‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the equality impact of the provisions of this Act specified in subsection (3) in accordance with this section and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.
(2) A review under this section must consider—
(a) the impact of those provisions on households at different levels of income,
(b) the impact of those provisions on people with protected characteristics (within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010),
(c) the impact of those provisions on the Treasury’s compliance with the public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, and
(d) the impact of those provisions on equality in different parts of the United Kingdom and different regions of England.
(3) The provisions specified in this subsection are—
(a) income tax (in sections 1 and 3 to 6),
(b) employment (in sections 7 to 10),
(c) disguised remuneration (in sections 11 and 12 and Schedules 1 and 2),
(d) pension schemes (in section 13 and Schedule 3),
(e) settlements (in section 35 and Schedule 11),
(f) air passenger duty (in section 43),
(g) vehicle excise duty (in section 44), and
(h) tobacco products duty (in section 45).
(4) In this section—
“parts of the United Kingdom” means—
(c) Wales, and
(d) Northern Ireland;
“regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.’—(Dawn Butler.)
This new clause requires the Chancellor of the Exchequer to carry out and publish a review of the effects of certain provisions of the Bill on equality in relation to households with different levels of income, people with protected characteristics, the Treasury’s public sector equality duty and on a regional basis.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 9 stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and other hon. Friends.
I thank the previous Minister for Women and Equalities, Justine Greening, for the equality impact assessment response sent to me just before Christmas. Her responses are normally quite upbeat. I found this response a little lacklustre, but it highlighted why we need to support new clause 9. Her letter highlights the weaknesses of “due regard” and goes on to make a somewhat puzzling statement:
“All Departments carefully consider the equality impacts of individual policy decisions taken on by those sharing protected characteristics in line with our legal obligations and our clear commitment to equality issues.”
Therein lies the problem: this Government have not shown a clear commitment to equality issues, far from it. With 86% of the cuts falling on the shoulders of women, and with black, Asian and minority ethnic people and the disabled suffering more than any other group, I find it hard to understand why the Government try to proclaim that they are committed to equalities.
The hon. Lady says that the Government have not made a clear commitment. Does she not agree that compelling companies in our country to publish gender pay gap information—the first time any Government have done that—is a very clear signal that is already making real change for women working in those companies?
I agree that it is good to get companies to publish their pay gap information, but there are no teeth if companies fail to do so. That is a real problem that needs to be addressed. We need to tackle the gender pay gap, and there needs to be punishment for companies that fail to address the pay gap—that is an unfortunate failing in the Government’s plan.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that voluntary publication schemes—such as on participation, as demonstrated by the Crossrail project—show that companies will comply through social pressure? There is a brand equity question, so we do not need a hard punishment. Through brand equity and reputation, there will be punishment enough if companies fail to comply.
Again, the problem is that very few companies have actually published, and the deadline is quickly approaching.
The letter from the right hon. Member for Putney went on to say that the Treasury would complete a cumulative impact assessment. I have yet to receive confirmation of that cumulative impact assessment, so will the Minister confirm that it has been done and whether a copy will be placed in the Library?
I know that it is often difficult for the Government to hear the Opposition’s views, so I urge them to listen to the voices of Conservative Members, such as Nicky Morgan, the Chair of the Treasury Committee. The Committee is obviously a little perplexed by the lack of commitment to equality impact assessments. The Chancellor has complained about the type of data gathered, but when he was asked whether he had asked the Office for National Statistics about the gathering of that data, he replied that he had not. That does not exactly show a commitment to equality, does it?
The Treasury Committee went on to say:
“The Treasury should use ONS and HMRC data to produce and publish robust equalities impact assessments of future Budgets, including the individual tax and welfare measures contained within them. A deficiency of data in respect of some protected characteristics is not a reason for failing to produce an analysis in respect of others for which data is available. Nor should the risk of misinterpretation or methodological complexity preclude the publication of an Equalities Impact Assessment.”
In short, just do it.
The only reference in the Budget to identified gender impact is where it disproportionately affects men. What possible reason could there be for that? I understand that the Treasury Committee would welcome an explanation of the Government’s thinking, and so would we. It just does not make sense. The Chancellor alluded to the fact that Ministers see the equality impact assessments for their Departments. That makes me wonder: if Ministers see them, read them and give proper due regard to them, why would they implement the policies they do?
If the Government fail to support this new clause, there can be no public confidence in the Government’s commitment to protect and not punish people with protected characteristics. For the record, let me say that the nine protected characteristics are age; disability; gender reassignment; pregnancy; maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. I understand that the Prime Minister is a little pre-occupied and weak at the moment and that she is dealing with a serious ransom note, but I honestly believe she will not be pleased that her legacy will be the hindering of women and their life chances.
More children are homeless or living in temporary accommodation now than at any time since the 2007-08 financial crash. Shelter says that homelessness is a national scandal and estimates that 140 families become homeless every day. The estimate of rough sleeping shows an increase of 134%. Every day, we see and hear the damaging effects that this Government’s policies have had on people, especially those with protected characteristics. This Government are damaging, not protecting, vulnerable groups in our society. Even when the Government conduct an equality impact assessment, they seem to ignore it. Just two weeks ago, they released an equality impact assessment that revealed more bursaries will be axed—this is for about 1,000 nurses who enter the profession each year. The assessment revealed that the latest change risks discouraging women who are ethnic minority or from poorer backgrounds, but the Government went ahead and did this in any case.
