issued on more than 500 decrees and laws. After seven years, gender impact assessment is a consolidated practice that is strongly embedded in the Basque regional government.
Those are just two examples to demonstrate that, when it comes to mainstreaming equalities into economic and wider policy, the Conservative party is light years behind some of our European colleagues.
What gender impact assessment has the hon. Lady made of the effects of the 2008 credit crunch, and the record deficit that we inherited? Does she not recognise that the decisions that we have had to take were based on restoring the nation’s finances, which is in the interests of everyone, not just a narrow interest group?
I am sorry, but I am not having a conversation.
Will the Minister agree today to follow the example set by many other nations and produce recommendations on how equalities considerations can be better integrated into the policy process?
The hon. Lady mentioned that Spain carries out gender impact assessments. What does she think of the fact that, according to the global gender gap index of 2016, Britain ranks higher than Spain on inequality between men and women?
I ask the hon. and learned Lady to think how much better we would do if we actively audited what we were doing.
Legal and international obligations on the Government mean that they need to protect and advance women’s economic equality. The Equality Act 2010, which was introduced by Labour, enshrined in law the public sector equality duty, requiring public authorities to have due regard to a number of equality considerations when exercising their functions. Labour enshrined in section 149 of that Act the provision that any public body must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to “eliminate discrimination” and “advance equality of opportunity” for those with protected characteristics, which include gender and ethnicity.
The case of Bracking and others v. the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is one of the leading cases on the application of section 149 of the Equality Act. The principles outlined in the judgment were recently summarised by Mr Justice Gilbart in Moore and another v. the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and crucially include the following: that the relevant duty is on the Minister, or other decision maker, personally; that a Minister must assess the risk and extent of any adverse impact and the ways in which such risk may be eliminated before the adoption of a proposed policy, and not simply as a “rearguard action” following a concluded decision; and that the duty of due regard under the statute requires public authorities to be properly informed before taking a decision. If the relevant material is not available, there will be a duty to acquire it, and that will frequently mean that some further consideration with appropriate groups is required.
Specifically, I ask the Minister to outline how the most recent autumn statement, as well as policy announcements since her party came to Government, comply with section 149 of the Equality Act and the requirements outlined by Mr Justice Gilbart. Assumptions and reassurances will not suffice, and the public demand to see how the autumn statement and Government policies comply with relevant sections of the Equality Act and with case law. I ask the Minister to kindly make that information available through the House of Commons Library at the earliest possible opportunity.
We should not have to hold the Government’s feet to the fire to ensure that their policies are not disproportionately impacting one particular group and reversing progress on economic equality. Sadly, previous words from the Conservative party do not fill us with much hope. On
The hon. Lady talks about progress, but what does she think about the fact that the gender pay gap has narrowed to a record level, and has been virtually eliminated for women under the age of 40? We have more women-led businesses than ever before. Should she not acknowledge that progress?
I have to say that it pains me that it is a woman Member who is asking that. Should I go back to my constituents and ask them to be grateful that it will only take another 60 years before they have parity of pay?
If the Government are set to continue their contemptuous attitude on equality impact assessments, will the Minster explain how else they have managed to show that due regard has been given to the impact of the autumn statement on those with protected characteristics?
The Government know how to conduct a proper audit of their polices on women and those with protected characteristics. The Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Women’s Budget Group, among many others, have outlined suggested methodologies very clearly. We have to ask why, in the light of the availability of those methodologies, the Government continue to be so evasive. Labour Members will not let go of this point. We will continue to commission and publish our own analysis at every future Budget and spring statement for as long as it takes the Government to do their duty. The question is how long the Government will continue to stick their head in the sand regarding the impact of their policies on women, disabled people and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Will things change when the impact figure rises from 86% to 89%? Perhaps it will be 95%, or perhaps we have to reach 100% before the Government carry out an audit.
The situation has become increasingly embarrassing, as the Government continue to let women down time and time again. The Treasury refuses to send a Minister to appear before the Women and Equalities Committee to answer questions on the gender impact of the autumn statement. The Government have provided insubstantial data, and last year they voted down an Opposition motion on publishing a cumulative gender impact assessment of their policies. In their amendment to today’s motion, the Government point to their distributional analysis, which provides no overall analysis of the impact of the measures announced in the autumn statement on women, black and minority ethnic people or disabled people.
A few days before the autumn statement, the Women and Equalities Committee published a report criticising the Government for their lack of clarity both on how the 2015 spending review affected women, black and minority ethnic people and disabled people, and on how the equalities impact assessment had been undertaken. The Chair of the Committee, the highly regarded Conservative MP, Mrs Miller, said:
“Without the information we have asked for or ministerial evidence it’s not been possible to form a view of the Government’s work under the public sector equality duty. Promotion of transparency is a central aim of the Public Sector Equality Duty requirements.”
The Committee, numerous organisations and, indeed, the Opposition have all made it clear that the distributional analysis produced by the Government is inadequate for judging compliance with the Equality Acts. The evasiveness must stop. Women and those with protected characteristics up down the country deserve and expect better. Various Ministers have refused to accept the analysis produced by the House of Commons Library that is cited in the motion. If the Minister disagrees with independent House of Commons analysis, will he say whether the Government would be willing to produce their own and make it available to colleagues? It is simply not good enough for the Government to criticise the Library analysis without producing their own.
The problem with the national living wage is that it is a misnomer. It is welcome that it has been increased, but we are seeking a real living wage that brings people out of poverty, and we have not seen that.
Does my hon. Friend accept that if someone represents a party whose sole interest is to conserve the wealth of people who already have it, it is absolutely inevitable that people who are unfortunately still at the bottom of the pile will remain there as long as that party remains in government?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am proud that I represent a party that wants wealth to be shared, wants everyone to reach their potential, and will not leave anyone behind.
As I have stated, the Government know how to conduct an adequate equalities audit of their financial statements and policies. Clear methodologies have been produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and they have chosen not to use them. Will the Minister agree to explain to the House how future announcements can properly take into account the impact on women, particularly those from BME backgrounds? Will the Government agree to put an end to the ducking and diving and send a Minister to the Women and Equalities Committee to answer questions on the matter? Will they agree to publish a full cumulative gender impact analysis of their policies since 2010, and will they outline how the autumn statement, and future financial and policy announcements, will demonstrate compliance with the UK’s legal and international obligations?
As I outlined in my opening remarks, gender economic equality has been at the heart of the fight for equal rights in this country. Progress has been all too slow and the victories hard-won. The Opposition can be proud that almost every major piece of legislation that improves the lives of working women has been introduced by a Labour Government. It was a Labour Government who introduced legislative protections for women under the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010. The Labour Administration were the first since the second world war to accept state responsibility for developing childcare policy, and they introduced paternity leave and increased maternity leave. We brought in Sure Start centres, working tax credits and all-women shortlists, and we have more women MPs than all the other parties in the House combined.
In 2016, under the current Government, women in the UK are more likely to work for less pay than men. They are more likely to be in chronically low-paid and insecure sectors of the economy and to be disproportionately affected by unprecedented cuts to public services.
I shall not give way, because other Members wish to contribute.