We need a Prime Minister who cares enough to start laying foundations by which we can bring about true equality for women, diverse communities, LGBT+ communities and those with protected characteristics. A Labour Government led by my right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn would do just that. A Labour Government’s success will be measured by how they reduce inequality. The next Labour Government will ensure that we publish comprehensive equality impact assessments and conduct them before implementing policies. A Labour Government would have pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny to ascertain whether policies are making a situation better or worse. The Labour way will enable us to truly build an economy for the many and not the few. If the Government fail to support this very reasonable new clause, more people will question—
I am sorry, but I am just coming to the end of my speech. If the Government fail to support this very reasonable new clause, more and more people will begin to question why this Government are so intent on harming and hindering women and those with protected characteristics, as opposed to helping them.
It is a pleasure to take part in the final day of debate on this Finance Bill. We have had a lot of debate during the past few weeks. Anneliese Dodds, the Minister and I have spent quite a lot of time together in the Committee Room, on not only this Bill, but the customs Bill. It is good to be here again to talk about this. It is a great way to start talking about equalities, particularly in respect of this new clause put forward by the Labour Front-Bench team.
The new clause is incredibly important, because the way the Government and previous Governments at Westminster have done Budgets has not been particularly transparent and has not resulted in people knowing what the effects of all the policies will be. I have said before that this is a good new clause and I am delighted to support it on behalf of the Scottish National party. I wish to highlight a number of things in it and to make more general comments about transparency and the processes the Government use to create Budgets and make tax law. The new clause talks about various things, including an analysis of the impact on the different protected characteristics.
Let me focus on just one of those characteristics, as the issue of age is incredibly important. A number of decisions the Government make on tax policy have a differential impact on people of different ages. We have spoken in this Chamber on a number of occasions about the generational divide that exists. We are seeing “generation rent”, with millennials and those who are younger facing a very different housing situation from those in generations that came before. Therefore, any tax changes that happen affect that group of people differently from how they affected those in the previous generation when they were the same age. It is important that any analysis undertaken by the Government considers the generational divide and examines the impact on not only that group of millennials and younger people, but people of state pension age. It must consider the impact on them of any changes to taxes that are coming through.
Dawn Butler mentioned the issues relating to women, and it is clear that a major gender pay gap remains. I recognise that the Government have ensured that companies have to publish this information. That is really important, but the publications I have seen so far from companies have caused me even more concern than the situation we were previously in. One company recently produced a gender pay report that stated that men in the organisation were paid significantly more than women and that this was not an equal pay issue because the men were overwhelmingly doing higher-paid jobs. This was a travel company and men were the pilots whereas women tended to be the cabin crew; 95% of this company’s pilots were men and 80% of its cabin crew were women. That is still a major issue, because women are finding it very difficult to become pilots and men are not finding it that easy to become cabin crew either. There is a real issue to address. Even though I welcome the fact that these data have been published, this has highlighted more structural, institutional issues that need to be solved, as well as simply those relating to equal pay. Any impact analysis that the Government carry out needs to ensure that it takes into account all these things.
Let us look at some of the decisions the Government have taken previously, such as the changes made on the marriage allowance. I welcome the positive changes that are being made to the marriage allowance in the Bill, but the creation of the marriage allowance disproportionately has a negative impact on single female parents. That is still a major concern for the SNP. We still have real issues with the marriage allowance and do not think it has been properly thought through, because of the lack of fairness in that system.
My hon. Friend is making a good point on the marriage allowance, as ever. Does she agree that it creates a significant inequality, in that I, as a married woman, suddenly get this advantage over an unmarried woman? That is an injustice and an unfairness in the tax system. The Government really should not be in the business of telling people that it is financially beneficial to get married.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that people should not feel that they should have to get into a marriage, a civil partnership or any kind of signing on a dotted line relationship, to get a tax break. People should have the choice on that. As I said, this allowance has a disproportionately positive effect on people who are married, particularly on men; it is women who tend to be disadvantaged because they cannot receive this allowance.
Turning to other things in the new clause, I have previously talked, particularly during consideration of the customs Bill, about the differential regional impacts that Brexit will have, particularly now that the leaked Government analysis shows that there will be significantly higher negative impact on areas in the north of England, for example, than in London and the south-east of England. Therefore, when the Government make policy they should be making sure they are trying to balance that out and to put in place policies that are more beneficial to those negatively impacted areas, to counterbalance the major negative effect that Brexit will have.
We need to provide the people in those areas, particularly those at the bottom of the pile, with a fairer system that is better for them. Were the Government to analyse that, we would be in a better position and could see more clearly what they thought the impact would be. Part of the problem is that the Government do not know the impact of some of these policies. They do not know what the differential impact will be because they have not looked at it. If they have all this analysis, it should be easy for them to publish it and to give it to Members, so that we can scrutinise it and make the best decisions.
The hon. Lady talks about regional disparity; does she really think that the Scottish National party policy of increasing taxes in Scotland is a good way to narrow that disparity?
I have expressed particular concerns about those people in England who earn under £26,000 a year and will pay more tax than they will in Scotland and about whether the Government feel it is fair—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but I am being shouted at from across the Chamber. Those people at the bottom of the pile who earn under £26,000 a year will pay more tax in England than they would in Scotland. That is not fair, because those people—
It is not fair because those are the people who most need Government support, especially given the changes to tax credits and the negative impacts we have seen, with disabled people losing £30 a week. This is a major issue for the most vulnerable people. The Conservatives shout about the fact that tax rates for those who earn a reasonable income will be slightly higher in Scotland than in England, but it is clear that they support a different system that does not involve as much fairness as the system that we are trying to support in Scotland.
On the process of Budget scrutiny and the general process of scrutiny of Finance Bills, I have previously expressed vociferously my concerns about the fact that Finance Bill Committees do not take evidence. It would be much better if they did, and if they did, I would like to see them take evidence from organisations such as the Women’s Budget Group that can talk about the gender disparity in some of the tax decisions that are made. But I honestly do not think that that is enough. It is not enough to have scrutiny after the fact. Despite the Government moving to one fiscal event in the year, which is a change that I welcome, there is not the level of consultation that there could be before tax measures are suggested and put in place—before the Chancellor stands up and reveals his Budget.
In a Westminster Hall debate this morning, I outlined the benefit that the European Community brought to my constituency through the funding of vital infrastructure projects. Of course, there is a revenue follow-on from that, because road improvements lead to people being able to get to hospital quicker and other things like that. We are grateful for that. Does the hon. Lady agree that, in respect of the Bill, it would have been helpful had some consideration been given to the effect of the reduction of that money and what that will mean for the UK Exchequer? Indeed, it would have been helpful to consider what that would mean in terms of helping the Scottish Government to replace that funding, as and when.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point. I made the point earlier about regional differences and the impact of Brexit. It is important not only in relation to the GDP reduction that areas might see because they will not be able to trade as easily with EU countries, but in respect of the money that came from the EU and was used for things like infrastructure projects. It is important that the Government counter those reductions.
When the Chancellor stands up to give his spring statement, which we hope will be light on tax changes—that is what tax experts and the business community are asking for—and when he delivers his Budget, it is incredibly important that he has done as much consultation as possible beforehand. He should not only speak to business organisations and Conservative MPs, as I know he does, but open the net wider and consult in advance on any tax measures that he wishes to put in place. He should also take on board new clause 9, which would ensure that an impact analysis is carried out afterwards.
Can the hon. Lady explain the consultation that the Scottish Government undertook before they introduced higher taxes for Scottish taxpayers? Many of my constituents do not feel that it was fair and many businesses have expressed concerns. Despite the calls for consultation, the Scottish Government’s consultation before the introduction of their own plans for higher tax was not reflected in any changes.
Before the vote on the Scottish Government’s budget, they produced a paper on the rationale behind their proposed changes. They consulted each of the parties in the Scottish Parliament and asked them all to put forward their tax plans, so that they could be analysed. The consultation was first put forward in October or November—I am not entirely sure—and the vote is taking place today. That left a significant length of time between the production of the consultation documents and the first discussions and the actual vote in Parliament.
Here in Westminster, we have the Budget debate and then the votes on the Ways and Means resolutions. We have votes on proposals that are being put in place from that day. That is very different from the situation in the Scottish Parliament, where a length of time is allowed for consultation because the draft budget is produced. All the parties in the Scottish Parliament are welcome to produce an Opposition budget and they are welcome to take that to the Parliament to be voted on. Some of them have chosen to do that and some have not. I suggest that those that have not chosen to do that might be struggling to balance the books, or they might have just decided that ours is clearly the best option.
I do not wish to take up any more time. The call for equality assessments and for more transparency and information would be helpful not only for the Opposition, who scrutinise the Budget, but for the Ministers who take decisions. They would take better decisions if they could see all the impacts, particularly on people with protected characteristics.
I wish to make a few brief comments, particularly as I was unable to intervene on the shadow Minister, Dawn Butler. I was quite shocked by some of the accusations she made and by what I consider to be her somewhat unsubstantiated claims about a rather illusory bright future under a Corbyn Government. I felt that she somewhat ignored the legacy of the previous Labour Government, who failed to build homes, thereby contributing to the current housing challenge; who failed on jobs, leaving many thousands of families jobless when the Conservative Government took over; and who increased inequality in our society.
It may be important to correct the record and I know that Anneliese Dodds was led into that by the observations of Helen Whately—it is quite easy to elide into disorderly conduct—but it is important that we try to focus the exchanges on new clause 9, to which with laser-like intensity I know the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent will now turn.
Anneliese Dodds made a different point from the one I made. My point stands because it was about the building of houses.
By contrast with the previous Labour Government, the current Government have made progress on the gender pay gap. This is the Government who are requiring companies to publish data on the gender pay gap. As we well know, and as has been said this afternoon, transparency is a huge driver of change. We have seen that in many sectors, including a lot in the health sector, which is where I got most of my experience. This Government introduced and are raising the national living wage, which disproportionately benefits women; this Government have taken the lowest paid out of tax; this Government are making sure that for every £1 that the lowest-income households pay in tax, they benefit from £4-worth of public spending; and this Government have overseen a huge expansion in jobs so that millions more are in work.
On the point that the hon. Member for Brent Central made about children, it is significant that many more children are now in households in which somebody in the family is working; far fewer are in workless households. We know that work is key to getting out of poverty.
My hon. Friend is making a great point about our record on job creation. Does she also recognise that it is this Government who have overseen the greatest expansion of women in work since records began?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We have put in place policies to help women. The extra free childcare for three-year-olds benefits both parents but, as women are often the main child carer, it particularly helps women who have an ambition to work.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that, since the last Labour Government were in power, youth unemployment has been cut in half? That generates opportunities, the dignity of work, the chance to get on and the chance for women and children to achieve their best in society?
I thank my hon. Friend for making such an important point. This Government have given thousands of young people the opportunity to have a job. It was not that long ago that everyone was always talking about NEETs—the big debate was about all those young people not in education, employment or training. Those numbers have now shrunk phenomenally under this Government’s leadership.
The hon. Lady has mentioned the power of numbers to be able to track progress. Obviously, new clause 9 is about the power of numbers to be able to track progress in tackling inequality. If she thinks that those numbers were so important in the battle to ensure that we did not leave young people behind, why does she not think the same when it comes to women and ethnic minorities?
I am not surprised by the hon. Lady’s intervention. The point is that there is a thorough impact analysis of the Budget. Where does it get us if we endlessly go around these things, again and again?
If we compare 2003 to 2006 under the Labour Government with 2013 to 2016, we will see that the number of women in business and entrepreneurship has grown by more than 40%. Does my hon. Friend agree that that shows the Government’s commitment to women in business?
Another very well-informed point from a colleague about the great progress that women are making in the workplace with the support of this Government.