Unlawful maternity discrimination has become increasingly pervasive on the Government’s watch, with an estimated 54,000 pregnant women and new mothers forced out of their job every year. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, just 1% of those women have taken their case to an employment tribunal since the introduction of prohibitive tribunal fees of up to £1,200. As I stated at the beginning of my speech, as of the most recent autumn statement, 86% of net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit changes since 2010 have come from women. Today, the Government have a chance to decide whether they want that to be their lasting legacy in the fight for gender economic equality. Ministers have a choice: do the Government stand by, evade their responsibilities and make life worse for millions of women in this country, or do they put their warm words into action, rectify their mistakes and create a new era of transparency and accountability on the impact of Government policy on women, disabled people, and black and ethnic minority people? We expect them to make the right choice.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“affirms that introducing tax-free childcare, increasing the national living wage, increasing investment in affordable housing, reducing the universal credit taper, boosting investment in schools to create more good school places and taking 1.3 million individuals out of paying income tax so far this Parliament will benefit all genders and races;
welcomes the fact that there are more women in work than ever before;
further welcomes the Government’s publication of distributional analysis along with the Autumn Statement 2016;
and welcomes the action the Government is taking to develop a strong economy that works for everyone, regardless of their background.”
It is a great pleasure to move an amendment in the name of a female Prime Minister. It is the Government’s foremost aim to make sure that this is a country that works for everyone in our society, wherever they are from, and whatever their gender, race, age or background. To deliver that objective, we need to build a strong and stable economy by boosting productivity, creating jobs, and bringing our public finances under control. That is how we will be in the best position to create a sustained rise in living standards for all British people. Our entire economic approach is based on a determination to make people better off now and in future, in all parts of the UK, and across the full breadth of our society. That is why we reject the assumptions in the motion and believe instead that the plans that we have set out will deliver a stronger economy that works for everyone.
I want to reflect on the measures that we have taken to strengthen our economy in this way, because people, regardless of their race or gender will benefit from our work to restore the economy to long-term health, which begins with bringing our public finances under control. With UK debt soon reaching a 50-year high of 90.2% of GDP, we must pursue a credible fiscal path to make it fall. Over the past six years, we have cut the deficit by almost two thirds to 4% of GDP, and we confirmed in the recent autumn statement that we will deliver a surplus as soon as possible in the next Parliament, while in the interim bringing cyclically adjusted borrowing below 2% by the end of Parliament, and getting public sector net debt, as a share of GDP, falling in this Parliament too.
People across our society benefit from the business-led recovery that has been at the heart of our economic approach. We have made sure that Britain is open for business with our competitive tax regime, by cutting over £10 billion-worth of red tape, and with our extensive investment in infrastructure, skills and research. The autumn statement took that further with a whole host of measures, including the new national productivity investment fund of £23 billion over the next five years. It is as a result of such measures that over 1 million new businesses have started since 2010, taking us up to a record 5.5 million small businesses at the beginning of the year. By the way, I am pleased to say that about 1.2 million small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK are majority women-led—more than ever before—and they contribute about £115 billion to the economy in total.
There are now more women doing science, technology, engineering and maths A-level subjects than ever before, which will ensure that more of them go into such jobs. I am trying to understand the hon. Lady’s point. Is she saying that we should not be spending money on infrastructure because that will have a disproportionate effect, favouring men? The purpose of infrastructure spending is to improve our infrastructure in order to improve our productivity—productivity that helps men and women. That is why we are doing that.
I am absolutely not saying that we should not spend money on infrastructure. What are the Government going to do to make sure that all the infrastructure spending set out in the autumn statement is shared equally between men’s and women’s jobs?
I am grateful. My right hon. Friend will surely be aware that Alun Griffiths (Contractors) based in my constituency, which builds motorways, has received a parliamentary award for its commitment to championing women in the construction industry. Perhaps we should look carefully at tenders and make sure that such companies are considered.
There is a very important point to be made about how we encourage more women to become involved in engineering and construction. Increasing numbers of employers are taking more steps to do that—Crossrail is another example of where that is happening. Jess Phillips seems to be objecting to infrastructure spending, which is a strange position—[Interruption.]
Order. I can hear the hon. Lady—[Interruption.] and she should not be speaking so loudly when she is sitting down, especially when I am speaking. She will have an opportunity to speak soon.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The global entrepreneurship and development index has ranked Britain as the best place in Europe for female entrepreneurs, which I am sure everyone in this House will welcome and want to see us build on. Our start-up loans programme is helping entrepreneurs set up a business or become self-employed, not only through a loan, but through access to mentors. By the way, this programme issues a high proportion of loans to black and minority ethnic applicants: BME-led businesses represent 24% of start-up loan recipients, with almost 10,000 loans issued to BME recipients so far.
Our support for business goes hand in hand with the historically high employment rate that we have in the UK, with today’s numbers confirming that the unemployment rate remains at an 11-year low, with employment remaining at near record highs.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Government are helping women at work by introducing shared parental leave, flexible working hours and 30 hours free childcare? Those have been pioneered by this Government, putting women first in the workplace.
Indeed. My hon. Friend makes an important point. I will deal with those measures in a moment.
It is worth pointing out that the impressive employment numbers are accompanied by rising living standards, which last year grew at their fastest rate in 14 years and currently stand at their highest-ever level. The benefits of this affect people across our society, but the House should note the evidence of particular benefits for women and people from black and minority ethnic groups. The number of women in work has increased by over 1.2 million since 2010. Indeed, the rate went up more in the previous Parliament than in the previous three Parliaments combined. That comes as the gender pay gap falls to the lowest on record, more women are on the boards or leading businesses than ever before, and there are no longer any all-male boards in the FTSE 100.
On the subject of pay, I refer to the excellent intervention my hon. Friend Kelly Tolhurst made on Sarah Champion, who spoke for the Opposition and said that the national living wage was not adequate. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the only international comparator for minimum wage is The Economist Big Mac index, which shows that the only country with a more generous living wage than this country is Luxembourg?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I did not know that and I am grateful to him for drawing it to the attention of the House. The national living wage, which was brought in by this Government, disproportionately benefits women.
The number of black and minority ethnic women in work is at a near record high, with nearly 400,000 women finding work since 2010, and the employment rate for people in black and minority ethnic groups is at a record high of 64.5%, its highest level since records began in 2001.
I am grateful to the Minister for outlining what companies are doing to help women and the black, Asian and ethnic minorities. That is fabulous, but the debate is about what this Government are doing and how the Government’s austerity is adversely affecting those groups.
The logic of the hon. Lady’s point appears to be that there is no link between what happens in the economy and Government policies. What has been demonstrated over the past 10 years is that there is a very clear link between Government policies and what happens in the economy, and it is because of the policies of this—[Interruption.] We are the fastest-growing economy in the G7 at present, so it is going quite well, given that, among the major economies, we were the economy that was most affected by the crash in 2008. We have put in place an environment where we are creating jobs and seeing living standards improving, and that is happening across the economy for men and women.
It is, of course, right that we continue our work to address long-standing barriers to work for BME people, including through Baroness McGregor-Smith’s review, new support in schools, and new guidance for jobcentres and local partners. We have also set a public target to increase the proportion of apprenticeships started by people from BME backgrounds to 20% by 2020, building on good progress since 2010.
So we are strengthening our economy by managing stable public finances, backing our businesses and creating jobs. At the same time, we are helping people regardless of gender or race make their money go further in their day-to-day lives. That is why we confirmed in the autumn statement that we will raise the personal allowance to £12,500 by the end of the Parliament. By 2020, it will have increased by over 90% since 2010, taking millions of the lowest paid out of paying income tax, and representing a tax cut for over 13 million women by 2018, compared to 2015.
We have also introduced the national living wage at £7.20 an hour to help over a million people on the lowest wages, and we announced at the autumn statement that we would raise this to £7.50 in 2017. The national living wage is focused on hard-working, low paid workers, regardless of their gender or race, and hon. Members should note that women are expected to account for around two thirds of those who will benefit from this, with people from BME communities expected to gain disproportionately.
I understand what the Minister is saying about the national living wage and the increase in the floor, but on the 40% tax rate, only 27% of higher rate taxpayers are women, so the changes to the 40% tax rate disproportionately benefit men, not women. What are the Government doing about that?
Income tax in Scotland will be a matter for the Scottish Government. I look forward to seeing what they will do.
From early 2017, we are also introducing tax-free childcare to help working parents with their childcare costs. Parents will be able to receive up to £2,000 childcare support per child each year. We are also helping around 3 million households by reducing the universal credit taper, which will further strengthen the incentives for people to increase the number of hours they work and to earn their way out of financial insecurity and welfare dependency.
That goes hand in hand with our sustained investment in the public services that families value. That includes our focus on quality schools, with the highest-ever recorded proportion of children being taught in good or outstanding schools; the pupil premium, which will be worth £2.5 billion this year alone and will support pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds; and an investment of £23 billion in the school estate over the next five years.
Our investment in infrastructure—from the roads and rails we travel on, to the homes we live in—will help all. The recent autumn statement contributed to tackling our long-standing challenge to deliver more homes, with a further £5.3 billion investment in housing, including a £2.3 billion housing infrastructure fund to deliver infrastructure to unlock up to 100,000 new homes, and £1.4 billion to deliver 40,000 new affordable homes.
So our economic plans are based on delivering an economy that works for everyone, and that means an economy that benefits all races and genders. I note the efforts to analyse the effect of the measures we have taken on women and BME groups. Hon. Members will be aware of the research of the House of Commons Library and the Women’s Budget Group, on which the premise of today’s motion is based, but a cautious approach should be taken when analysing specific impacts on that basis. Their findings should not be considered without first undertaking an honest reflection on the flaws inherent in their research methodologies. Let me provide a few examples.
First, the House of Commons Library analysis looks only at taxes and benefits. That means it overlooks key parts of the broader economic picture, which includes the benefits to women and people from BME groups of a strong economy and rising employment and earnings. It also fails to take into account the public services that families value, such as support for childcare, schools and health services.
Secondly, the analysis has been based on assumptions made about how income is shared in any given household. For example, it is not reasonable to assume that the measure to limit support as part of child tax credits and universal credit to the first two children for new claimants will overwhelmingly affect women merely because women are usually the nominal payee of child tax credits, as the House of Commons Library did in previous analysis. This not only treats women rather than children as the beneficiary of child tax credits, but assumes that other sources of income, such as earnings, are not shared within a household in response to benefit changes.
Thirdly, the analysis makes a comparison with a world where benefits were uprated between 2010 and 2015 by the retail prices index, but RPI is a flawed measure of inflation, and it lost its status as a national statistic in 2013. So there are a range of issues with the methods used to calculate these impacts, and the findings should be seen in that light.
It is, however, right that we assess carefully the effects of any new fiscal measures on groups across our society. We carefully consider the implications of all our measures for protected equality groups, which includes gender, race and disability. That is in line with not only our own guiding principle of a fairer society but our legal responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. We publish information alongside the autumn statement about the impact of individual tax measures. We also publish a comprehensive distributional analysis to monitor how our decisions on tax, welfare and spending would support households on a range of different incomes.
Our commitment to fairness runs through everything we do. It goes to the heart of the economic approach we have taken since 2010. The Prime Minister could not have been clearer about her determination to keep taking every action to make this a country that works for everyone. That is why, for example, we have launched an audit to look into racial disparities in our public services, which stretches right across Government, covering every area from health to education, and childcare to welfare, employment, skills and justice.
This Government are fully resolved to make this a country that works for all races and genders. That is exactly what we are working to deliver through our work to build a stronger economy and to help people in their day-to-day lives, and that is what last month’s autumn statement continued to support.
Order. Before I call the spokesman for the Scottish National party, I should warn the House that a great many people want to speak this afternoon. There were lots of interventions on the opening speeches—quite rightly so, because that is how you have a heated debate, and that is what this is. I make no criticism whatsoever, but that does mean there will have to be a time limit of three minutes on Back-Bench speeches. That does not, of course, apply to Alison Thewliss.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate, particularly as recent figures indicated that there have been 455 female MPs in the history of this House. That is the same as the number of male MPs present in the House today—although not on the Benches, as we can see. That is an important point in terms of the policies the House pursues, because those policies are not always in the interests of women, and women’s interests have not been well represented over the years. We did not always have the 195 women we have today, although those women we have here today have certainly made their voices and those of their constituents heard.
I am grateful to Sarah Champion, who spoke very passionately and with great knowledge on this issue, and I absolutely support her calls for a gender audit because that would make a massive difference to the way Government policies are analysed.
Research from the Women’s Budget Group, which has been mentioned, noted that women’s incomes will be hit twice as hard as men’s by 2020. Women will be over £1,000 worse off by 2020; for men, that figure will be only £555. Women on below-average incomes will end up over £1,600 a year worse off under this Government, and female lone parents will be £4,000 a year worse off. That is a significant amount in a family budget.
Engender has suggested that, from 2010 to 2020, 86% of cuts to social security will come from women’s incomes. I do not understand how anyone could make up that difference. The research becomes even bleaker when we consider women from black and ethnic minority communities, as well as single parents, the majority of whom are women, and both groups are a significant demographic in my diverse constituency.
Government Members love their soundbites. For quite a long time, they had “a long-term economic plan”, but that has been abandoned, presumably because it was neither long term nor a plan. They now have a new phrase: “a country that works for everyone”. The facts and figures we have heard in the debate so far demonstrate quite clearly that this was not an autumn statement that works for everyone, and I intend to highlight a few missed opportunities in the autumn statement.
I come to the debate with some frustration. The autumn statement was an opportunity for the Government to make changes—to start a slightly new course with a new female Prime Minister. To use an example I have spoken about many times in the House, it is now 526 days since the Government announced in the 2015 Budget their intention to bring forward the pernicious two-child policy for universal credit and tax credits, which is due to come into force next April. In tandem with that, we have the medieval rape clause, which will compel survivors of rape to prove that their third or subsequent child was born as a result of rape. The policy has been widely condemned by faith leaders, women’s welfare groups, rape crisis organisations and organisations such as the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Ministers would do well to reflect on the seriousness of that widespread condemnation.
Interlink, from the Orthodox Jewish community, has done some research into the issue, as has the Resolution Foundation. Their figures suggest that this policy will push 200,000 more children into poverty. That is a significant figure. There is also a trap inherent in the policy, and families will not be able to earn enough to get themselves out of that trap. Interlink reckons that for every £1 extra a family earns, they will lose 75p as a result of this policy. On taking office, the Prime Minister spoke outside Downing Street about helping the just-managing families in our society. This autumn statement does not provide that help.
When the Prime Minister was Home Secretary, she won plaudits for her action to tackle gender issues, such as forced marriage, domestic abuse and female genital mutilation. Her actions gave me some hope that this rape clause would be seen as utterly unworkable and immoral. When the consultation reports back, perhaps the issue will be tackled finally. I cannot see how this proposal can possibly work.
Instead of using the autumn statement as a means to ditch the rape clause and the two-child policy, the Government have put it out to consultation for 38 days. In the context of the more than 500 days since the policy was announced, that is a pretty small number. I await the Government’s response, but I do wonder what they expect the consultation to come back with. What do they expect vulnerable women to say when they are asked, in essence, “How would you like to prove your child was born as a result of rape?” It is absolutely despicable.