The headline point that I was keen to make is that this Government have a track record in reducing inequality. I am keen to ensure that we base what we say on the track record—the track record of improving the lives of people on the lowest incomes and of reducing inequality.
I agree. We should not just look at the outcomes. The outcomes are a desired end but, in order to get to a better outcome, the key is to give people opportunities to make the most of their lives. In particular, we should help those who have a difficult start, or who find themselves in a difficult situation. They may need extra help to access the opportunities but, absolutely, opportunity is the key.
Rather than painting a picture that can mislead people into believing this illusion of a perfect world, we need to base claims on substantial policies. I know that it is controversial, but universal credit is making a difference in my constituency for people who want to work and who want to work more hours. I have heard many criticisms of the policy, but genuinely it is making a difference and giving people the opportunity to increase the work that they do. Improvements in the standard of education and the opportunities coming through thanks to the industrial strategy—these are the concrete policies that will make life better for people. That is how we reduce inequalities and that is why I am delighted to support the Government throughout this Finance Bill.
As I said when I intervened on Dawn Butler, I appreciate that we should look at the distribution and at the impacts of some of the Budget provisions. That is what the Treasury already does. At every budgetary event, it does look at the impact on distribution across the United Kingdom. ONS statistics also look at distribution and the impact across different households.
When we talk about making sure that we shine a light on these issues and target equality, for which I and many Members share the hon. Lady’s passion, we should recognise that this is the Government who put pressure on companies to produce these publications. Although there is not yet full compliance, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will continue to put pressure on the sector—I referred to this matter earlier—to follow other industry-leading programmes such as Crossrail, which use publication and peer review to add pressure and to show companies what best practice is in the UK and internationally.
Let me pick up on some broader points about the pay gap, particularly the gender pay gap. I hope that Opposition Members saw the recent study quoted in the Financial Times just a month ago—I would be happy to share it with them—which looked at male and female pay rates. Those rates were actually very equal up to around middle-to-senior manager level, after which there was a big gap. The biggest disparity, and where some of the most uneven gap appears, was at the very senior roles, as in chief executive officer and chief financial officer roles. One of the key drivers for that, as stated in that study, was women taking maternity leave. So we have already identified the pay gap problem, and we should be looking at policies to increase flexible working and to help women back into the workplace after taking maternity leave. I know that colleagues on the Front Bench have been looking into that and have reflected that in the Budget.
More broadly, let me pick up on some of the points made by Kirsty Blackman about tax and equality. Just to be clear—new clause 9 refers to every part of the United Kingdom—some of the tax increases that have just been made in Scotland are said to produce a much fairer society, but, to clarify this for the House, the tax changes mean that those on the lowest incomes in Scotland get £20 more a year—that is it. That is 38p a week. When Scottish National party Members stand in this House and lecture this Front Bench and this Government on being unfair, let us remember that the tax changes that the SNP has introduced bring in 38p a week, or £20 a year, and the tax changes that the Conservatives have introduced bring in £1,500 a year through the changes to the tax threshold. Let us leave the SNP to bicker on the sidelines while the Conservatives bring about truly transformational change.
I was also amazed by what the hon. Member for Aberdeen North said about the marriage allowance. I am glad that she was pulled up on it, because the party has been in the papers about the marriage allowance just this weekend. The Chancellor of the Exchequer of the UK Government had to stand up and guarantee to people living in Scotland that the Government will bridge the gap created in the marriage allowance by the tax changes that have been imposed by the SNP Administration in Holyrood. Yet again, it is the UK Exchequer that is having to stump up for SNP failures in Scotland.
When we talk about fairness, it is also important to recognise that it is this Budget that is increasing the block grants in Scotland in real terms. It was even recognised by the Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, in the Scottish Parliament, that it is a real-terms increase. Therefore, on top of the £1,750 per head spending we get—or Union dividend we get—already, we are getting a further real-terms increase to spend on frontline services in Scotland.
I am conscious of the time, but one important area that impacts on equality issues is tax avoidance, which has been picked up in the Budget. I am talking not only about tax avoidance generally, but about the VAT provision. The Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, has been specifically interested in that. The provisions that have been included to target VAT avoidance, especially for international payment platforms and for international marketplaces, give the Exchequer a good opportunity to target those who are not currently paying VAT but who should. Hopefully, that will bring more money into UK coffers and allow us to close the equality gap further still.
I appreciate that we are all concerned with driving equality across the country, but the Government clearly differ from the Opposition on how to achieve that. I am proud to be part of a Government who are one of the most progressive we have seen. Our record speaks for itself. It is not about slogans and words; it is about real progress and real change in people’s lives. That is what the Conservative party cares about. Labour Members would like us to introduce a review for every provision in the legislation. It is clear to Conservative Members that this already happens. The Treasury already publishes the impact analysis of these policies.
The simple fact is that the Treasury does publish the distributional analysis alongside the Budget. To the Chancellor’s credit, he brought that back in after his predecessor had decided that it was not politically convenient. The Treasury does not, however, do a breakdown of the Budget’s impact along a whole range of protected characteristics defined by the Equality Act 2010. New clause 9 would address that. The Government do not presently do this analysis, but as Conservative Members seem to be saying that the Government do already do it, they will have no trouble voting for the new clause, will they?
I return to the point that we are already publishing the analysis. The Treasury is working on looking at the impact of the policies across a whole range of levels.
My main argument is that we need to look at what the Government have already delivered. As I said to my hon. Friend Helen Whately, more women are in work under this Government. That is real change. Those women have been able to get into work because of the wide variety of policies that we have introduced including childcare, help to get into work and retraining at all times of life.
We have seen a massive change in income inequality, which, under this Government, is at its lowest level for many years. Since 2010, households across all income deciles have seen growth in their disposable income.