In this respect, as in so many others, the autumn statement was a missed opportunity. The Government’s austerity agenda is disproportionately impacting on women. It was a missed opportunity for WASPI—the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—and the Office for National Statistics estimates that over 2,600,000 women in the UK are affected by this policy. Despite the efforts of WASPI campaigners the length and breadth of the country and of my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), these issues are not yet addressed. Those women are not having that unjustness dealt with. That hugely significant unfairness, of which my mother-in-law is also a victim, ought to be one of the Prime Minister’s actions, both as a woman in that age bracket herself and as a feminist. Women should not lose out as a result of this policy.
The Government could also have done more in the autumn statement to address an issue that my hon. Friend Angela Crawley has been highlighting over the past few weeks. Sadly, she is not well today; otherwise she would be here herself to raise it. I am sure we all send her our best wishes on her sickbed. The Child Maintenance Service is charging a 4% administration fee for the collect and pay service—a fee imposed only on families who do not share bank details to arrange maintenance costs—and women who have fled domestic abuse are disproportionately impacted. That is patently unfair, and it puts women and children who are trying to rebuild their family life at a distinct disadvantage. The autumn statement was an opportunity to correct that unfairness. I call on Ministers to make progress on this very significant matter.
Half of Glasgow’s jobcentres are to close. In discussion with DWP staff last week, Glasgow’s elected representatives were told that the equalities impact assessment on these plans would be done only after the consultation. The Government are proceeding with these closures, yet only three out of eight are going to consultation while the others will not be consulted on. This is completely inadequate. The plans were drawn up by looking at Google Maps to see how far one jobcentre was from another and which buses people might get. Some of the buses referred to do not exist any more because they have just been withdrawn. When I met representatives of One Parent Families Scotland, they told me that the women with caring responsibilities they have been working with are already finding it incredibly difficult to fulfil their obligations as well as dropping off their kids at school and nursery, and adding the extra burden of travelling across Glasgow on more than one bus will make it very much harder, as well as putting them at serious risk of being sanctioned. It is inexplicable that that would not be taken into account prior to these consultations being issued. It is almost as though the Government are deliberately making it so hard for people to claim what they are actually entitled to.
Another group who have missed out are the under-25s. The Government are keen to trumpet their “pretendy” living wage, but what they never say is that someone under 25 is not entitled to the same pay. Their day’s work is not seen as being as of much value as if they were over 25. The Government sometimes say that that is about experience, but it is not. For someone who walks into their job on their first day at the age of 25, the wage differential is £3.45 compared with somebody of 16 starting on the same day in the same job. That is patently unfair. The national living wage is not an actual living wage; it is a revised minimum wage that is out of touch with the true costs of living in this country.
The real living wage set by the Living Wage Foundation is being actively implemented and promoted by the Scottish Government. In Scotland, the rates of companies paying the living wage are going up. We now have 693 companies in Scotland, across a wide range of sectors and a wide range of sizes, that believe that a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. The Government’s “pretendy” living wage will not deliver that. In discriminating against under-25s, the Government do not acknowledge that they have bills to pay. They are not going to get a discount on their rents, their messages or their costs of living. They are also, to compound this, not entitled to the same benefits as those who are over 25. It is completely ludicrous.
There is another issue that the autumn statement has not fully addressed—the tampon tax. The SNP was the only party to have that issue in its manifesto in 2015. As the Minister may remember—he was then the Financial Secretary—when I moved my amendment to the Finance Bill, he seemed to think that resolving this would be nigh on impossible to achieve, but I am pleased that he has been able to make progress. I thank Paula Sherriff, my hon. Friends and others around the House who have campaigned on this issue. Without that cross-party support, we would not have got nearly as far as we have with the Government.
Although the recent funding announcement in the autumn statement regarding the revenues from the tampon tax were welcome, I would like to press the Minister to answer a couple of questions. How many groups in Scotland have benefited from tampon tax funds? When, for certain, will negotiations lead to the abolition of the tampon tax? We are still waiting. Every month, when I go to buy more tampons at the tills, the Government are still seeing that revenue come in. I want to know when I am not going to have to pay it any longer.
I agree with groups such as the Women’s Budget Group and Engender that this autumn statement was a missed opportunity. It was a missed opportunity on the rape clause and the two-child policy. It was a missed opportunity on pay equality. It was a missed opportunity for the WASPI women. It was a missed opportunity for all women.
I now have to announce the result of today’s deferred Division. In respect of the Question relating to financial services and markets, the Ayes were 297 and the Noes were 151, so the Question was agreed.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
We will now proceed, to begin with, with a time limit on speeches of four minutes, but that might well go down to three minutes very soon.
Ever since the Tory party, which had stood for the old landed interests, was taken over at some time in the 1800s by a motley mixture of free traders, Unionists and small “l” liberals, the Conservative party has been absolutely committed to the principle of equality of opportunity in a society where anyone can succeed based on their merit, with no regard for their race, sexual orientation or gender. That principle is absolutely right and one that we maintain to this day. As a father of two daughters myself, I want them to be able to succeed in education, in the workplace and in the public space. I am delighted with the progress that this Government are making so far, and that our society is making so far, with, as has been pointed out, the lowest gender pay gap on record, record numbers of women in employment, the fall in unemployment announced today bringing it well below 5%—something that men and women can all benefit from—and increases in the minimum wage.
Yes, of course, we have more to do, but the autumn statement was not an opportunity to start spending money from the unlimited magical money tree that Opposition Members imagine; it was an opportunity to maintain the sound financial direction in which we have been going, which has led even The Guardian to admit that we now have the highest growth rates in the whole of the G7. It would be disastrous for everyone in this country—men and women—if the Government were to go back on that.
Of course, there are problems out there, and the Casey report, which came out a week or two ago, highlighted some of the many problems that we still face in the challenge of getting complete equality in our society. I am glad that the motion mentions the particular problems faced by black and ethnic minority women, which were also referred to in the Casey review. The most worrying statistic was that the biggest problems are faced by women of Bangladeshi cultural heritage. The report pointed out that cultural and religious factors and attitudes are having an effect. People have popped up to say that that was a disgrace and that we should not be worried about drawing attention to this for fear of being called racist. Well, I am sorry, but some of us have been pointing it out in this Chamber for very many years. I served on the Home Affairs Committee in 2008 when it produced a report on forced marriage, female genital mutilation and so-called honour crimes.
That report was absolutely horrifying. We heard evidence of girls who had been forced to marry rapists and who were unable to prevent British authorities from giving visas to the rapists because they were unable to speak out in public for fear of what would happen to them at the hands of their own families. We heard about female genital mutilation. We heard that schools are refusing to put up the number of the forced marriage helpline—in this country—because of concerns that it would alienate the local community. We know that political meetings are taking place addressed by senior Labour Members where men and women are segregated. I pointed out a few weeks ago in this Chamber that the Muslim Council of Britain—one of the so-called moderate Muslim groups—was linking to a website that told women that they should not be able to travel more than 48 miles without a male chaperone. I have drawn attention in this Chamber to the fact that some girls in some schools are expected to wear the full burqa as part of their uniform. I recently met members of One Law for All, who I am glad to say are currently giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on the issue of sharia law. They are worried about the increased wearing of the burqa and the pressure that girls are under to wear it in some parts of London at the moment.
I very much hope people will understand that it is not the autumn statement that is causing a lot of these problems, but backward cultural attitudes displayed by men in some communities towards the women in those communities. I am very glad that the Government announced in the autumn statement that the £3 million tampon tax would be used to support women’s charities. I urge them to put the money towards charities like Karma Nirvana, run by Jasvinder Sanghera, who campaigns against forced marriage; One Law for All, which is campaigning against sharia law; and all the other charities that are reaching out to women in ethnic minority communities to bring about the equality we all so badly want.
I am speaking in this debate because this Government’s so-called long-term economic plan has failed, is failing and continues to fail women in particular. The motion states that
“86 per cent of net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit” measures will come from women. The Minister said that maybe that was not the full picture. Well, it is not the full picture because it does not take into account the many hours of unpaid caring work that women in our communities do, often plugging the gap left by cuts to local services—caused by this Government. Moreover, some women are paying far more than others, and women in low-paid jobs from the black and minority ethnic community and women with disabilities are disproportionately taking the hit from this Government.
When it comes to social care that is paid care, rather than unpaid care, we know that 82% of employees in adult social care are women, and that their hourly median wage is £7.10, but that often does not take into account travel time between appointments, so the true figure can drop as low as £5.75—well below the £6.70 national minimum wage. The autumn statement said nothing on social care, on health, the NHS or mental health; as a result it missed the point and did not tackle the issues that we face as a country.
There was nothing in the autumn statement for the 2.6 million women who have had their lives changed by this Government’s attitude to the equalisation of pension ages. Those WASPI women have campaigned with dignity, but they got nothing from this autumn statement, as the Government continue to refuse to act for them.
On the tampon tax, can the Minister confirm whether the £3 million announced in the autumn statement is new funding or the remainder of the allocation from 2015 funds? I do not know where to begin with the tampon tax. The injustice of women’s having to pay that tax is not negated by the fact that money is given to women’s charities, because women should not be funding our own refuges. A tax that the Government hope to abolish—we stand with them on that; we would like to abolish it too—does not offer secure funding for our refuges, which need long-term secure funding. The Government need to step up to the mark on that.
This debate should not be taking place, because the Government should have published their equality impact analysis ahead of the autumn statement. Perhaps the Minister will let us know whether she plans to publish the impact analysis that was undertaken ahead of the 2016 autumn statement, to reveal its impact on women.
Nothing in this debate is new. It has been known for decades that cuts to public services have a disproportionate impact on women, because they are more likely to work in the public sector and to be using the services provided by the public sector, and yet it is women who often pick up the unpaid work that is left to be done when services are cut. We have known for decades that women are disproportionately represented among the lowest-paid in our communities, and are therefore now being disproportionately impacted by the cuts made by this Government. Given that this fundamental analysis is well known and widely accepted, one can only assume that this Government deliberately presented an autumn statement that they knew would disproportionately impact on women.
The Labour party has made a commitment that any future Labour Government will ensure that all economic policies are gender-audited, to ensure that they truly work for all. Not only has austerity failed our country, and especially the women of our country, but we need to remember that this was a political choice, made for ideological reasons rather than economic necessity.
The Opposition motion is an attempt to attack the Government’s record on equality in relation to gender and race. I am saddened by it—saddened but unsurprised, because it is unoriginal, it is typical and it is an unfounded attack.
I would ask the Opposition to change the record. They need to dump their 1980s retro-socialism and face the facts. The Conservative party that I have been elected to represent, as a woman and as a member of an ethnic minority, bears no resemblance to the picture they are trying to paint in the motion, in philosophy or policy—in fact, quite the contrary.
I am proud that on this side of the House, our values of fairness, meritocracy and service inform our policies—our values of aspiration. We say it does not matter where you start in life. It does not matter what your parents did. It does not matter where you come from. You can rise up, by using the ladder that the Conservatives provide—not handouts and not dependency. The key to that is working, because that produces confidence. It engenders teamwork. It creates responsibility. We believe in the individual, not the state. We believe that taxation stifles enterprise, instead of empowering. That is what this autumn statement depicts, and that is what this Government’s track record reflects.
Labour’s default position of increasing taxation, of spending more, is unsustainable; it is not prudent and it is disempowering to women, ethnic minorities and disabled people. If we want to keep and empower women in work, and to empower ethnic minorities and disabled people, we need a strong economy. We get a strong economy by managing the books and the finances prudently. This recent autumn statement set out by the Chancellor is a real reflection of how we do that, with the commitment to raising the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500; raising the national living wage from £7.20 to £7.50 in April; aligning national insurance thresholds for employees and employers; rolling out 30 hours of tax-free childcare; and introducing shared parental leave and flexible working.
Those are all conditions that empower women, and when the conditions are right, we get the results, and the results speak for themselves. Granted, there is more to do, but the gender pay gap is the lowest on record, with more women-led businesses than ever, contributing £80 billion to the economy per year. There are no all-male boards in the FTSE top companies. Britain has been voted the best country in Europe for women to set up a business. Those are the facts.
This is a Government who create the conditions to help make work pay, to strengthen our economy in a sustainable and prudent way. In doing so, we are all empowered. We are all empowered—as women, as ethnic people, as disabled people, as people from disadvantage. It does not matter what your background is; you can achieve your potential, with no limit on your aspiration. That is why I shall vote against the Opposition motion.
In the 2016 autumn statement, 85% of the net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit measures come from women. Here I go again, as promised, speaking up for the 2.6 million women who have been adversely affected by this Government’s chaotic mismanagement of the pension age increase. Action to address the situation of those who have lost out is needed to ensure that everyone is treated fairly in the process of increasing the state pension age for women. An estimated 500,000 women born in the 1950s have been affected by the changes in the state pension. Changes to state and public sector pensions will disproportionately affect women, who already make up two thirds of the UK’s poorest pensioners.
I have nothing new to say, because hon. Members have heard it all before. No further explanation of the situation is needed, because Opposition Members all acknowledge that those 1950s women—the WASPI generation—are experiencing gross injustice. Today we are talking about equality, and those women do not have equality. The Government have the opportunity to redress that inequality, do the right thing and make appropriate transitional payments for the 1950s WASPI women.
I welcome any support for women. Women make up half the population and contribute a great deal to our economy. We need to focus on ensuring that we have a strong economy, because through a strong economy we protect women as well as men, disabled people as well as able-bodied people, and people of all races. With a strong economy, all those people will prosper. I am pleased that our growth under this Conservative Government is second only to that of the US.
It is unfortunate that Labour Members focus on the negatives, not the positives, and that they do not seek to raise ambitions and aspiration for all society. I would like to highlight four positives in relation to women: for those who are young, for those who are on low wages, for those who are more skilled, and by way of international comparison.
First, I do not think that it is appropriate to talk down young women. Girls often do better than boys in school, and more women than men go to university. Secondly, I want to recognise the benefit of the Government’s policies for women on lower salaries. Men as well as women benefit from the national living wage going up to £9 by 2020. If, as the Opposition say, women are paid less than men, the policy will disproportionately benefit women.
Thirdly, let us not forget the strides that have been made for the higher paid. We have no all-male FTSE 100 boards, and the number of women on FTSE 100 boards went up to 26% in 2015, from 13% in 2011. Fourthly, it is important to consider how we are doing by comparison with other countries internationally. The World Economic Forum gender gap measures and ranks the level of equality of opportunity between men and women. We are 20th out of 144, ranking above Canada, the US and Australia.
Sarah Champion stated that she was proud of successive Labour achievements. She failed to mention that according to a Fabian Society study, only 36% of Labour councillors, 16% of council leaders and 11% of the most senior Labour staff are women. I want an economy and a society that work for everyone, of every race, gender and religion.
I am going to talk about the productivity gap, which was mentioned in the autumn statement. I am going to stick to talking about the autumn statement, because that is the subject of the motion. The productivity gap is, in my opinion, one of the things we fail on repeatedly because we forget half the population. Members have talked about the infrastructure spending that was announced in the autumn statement, but we all know—let us stop pretending that we do not—that that will mainly create jobs that are filled with men. I am asking the Government to do something about it.