This Budget increased the national living wage by 4.4%—well above the rate of inflation—which disproportionately assists people like me, from an ethnic minority background, who often find themselves in low-paying work. Does my hon. Friend agree that this a great testament to the Government’s work?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. As she says, the national living wage helps people from all sectors of society, including those with protected characteristics. Our record on these policies speaks for itself.
The hon. Lady is promoting the Government’s record. One reason that the Labour party wants to get explicit equality impact assessments—not the tax information and impact notes, which I think is what she has been told the Government do produce—is that the evidence is showing counter to what she suggests. For example, we know that the gender pay gap between women in their 20s and men in their 20s has actually started to grow under this Government. It is now five times what it was six years ago. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman from Scotland got his data. I got mine from the Office for National Statistics, if he wants to have a look. Can the hon. Lady account for that? Does she not understand that having the data—understanding where Government policy is either promoting or helping to deal with the situation—would help us all to make progress?
Is not it important to see the wood for the trees here? The wood, so to speak, is to show precisely the point that my hon. Friend has indicated—that women on lower wages now do not start paying income tax until they earn £11,500, instead of paying at £6,475 as they did under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and they gain over £1,000 in the process. The suggestion that we need a whole load of impact assessments is rather given the lie to by the fact that a lot of data is already published by the Office for National Statistics. If Stella Creasy wishes to make her point about it in the House of Commons, she is able to do so.
My hon. Friend really reinforces my point, which is that it is about putting pounds in the pockets of people up and down the country. That is what this Government have done, informed by fairness from the day that we came into office.
Alex Chalk, as ever, needs clarification. There is data that shows us that the gender pay gap is growing. We are asking for analyses of the impact of Government policy so that we can understand it. We are talking about two different things. I hope that clarifies, for him and for Rachel Maclean, why the new clause matters.
I care passionately about addressing the gender pay gap. I chair the all-party parliamentary group for women in Parliament, which does cross-party work on this issue. There is a wider remit that Members on both side of the House take extremely seriously, especially in this—the Vote 100 year. The gender pay gap has been addressed by this progressive Conservative Government, who want to see real change in our country and who want to put an end to the situation mentioned by Kirsty Blackman. She was absolutely right to say that we have men in higher-paying roles and women in lower-paying roles. However, new clause 9 would not fix this situation, as it is a complex issue that requires a range of interventions and a range of changes across the board.
Stella Creasy referred to me when she mentioned the figures. I was quoting a study referenced in the Financial Times that I would be happy to share. The study did not say that the gender pay gap was closing. It said that men and women up to a certain level of seniority earn pretty much the same amount in most sectors, and that it is the outliers at the senior C-level who skew the data and contribute to a lot of the pay gap. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady may shake her head, but she mentioned clarification of figures, asked where they were from and called out my hon. Friend Alex Chalk, so I wanted to make sure that she had pure clarification. I also want to make it very clear to her that I am the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire, not all of Scotland.
It is clear that we all take this matter extremely seriously.
Earlier I intervened on Dawn Butler, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. She said that the Government have no teeth to act when companies do not publish the data. It is my understanding that the Government do have teeth to act. We have something called the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which can act when companies fail to publish the data. I urge Treasury Ministers to pay close attention to that.
From the work I have done in the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, I am aware that a number of companies have published the data. That is great news because it is now in the public domain. The Conservative Government made that happen, not the Labour Government. Now many more companies are following suit, and it is making a big difference to the employees of those companies. The Equality and Human Rights Commission can issue a notice and require implementation. As my hon. Friend Luke Graham said, this is a complex issue.
I draw Members’ attention to the work of the 30% Club, set up by Helen Morrissey, who got a load of business leaders together and urged them to take voluntary action to put women on boards. Although there was absolutely no legal right or Government mandate, she found that the business leaders were all worried about reputational damage, culture and their image with their employees, and she saw significant changes across the board. I was an employer before I came into this House, so I know that addressing the issue is not simply a matter of passing laws in the Chamber or the Government carrying out a review. It is about a societal and cultural change. I am proud that our Government, led by our Prime Minister—the second female Conservative Prime Minister—are leading from the front on this issue, and that companies and businesses across the board are following suit.
The Government’s record speaks for itself. It is not just about slogans. It is about enacting policies that make a big difference. I worry that requiring analyses and placing additional burdens on the Treasury at this time—when it has a massive amount of priorities to deliver in order to make our tax system fairer and to achieve the progress and outcomes that we all want—would have the opposite effect. I have certainly seen for myself the danger of unintended consequences when we regulate and put more burdens on businesses.
It is a great pleasure to be called in this debate and to follow such wonderful speeches from my colleagues. I understand that the Treasury publishes the distributional analysis of the cumulative impact of the Government’s tax, welfare and public services.
I have never been shy about voting with the Opposition if I believe that they are right, but I do not believe they are right in this case. That is because the review that they are asking for, which focuses predominantly on households with different income levels, and issues around Treasury analysis, just provides more data and more analysis, and that is not going to help people on the lowest incomes or those from disadvantaged backgrounds to move forward in life. It seems to be very academic as opposed to actually helping people to push forward and achieve opportunities. For me, the real challenge in this country is inequality in opportunity and in life chances. At the moment, the best way of changing one’s life chances is still through getting a great education. I am proud of the Government’s record, with millions more children being educated in good or outstanding schools. We should all be proud of that on both sides of the House.
As I say, I am not shy about voting with the Opposition if I believe they are right. I have campaigned on—
I do agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. I have another colleague from Hertfordshire here as well—my hon. Friend Bim Afolami. We have seen massive investment in our area. I am very proud of the number of primary schools that have been expanded and rebuilt in my constituency. A couple of secondary schools have also been rebuilt, creating great opportunities for the pupils. I am also very proud that all the primary schools in my constituency are rated “good” or “outstanding”. It is probably one of the few constituencies in the country where that is the case. Four of my six secondary schools are good, and the other two we are currently dealing with. I hope that by the time of the next election I will be one of the few Members of Parliament where every single child in my constituency will be in a good or outstanding school.