During the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry into the gender pay gap, Minister after Minister pledged their desire to do something about it. The inquiry found clear evidence that the segmenting of jobs exacerbated the gender pay gap. Ministers—including those who were on the Front Bench earlier—have sat in front of me and said that they want to see more women in science, tech, engineering and maths. I have travelled to the UN with one of the Ministers who was on the Front Bench earlier to talk about how brilliantly the UK was doing in that field.
Does the hon. Lady recognise the importance of the point made by one of my colleagues yesterday that even if the 500,000 jobs coming from the industrial strategy were all given to disabled people, that still would not close the disability gap, let alone the gender gap?
I do, indeed, recognise that, and I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. We must all recognise that we have so much more to do in this area.
The announcement of billions of extra pounds in the autumn statement represents a real opportunity for the Government to invest in construction and engineering jobs, and in tech innovation. The money provides a lever for the allocation of money to be used not only to build and make things, but to achieve some of their other aims, which they have travelled the world saying they cared about.
After the statement, I set about asking Ministers how they would make sure this money—the money of taxpayers, including all the women who pay taxes—was going to be spent on our prosperity. I asked the Chancellor if he had plans to set targets for women’s employment. I wonder whether we can guess what he said. He did not say, “Why, yes, we will stay true to our word about women’s gainful employment and the breaking down of gendered roles in employment.” No, he said:
“The government has no plans to set targets for women’s employment to be achieved as a result of the National Productivity Investment Fund”.
It is clear that women will not only lose out from the cuts, but make no gains when the Government finally decide to start spending money. A huge amount of research shows that instead of always reaching for shovels when we spend on infrastructure, we need to see our people services as infrastructure. Investment in childcare and, very topically, in care services creates more jobs than any road building, and it also has double the effect on productivity by freeing up adults of working age from the extra responsibilities that stop them working. I need not say that that mainly applies to women.
I am asking for it to be made a condition in the tendering process for all contracts involving the commissioning of all this money on infrastructure that providers must have a plan showing how they will attract more women into such roles. I would ask Ministers to set targets and quotas, but I know that they will not do so, regardless of all the evidence in favour of doing so. They have evidence-based policies only when they want. No contract should be allocated without such a workable plan being submitted.
I ask the Government to monitor how many women’s jobs are created by the national productivity investment fund, so that we women taxpayers of the country can see exactly what we are getting back for our investment. Monitoring this will allow the Government to see if they are doing a good job for half the population. Just hoping this stuff gets done is no longer good enough. Government policy cannot be based on the triumph of hope over experience. The idea that progress will take another 60 years is simply not good enough.
Experience and evidence now show that only 1% of direct construction jobs are held by women, as are 14% of jobs across the entire construction industry, including all administration jobs. In that field, there is a 16% gender pay gap. We are therefore investing in a sector where women do not have jobs, or in which when they do get them, and where they can expect to be paid considerably less than their male colleagues. I want this investment in house building, road building, research and development, but I just want the benefits to be shared equally. At the moment, women are getting 1%, while 99% goes elsewhere. I am not shroud-waving or being negative, as Government Members say; I am standing here and waving, hoping that the Government notice that, on productivity, there is a female of the species.
The motion is about the autumn statement, but we must accept that this is not just about the autumn statement. We are talking about the cumulative effects over the decade between 2010 and 2020. Those with the lowest 10% of incomes stand to lose 21% of their income by 2020. This will affect people with disability. We have debated in this place the cuts to the employment and support allowance work-related activity group, and we know about the changes to the personal independence payment and about the removal of Motability cars, which will stop someone with disability getting work. We have also heard about the gender impact and the impact on black and minority ethnic people. The changes to tax have definitely helped men, and they have helped those who are not at the bottom. Sadly, those right at the bottom are probably not paying tax, so a change in the tax threshold does not help them. Some 72% of those on the 40% tax rate are men, so they are the ones who benefit.
Just in case the Government have forgotten some of the things that have happened in recent years, I will put my specs on and read the list. We had changes to child benefit, which is important because it is usually paid to the mother. There was a cut in childcare support within working tax credit, the baby element of tax credits was removed and the threshold for working tax credit for couples with children increased from working 16 hours to working 24 hours. There have been reductions in housing benefit support that hit women, as they make up most of the households with a single adult. Lone parents on income support now need to move on to jobseeker’s allowance once their child is five—92% of lone parents are women. The health in pregnancy grant was axed and Sure Start maternity grants were axed after the first child. There are charges for access to child maintenance services and, indeed, to employment tribunals, which affect women when they try to bring inequality cases.
There have been benefit caps and benefit freezes. Some 89% of the people who are hit by those are in households with children and 50% are lone parents. I say again, 92% of lone parents are women. We know about the cuts to come in universal credit and the “pretendy” U-turn on tax credits, as the cuts simply come in as universal credit rolls out. Paying universal credit to one person in the household presents a real danger where domestic abuse and manipulation are part of the family.
The key issue is that there has not been a cumulative impact assessment on all the changes added together for gender, ethnicity and disability. The two biggest groups that are affected are lone parents, particularly lone mothers, and single women pensioners. As we heard earlier, lone parents stand to lose £4,000—an eye-watering amount of their income. Women pensioners have faced a 19% pay gap over their lifetime. That means they have less savings and a bigger reliance on the state pension. Of course, we also have the WASPI issue.
What all that results in is a health impact. The Government talk about NHS sustainability, but the biggest driver of ill health is poverty. We faff around talking about smoking, weight and all the things people should do, but according to the Marmot report, the difference is poverty. The biggest change that has ever happened in public health came from changing the London sewers. We should be trying to eliminate poverty and give children a decent start in life.
I thank my hon. Friend Sarah Champion for securing this debate and for all the work she has done to highlight this important matter.
Since 2010, women have been hit three times harder by tax and benefit changes than men. Eighty-six per cent of tax and benefit savings have been taken from women. That is a further increase of 5% since last year’s autumn statement. Female-headed households will be affected the most. They will see the largest drop in living standards between 2010 and 2020, and that is happening under a Conservative-led Government.
“If you are a woman, you will earn less than a man.”
That is absolutely true. The gender pay gap needs to be tackled now. The Labour Government closed it by a third, but according to the United Nations, on the current rate of progress, it will take Britain another 70 years to bridge the divide between men’s and women’s pay.
I have highlighted the fact that women are being paid less, but they are also paying the price of austerity. According to the Women’s Budget Group, women in work will be £1,000 a year worse off on average as a result of the autumn statement. Their male counterparts will lose £555 a year. As has been highlighted, low-earning women will be the worst affected of any group. Women who are employed and earn below-average incomes will find themselves £1,678 a year poorer.
The effects of the autumn statement are also detrimental for women who rely on the welfare system for support. The cuts, including the reduction in the benefit cap and the cuts to tax credits, child support and carer’s allowance, heavily affect single parents. Nine out of 10 single parents are women. For women in work the Government trumpet the raise in the personal tax allowance as
“lifting people out of tax” yet ignore the 43% of people who do not earn enough even to pay income tax, 66% of whom are women and whom this measure benefits not one jot.
Since coming into government in 2010 the Conservatives have stated repeatedly that they have a long-term economic plan. With a new Chancellor and Prime Minister, in the autumn statement they seemed to change course and now promise to target the just about managing—the JAMs. Sadly, all I can see is them getting themselves into a long-term economic jam. I have to ask, who are these people who are just about managing? Do the just about managing need inheritance tax to be scrapped on homes worth up to £1 million? Is it helpful to give £21 billion in tax cuts to the richest half of households—are they just about managing now? Or is it just about managing to be able to afford to blow £1,000 on designer accessories? Many of my constituents can no longer just about manage. They are in fact not coping at all, having borne the unfair burden of this Government’s austerity policies.
If this Government want a Britain that works for everyone, they should not be allowing women to be paid less while paying the price for their unequal policies. In a spirit of positivity, I ask the Government to begin addressing the mass inequality they have dealt to UK women, and recommend that they start with a gender audit of their own policies and gender analysis of future Budgets so we can at least begin to eradicate the imbalance that burdens women here in the UK.
Quite a lot of percentages and stats have been mentioned. I will throw a few more in, but not that many, in the hope that we will not bamboozle everyone too much.
The Government have been saying that things are getting better for women and that the autumn statement must therefore be okay. They have tried pretty much to gloss over the fact that the autumn statement was written without considering the impact on the two different genders. Afterwards, they tried to fudge a response to the question that inevitably came. That is the situation, and it is not good enough—it is not good enough for the Government simply to fudge this issue.
The position that women are starting from is not a level playing field. More than 90% of lone parents are female. The gender pay gap in the UK is still 13.9% for full-time employees—that figure is from the Fawcett Society. Women are 60% of those earning below the living wage, by which I mean the real living wage, not the “pretendy” one. Women make up only 27% of higher rate taxpayers. We are starting from a position of disadvantage, in which there is a gender pay gap. The Government cannot simply say that they are not doing anything bad to women. They need to stand up and say that they will do good things for women. They need policies that make the situation better, rather than simply trying to stand still. As I have said, women do not start on a level playing field.
We should also really criticise the Government because they keep saying that the Library briefings and the evidence provided are wrong. They cannot say the evidence is wrong just because they disagree with it. That does not make it wrong; it simply means that they disagree with it. It is the same with the national living wage. The Government cannot call it a national living wage and then expect people to be able to live on it just because they have called it that. That is not how these things work. They need to make actual changes.
“women just tend to be in the groups more affected by benefit changes.”
That is absolutely the case, because of the percentage of women who are lone parents, and are therefore managing a household on their own, along with the reduction in the number of benefits being given to people with children—because of all of these changes, which disproportionately affect women. We start from a position in society of less privilege, fewer opportunities and less advantage. The Government need to do the opposite of what they are doing; they need to be making positive interventions.
The speech about people being able to climb up the ladder was frankly rubbish. People cannot climb up the ladder. People of my generation are having more trouble climbing up it than those of the previous generation. Things are going backwards. We are getting worse. People from less affluent backgrounds, women, those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds and disabled people have struggled more in the last few years to climb up that ladder than they did 20 or 30 years ago, when there was the possibility of that dream. The Government talk about how 26%, or something, of people on a FTSE 100 board are now female. For a start, that is nowhere 50%; moreover, of those heading up FTSE 100 boards, only five are women. That needs to be fixed.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Sarah Champion on securing this important debate, and I am pleased that she referred in her excellent contribution to maternity and paternity leave, because I would like to focus on the plight of parents of premature babies, a group that really is struggling to manage. The autumn statement was a missed opportunity to offer them the better help they need. Although maternity provision in the UK is generally good by international standards, it does not work for parents whose babies are born long before their due date. These tiny babies, born too soon to live without medical support, can be on life support in incubators for weeks, or even months. The parents cannot hold them because they are encased in machinery with wires, tubes and bleeping monitors as they fight for their lives.
Paid maternity leave lasts for about six months, but it is triggered the moment the child is born; there is no flexibility if the baby spends several of those first vital months inside an incubator on a special care unit. That means that the child is doubly disadvantaged, first by being born too weak and frail to live without medical support and with illnesses that can often last for years, and secondly by being denied the full period of time that healthier babies get to bond with their parents. Holding, cuddling and breastfeeding are all vital to a baby’s healthy development, but a premature baby never gets back the time they spend in an incubator.
The stress of watching their baby struggling to live leaves one in every five mums of premature babies with mental ill health, which is another issue that the autumn statement ignored. On average, the parents of premature babies spend an extra £2,000 on the costs of overnight accommodation, hospital parking and eating in expensive hospital cafeterias. For many parents, that is money they simply do not have, and it pushes many into debt that they struggle to get out of afterwards. It is difficult not just for mums but for dads, too. They still only get 10 days’ paid paternity leave, even if their baby is born months early, so at a time when their newborn child is fighting for its life and the child’s mother needs help the most, many dads are sent straight back to work.
Those parents need an extension of paid maternity and paternity leave that takes into account how premature their baby is. There would be a relatively small up-front cost to the Government, but it would save far more public money in the long term by keeping parents in work, helping vulnerable babies to develop more healthily by having that vital time to bond, reducing mothers’ mental ill health and reducing the child’s need for later medical interventions. Of course, the human benefit for families would be way beyond any financial calculation.
I took a group of campaigners and mums of premature babies to share their stories with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Margot James, and I look forward to hearing her views on what she heard. I hope that the Government will reflect on the damage they have done to families these past six years and, in this case at least, do the right thing and support parents who need us to do the right thing for them so that they can do the right thing for their families.
I thank my hon. Friend Sarah Champion for championing this issue so well today. I also thank all of today’s fantastic speakers. We have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) and for Croydon North (Mr Reed), from the hon. Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) and for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), and from Lucy Frazer. We heard from them on a range of issues, from the gross injustice faced by the WASPI women, the disability work gap, the productivity gap and the benefit cap to the universal credit cuts, paternity rights and the fact that austerity and cuts have ultimately fallen largely on the shoulders of women over recent years.
Last month’s autumn statement was an opportunity for the new Chancellor to signal a change of direction and repair some of the damage caused by six years of Conservative failure. Indeed, we were told that our cumulative deficit would be £122 billion by 2021, a far cry from the eradication of the deficit that we were promised by 2015. We have seen six wasted years, in which the deficit has spiralled, debt has spiralled and productivity, which drives our economy, has hit rock bottom; six years of pernicious cuts and schemes aimed at dismantling and marketising our public services, which are now teetering on the edge of a cliff; six years in which the wealthiest enjoyed tax giveaways, while the most vulnerable saw their incomes savagely cut.
How did women fare in all this? I was quietly optimistic before the statement, given that we have a female Prime Minister after all, and she waxed lyrical in the days preceding the statement that the Government would help the so-called “just about managing”. Sadly, nothing could have been further from the truth. As we have heard, the autumn statement ensures that 86% of cuts will still come from women. There was nothing for those dubbed “just about managing”, no reversal of universal credit cuts, no reversal of cuts to employment and support allowance, nothing for our NHS and not even a mention of social care. The figures are even more depressing. Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover to 2008 levels even by 2021. This is unprecedented in modern British history, and that is before we even start looking at the gender pay gap.
The statement was sadly noteworthy more for what it was missing than what it achieved, but perhaps most disappointing was the Chancellor’s failure to address the disproportionate impact of the past six years on women. He had his chance. For example, Labour made it clear that we would support him should he fully reverse cuts to universal credit, yet he chose not to and announced a meagre change to the taper rate, which will do little to mitigate the effect of the wider cuts, which disproportionately affect women.
The House of Commons Library helpfully modelled the effects of the changes on different family situations. A lone parent on the national living wage with one child is set to experience a net loss of £2,600 in 2020-21, even with the reduced taper rate. Of course, that is a desperate situation for any family, but further analysis shows, interestingly, that single female adults make up 88% of total single adults in receipt of the child and/or working tax credits that form part of the new universal credit bundle.
Not only did the statement fail to address the discrepancy in the impact of tax and benefit changes, but the systematic failure to properly fund our public services impacts on women more than men. For example, the social care sector is in crisis. In fact, it is not just in crisis; it is on the brink of collapse, which in turn puts even greater pressure on our already creaking NHS. Yet the autumn statement did not provide a single penny. Not only is this situation untenable for all in need of care, but the chronic underfunding excessively impacts on women. Women are the main recipients of social care services and constitute the majority of both paid and unpaid carers. About 80% of all jobs in adult social care are held by women, and let us be honest: the majority of them are not very well paid.