I do not believe that new clause 9 provides equality of opportunity and equality of aspiration. It will do nothing to help people in my constituency from disadvantaged—
We are all concerned to see good schools, I think. Does the hon. Gentleman recall a former Prime Minister who argued that sunlight was the best form of disinfectant? Having the numbers to track why, disproportionately, young men from black and ethnic minority backgrounds do worse in our schools, for example, and whether Government policies are influencing that, or whether their parents’ income might be an issue, would help him to understand how he gets those better schools.
The hon. Lady and I agree on a lot of things and disagree on others. We have debated issues across this Chamber and in Committee Rooms. I do not think that figures will help those children. Figures are just retrospective and talk about what is possibly happening.
I want to clarify something. Equality impact assessment is part of the public sector equality duty. It looks at the implementation of policies, assesses them, and sees whether they have helped or hindered progress. That is all that equality impact assessment does. It is a good thing. It is not an extra burden; it makes for good decision making.
My difference of opinion with the Opposition is that I think that a good teacher probably makes a much bigger difference to a child’s education and chances in life than an impact assessment and something from the Treasury. With regard to forecasts from the Treasury and economists, stuff that we have seen over the past couple of years, and the nearly eight years I have been a Member of Parliament, shows that in reality those figures never seem to be right.
This is about equality of opportunity and equality of aspiration. I would like to talk about universal credit. I campaigned on some of the issues on universal credit. I believe that universal credit, as a product, is the right thing to do. It was supported by both parties in the sense of stopping the cliff edge for people who could not take on an extra hour or two of work because they lost all their benefit. The idea behind universal credit was that the benefit would be reduced over a certain period. I know that there are still live issues with the Treasury over the size of the take. I hope that the Minister is taking note of that, because I continue to raise it with the Chancellor. I think that the withdrawal rate is still too high.
Universal credit is doing more than new clause 9 would do to help people’s life chances—more than a document saying what has happened and people’s opinions of what could or could not have hindered the situation.
The hon. Lady makes a very good point, but I cannot support the new clause because it will not do anything to help people practically. It will just allow academics and economists to argue over moot points, whereas I am interested in actually helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds who want the opportunity to go off and aspire to achieve and to be anything they want to be. It is very sad, in this day and age, that we are discussing the fact that we need to identify whether certain sections of society need more support than others. We should be aiming to get to a society—
Given that, for example, over 80% of the social security cuts enacted by Conservative Governments have fallen on the shoulders of women, would it not have been helpful for those women, and indeed for us as decision makers, to know about that before the decisions to implement them were taken?
The hon. Lady makes a very earnest point, but I cannot accept those figures.
A huge amount of money has gone into social care. At the moment, there are people in my constituency on fixed and low incomes who are very disappointed about the 3% that is going to be levied on their council tax for social care, because that will have a negative impact on their income, although it helps other sections of society and is the right thing to do. This new clause is about academics and economists as opposed to helping real people on the ground on a day-to-day basis. Some Labour Members are shaking their heads, but they got involved in politics for the same reason that I did, which is to help people to get on in life and achieve the best that they can. That is why I am a Conservative and why most people in this Chamber are Conservatives.
Returning briefly to the welfare system, as that is my area of expertise, we want a system that works. When we look at universal credit, the Treasury’s distributional analysis provides an analysis of the cumulative impact on welfare and public services. My view is very much about developing policies to help people get on in life. New clause 9 is just about providing some information on what has affected people in the past over a number of years, and by the time we are focused on the next Budget or other fiscal event, things have moved forward again.
My hon. Friend is making, as I think everybody knows, a very powerful speech. Does he agree that new clause 9 is indicative of the fundamental difference between Labour Members and Conservative Members? We care about action and doing things and improving people’s lives; they want more analysis.
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. We can see why he was selected to be the Member of Parliament for Hitchin and Harpenden. He stands up for his constituency incredibly well, as does my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald. I am proud that we have three Hertfordshire MPs who are speaking in this debate because we are interested in helping people to get on in life. As a result, we have incredibly low unemployment in our areas.
Bim Afolami is absolutely right: this new clause does highlight the difference between the Government and the Opposition. The Government are intent on taking actions, regardless of whether they help, hinder or hurt people, whereas Labour Members want to ensure that we have policies that help society.
The hon. Lady makes a very powerful point that I respect, but I assure her that I only vote for policy that I believe will help people, and if I do not believe that it will help people, I do not vote for it. I have voted against the Government for that reason. I have a record of doing that and will continue to do so.
I am sure my hon. Friend agrees, as many would, that the Treasury produces excellent research documents, and research is an important thing, but are these further demands for research not indicative of the difference between the parties, which is that they are the researchers, and we are the doers?
I could never disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend. He always makes a powerful point.
One of the biggest challenges in society is intergenerational fairness. I do not think that new clause 9 captures some of the issues we face as a society and the challenges facing different generations. There are some people living in large houses, paying high council tax rates and on very low fixed incomes. There are young people who may be considered quite affluent but still cannot afford to purchase a property in their part of the country. In a different part of the country, they could easily afford to purchase a property but may not be able to get a job, so cannot get a mortgage. Intergenerational fairness is incredibly important, and the Government have tried to spread wealth throughout the country through the northern powerhouse.
I think that the Conservative Government have tried very hard. They have not always got it right, and I have voted against them when I believed they have got it wrong, but they have tried consistently to help people get on in life and provide a welfare system that is a safety net for those who need it in times of difficulty.