The Government seem to be suggesting that allowing local authorities to raise council tax will address the situation, but we on the Labour Benches know that such a solution creates severe geographical discrepancies and will go nowhere near plugging the gap. In fact, in my constituency of Salford and Eccles it will not even touch the sides of what we need to fund our social care system.
I began by saying that the autumn statement was an opportunity for the new Chancellor to change direction. Sadly he missed that chance, but the Minister today has another chance to correct the gender imbalance that the economic policies of the last six years have created. We need to address the fact that tonight, in my constituency, some women are going to struggle to put themselves to bed because they have no access to social care, or indeed they might be the unpaid carers putting their loved ones to bed. Women will stay on late at work—just to counteract the entrenched gender stereotype in our dog-eat-dog job market—often working longer and harder than their male counterparts for far less pay. Some mothers who have been hit by the pernicious cuts of the last six years will struggle to feed their children and themselves. All these women will dream of a future for their daughter—a future that takes them away from the desperation and shattered ambition that has seeped into society over the past six years.
The Government talk a lot about aspiration, and we have heard some of their words today. Their words, however, are hollow, and the clock has, frankly, been turned back on gender equality over the last six wasted years, with an economic plan that has failed Britain and failed women.
We have certainly had a wide-ranging debate today, if perhaps a little curtailed, touching on many subjects of fundamental importance to our society and indeed to this Government. I would like to thank Members of all parties for their contributions.
In truth, I think we all want to see an economy that works for everyone in our society, whether it be women, men, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds —all groups. It is right to scrutinise our success in delivering on that. Historically, women and black and minority ethnic groups have been disproportionately represented in lower-income groups. We all acknowledge that, but we have not heard much from the Opposition about the broad action necessary to address that long-term historical trend. It is important to address it in the long term, which my hon. Friend Suella Fernandes touched on.
We have just heard from the Opposition that “aspiration” is an empty word. Actually, at the heart of Conservative Members’ contributions has been the idea that it is aspiration that will address this problem in the long term, and that can be seen in some of the actions we have taken. We have sought to raise aspirations to ensure that the next generation does better than the current one, particularly in some of the lower-income groups.
What, then, have we been doing? Fundamental to everything—I realise that this is something that the Opposition will never agree with us on and will never engage with—is a stronger economy. That underpins doing the best for everyone in our society so that they can enjoy a greater level of prosperity and higher living standards. [Interruption.] The Opposition Front-Bench team can chunter all they want, but their failure to engage with the fundamental issue of having a credible plan for our economy, for bringing down debt over time and for putting our public finances on a sustainable basis perhaps explains why only five Labour Back Benchers were in the Chamber at the beginning of this Opposition day debate. It perhaps explains why large parts of the Labour party have lost faith in their own Front Benchers. It is a consequence of their failure to engage with the fundamental truths of our economy. That issue underpins everything that we have come here to discuss today, but we have heard nothing from the Opposition about some of the key issues.
In stark contrast, we have heard from Government Members about what we are doing to maintain the focus on making this country somewhere where our businesses can grow, where people can succeed and where we can provide more jobs and more opportunities for all working people. There is a stark contrast with the Labour record, which saw female unemployment rise by a quarter, whereas we have a record employment rate. We have seen 1.2 million women find work since 2010, including 400,000 women from black and minority ethnic groups.
The House should also note—Conservative Members noted it with pleasure—that the gender pay gap has fallen to a new record low. Yes, there is further to go, but all we got from the Opposition was sarcasm, instead of saying “Yes, we have made progress and we want to do better”. But progress we have made, and it is all about laying the foundation for rising wealth for all working people. It means having a sensible fiscal plan to get our finances under control, and it means backing British business to deliver strong growth in our economy, without which we cannot create jobs for anyone.
I was slightly mystified by the dismissive tone taken by Jess Phillips on investment and infrastructure. I am glad that she engaged with the autumn statement announcements on infrastructure, but she dismissed the investment in road building, for example, as being about creating jobs in construction. That infrastructure money, whether for road building or digital infrastructure, is directly intended to help people start businesses and grow them quicker. Record numbers of women have started businesses in this country over the past six years, and it is evident that investment in improving our digital infrastructure is key to some of those companies, because women have been extraordinarily entrepreneurial when it comes to starting new online businesses.
Only 17% of jobs in innovation and technology are held by women, but we can look at that again.
Words have repeatedly, and wrongly, been put in my mouth throughout this debate. I never once said that I did not want infrastructure spending on roads; I said that I also want infrastructure spending on care. That money should be spent equally on women’s jobs and men’s jobs. All I am asking is that we record the data so that we can see if that works.
I am responding directly to that point. Infrastructure investment is about enabling the creation of more jobs and enabling more businesses to grow. We obviously agree on that point, but it is nonsense to say that men benefit disproportionately. We know that more women have started businesses and that more women are in employment, so the things we are doing to enable people to grow businesses and create jobs are directly benefiting all kinds of workers. That is fundamentally what we are about.
We heard from my hon. Friends—sadly, there was nothing from the Opposition—about the number of women on boards, the number of women in employment and the number of businesses being started by women. It is impossible to have this kind of debate if the Opposition will not acknowledge any of that or the progress made. They will not acknowledge, for example, that when the personal allowance rises to £11,500 next year, 1.3 million people will be taken out of income tax, 59% of whom are women. My colleagues talked about the investments we have made for working families through tax-free childcare, the reduction of the universal credit taper, funding for more affordable homes and investment in quality public services, meaning that more children are in good or outstanding schools. However, mention of that came there none from Opposition Members. It is as if none of those things have happened.
We carefully consider the implications of all of our measures both for protected equality groups, in line with the Equality Act 2010, and for households at different points on the income distribution. I refer hon. Members once again to the comprehensive distributional analysis that we published alongside the autumn statement. It showed—again, we did not hear about this—that only the wealthiest households would experience modest losses as a result of the measures in the autumn statement. That is why the top 1% of income taxpayers in our society today pay a greater share of income tax than in any year under the previous Labour Government, but we did not hear about that either.
We want to see women and men of all races and ages and from all parts of our country grow increasingly prosperous, and key to that is investing in a strong economy that produces jobs and opportunities for working people. That is what we have been working to deliver since 2010. That is why we have more women in work and more women-led businesses than ever before. That is why we have increased support for families and individuals in their day-to-day lives, whether through measures to increase the national living wage, which are ridiculously dismissed by Opposition Members, or by cutting income tax for millions of people.
Crucially, women are a much more important part of this country’s economy than the Opposition give us credit for. We are so much more than they would have it, from listening to their speeches today. The Government are here to improve the lot of all the working people in this country and, in particular, to support the ever increasing contribution that women make to our economy—and long may it be so. This Government remain committed to ensuring that that continues into the future.
Question put (
The House divided:
Ayes 234, Noes 307.
Division number 111
Question accordingly negatived.
Question put forthwith (
Question agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (
That this House affirms that introducing tax-free childcare, increasing the national living wage, increasing investment in affordable housing, reducing the universal credit taper, boosting investment in schools to create more good school places and taking 1.3 million individuals out of paying income tax so far this Parliament will benefit all genders and races; welcomes the fact that there are more women in work than ever before; further welcomes the Government’s publication of distributional analysis along with the Autumn Statement 2016; and welcomes the action the Government is taking to develop a strong economy that works for everyone, regardless of their background.