In this country, education is still the best way out of poverty and the best opportunity people have to change their life chances. I am proud of what the Government have done to ensure that millions more children are being taught in good and outstanding schools. When it comes to the economy, we have record rates of employment, with people out there earning, paying tax and contributing to society.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have listened to him for some time. He seems to be making quite a lengthy speech; I do not know if that is just a thing that is happening on the Government Benches at the moment. He talks about equality and people getting on in life. I respect the fact that he has rebelled against the Government when he sees fit. He spoke about the importance of a good education and people coming out of school and university, but does he share my concern that under-25s are not included in the national living wage? What does he think about that?
From my point of view, there are geographic issues with the national living wage. For instance, it is much more expensive to live in Hertfordshire. One shocking challenge we have in Hertfordshire—I imagine a lot of people in the rest of the country will not understand—is that my constituency is 19 minutes from King’s Cross, and as a result, we lose a lot of our young people to London. When I became a Member of Parliament, there were fewer than 200 apprentices a year starting work in Stevenage. We now have nearly 1,000 apprentices a year starting work in Stevenage. That was the only way of holding on to our young people.
On new clause 9 and distributional analysis of the cumulative impact, if a young person in Stevenage becomes an apprentice, the employer pays for them to get a level 4 degree. They will be earning £25,000 a year and not getting into debt in university. It is geographic.
I declare an interest: I began my career as a modern apprentice. The reality is that under UK law at the moment, apprentices can still be paid as little as £3.50 per hour. How does that fit with building a country that works for everyone?
In Hertfordshire, £3.50 an hour would not be acceptable. In Hertfordshire, employers have to pay far more than that to attract a young person, otherwise they just will not get them. That is the reality. I think I have the highest unemployment rate in Hertfordshire, at 1.6%.
Order. I think it is quite important that the hon. Gentleman returns to the substance of the debate—new clause 9. Just mentioning it every now and then does not do the trick.
You are very kind, Madam Deputy Speaker. I obviously had no intention of misleading you in trying to mention it now and again. New clause 9 and the Treasury publishing a distributional analysis of the cumulative impact of Government’s tax, welfare and public service spending is quite a wide-ranging topic. I was trying to make the point that I do not support new clause 9 because it seems academic, as opposed to helping people from different backgrounds to achieve their life chances. On that note, I shall conclude.
The speeches from Conservative Members have been so rousing that I have been moved to speak to take on the sheer absurdity of the arguments we have heard this afternoon. Member after Member has told us that they oppose new clause 9 because the Government already do this. If the Government already do this, why do they not support new clause 9?
The fact is that the Government do not already do this. What the Government do is publish an impact assessment with a distributional analysis of Budget measures by households depending on income. That measure was introduced by a previous Chancellor, until the current Chancellor’s predecessor decided it was politically inconvenient and got rid of it. The present Chancellor, to his credit, decided to bring it back. That assessment is interesting and useful. It informs Ministers when they are making decisions, but it does not cover the measures that new clause 9 addresses.
The fact is that the Government’s Budget and the Finance Bill are a reflection of their political priorities and tell the country about the problems the Government want to address and how they intend to do so through sufficient provision of resources. The simple fact is that if the Government made an equality impact assessment of their Budget measures, we may not be in a position where women in their 50s are being clobbered by changes to their state pension age at a time in their life when they have little time or opportunity to address it.
As a result of the Government’s refusal to listen to argument, evidence and reason, I see constituents in my surgery on a Friday afternoon—women in their 50s—who tell me that they have lost their job and are not able to access their pension when they expected. They had planned for retirement, and as a result, they can no longer make ends meet. There is nothing they can do about it at that stage. Had the Government considered the evidence, they might have made a different decision.
Had the Government assessed the equality impact of their Budget, we might not be in a position where disabled people have been consistently and repeatedly clobbered by changes to welfare and other areas of public policy. If, as local authorities do, the Government looked at the equality impact of their decision, they might seek to take steps to mitigate the impact on disabled people. Instead, nationally and locally, disabled people have too often had the books balanced on their backs, which is totally unjustifiable.
If the Government looked at the impact of their Budget measures on black and minority ethnic people, they might well take a different approach to the provision of resources in education to address the imbalances. They might also find, through analysis and research—words that have become anathema to this Government in their approach to public policy making—some surprises, such as the fact that detrimental changes to small businesses have a disproportionate impact on BME communities. They may choose to do something about it, or they may not, but at least their policy making would be better informed.
In the debate on this Bill, someone has to stand up and make the case for reasoned, evidence-based public policy making. It is a total disgrace that in the democratic discourse of this country, we now see the trashing of experts. We are warned that if we adopt new clause 9, academics may debate it—God forbid that people with some degree of expertise should debate the laws that we pass, because goodness knows it does not happen in this Chamber often enough. What is it about expertise and data that the Government are so afraid of? What it is about information that they find so terrifying?
Unlike Conservative Members, I have high regard for Treasury officials, and I do not trash the data produced by civil servants in the way that Ministers of the Crown do. I think civil servants are a very good example of experts, and I would like the expertise of the Treasury and the civil service to be drawn upon to produce exactly the kind of equality impact assessment that Labour is calling for in new clause 9.
It is because I have faith in civil servants’ insight and ability to gather and garner evidence to inform Ministers that I would like to see a more evidence-based approach to public policy making. If we had such an approach, we would undoubtedly have a better quality of government—and goodness knows we need that, when we look at the current state of things. We would also have a better quality of debate in the House about what our priorities are, the challenges facing the country and how to tackle them.
The hon. Gentleman makes a big play of analysis. Can he inform the House of the analysis that Labour has undertaken of the distributional impact of £170 billion of extra borrowing and the interest payments on our communities?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention because he makes exactly the point I have made since the general election. We put forward policies in our manifesto—by the way, they proved immensely popular across the country and led to a result that a lot of people were not expecting—and I think we should do a distributional analysis of such policies across the board to make sure that resources are properly targeted where they are needed.
In conclusion, we should not fear such information and evidence, which would lead to better-informed government. The greatest tragedy of this Prime Minister is not the fact that she is being held hostage by the hard Brexiteers on the right of her party; it is that she has not delivered on a single one of the sentiments in the fine words she said on the steps of Downing Street about creating a more equal society and tackling injustices that are still burning injustices even in one of the richest economies in the world in the 21st century. Sentiments are all well and good, but we need policies that are backed up by evidence and reason, and we need the ability genuinely to tackle the problems that the Prime Minister set out so long ago on the steps of No. 10, but which I fear she will never be able to implement before they boot her out next year.
Before I plunge into new clause 9, as indeed I will at some length, may I concur wholeheartedly with the statement made by Wes Streeting when he praised civil servants for their impartiality, objectivity and professionalism? In my experience of the Treasury, I have always found them to be exactly that. We should all register that important point.
We have had a fairly wide-ranging debate. I hesitate to add that, on one or two occasions, it has been marginally informative. On one occasion—I will not name the Member—it was very informative because I actually learned something I had not previously known. The reason why it has been wide-ranging is that this is of course an extremely important issue. What I hope unites Members on both sides of the House is that every Member of the House deplores unwarranted inequality. It is not that we are all entirely equal—we are, of course, different—but we have a right to be treated with equal respect and a right to equal opportunity and aspiration, as it was eloquently termed my hon. Friend Stephen McPartland.
If I may, I will look at new clause 9 in a little detail. As I have suggested, it has been slightly absent from this debate, so let us bring it back to centre stage. The new clause seeks to require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to provide a
“review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”
“the impact of those provisions on households at different levels of income”.
As has already been pointed out at length, we have indeed brought back the household distribution analysis that looks at tax, welfare and public expenditure, and at the impact of those elements on different income levels by decile.
Under the new clause, the review would also look at
“the impact of those provisions on people with protected characteristics (within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010)”.
This is perhaps a good moment for me to say something very important. Ministers of course always seek to operate within the law, and the Equality Act is very clear about our duties as Ministers when we consider various policies that come before us. Those policies are not just those before us in the context of a major fiscal event, but policies and decisions we take day in and day out, some of which never even pass through this House. We do so not just because of the law, but because we think it is the right thing to do.
Under new clause 9, the review would also look at
“the impact of those provisions on the Treasury’s compliance with the public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, and…the impact of those provisions on equality in different parts of the United Kingdom and different regions of England.”
The new clause then focuses on the specific taxes covered by the assessment the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be required to present in the report. I want to make one important general point: in looking at regional aspects of spending and tax, it is far easier, for fairly obvious reasons, to consider the spending elements than the regional distribution when it comes to taxation.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for that intervention, because she touches on the important point that there is an element of proportionality. As I will come on to argue, one of the difficulties with accepting the new clause is that a lot of the information is not available. That is not an argument for not going out and finding the information, but some of it would be extremely difficult to generate. I would not go as far as my hon. Friend in suggesting that this is a Machiavellian plan to gum up the works of Government, but I am sure some Opposition Members might be pleased to see that happen. I take the new clause in the spirit of the wording in front of me.
I just want to help the Minister a bit. The Women’s Budget Group, the Runnymede Trust and lots of other organisations, as well as the ONS and HMRC, accumulate the data that would be needed, so the data necessary to carry out equality impact assessments are available. In fact, the Treasury does some assessments anyway.
The hon. Lady is suggesting that one particular set of analyses is an ideal set to present, and can be seen as in no way misleading, but entirely robust and entirely objective. If we are to reach such a quality of data, we will have to achieve certain specific aims, and one of the aims is to deal with the fact that a lot of the analysis to which she is referring is very selective—it does not look at the entire picture. For example, some of the analysis reflecting changes in income tax may show a benefit for one sex over another, but it may not take into account the impact of increased spending on childcare.
If I may finish this point, I will then certainly give way to the hon. Lady.
A lot of these analyses simply look at the static situation, without taking into account the fact that the measures we are bringing forward will in themselves have a dynamic effect on the economy—for example, by driving up employment. Several Members have spoken very eloquently about the record level of female employment at the moment. That is benefiting women, but the interaction of our policies with that benefit would not be reflected in such an analysis. I have already mentioned that a lot of the information being sought is very difficult to verify and very difficult to obtain, particularly where it pertains to protected characteristics, such as sexuality, gender reassignment and pregnancy. It is very hard to identify those groups and the way in which they are affected, particularly in terms of all the taxes in new clause 9—I will come on to them in a moment—that the Opposition want us to address.
I will make a final point before I give way to the hon. Lady. It has been a long time since we have jousted, and I have missed it, so I will certainly give way to her. There is a very important point about the impact in particular on households, which is one of the major thrusts of new clause 9. It is very difficult to disentangle the effect of income that may go to one member of the household, but is of course subsequently shared across the household. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has itself highlighted that as a particular barrier to getting robust information. I will now gladly give way.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his generosity in giving way, and for his kind words. I want briefly to mention that the Department for Work and Pensions does produce this kind of modelling for social security changes, which may be similarly complex in looking at the interactions of different elements, so why does the Treasury take a different approach? In relation to that, would not the assumptions be spelled out, so that any ambiguity could be made clear?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but I bring her back to new clause 9. Whatever the DWP happens to be doing, whether it is right or wrong or whether it works, what we are facing here today and making a decision on is new clause 9. As I am working through new clause 9, I am arguing that it is not a practical way to seek to achieve that which the Opposition, quite genuinely and sincerely, are attempting to achieve.
I wonder if my right hon. Friend would like to say a word about the extent of research the Treasury already undertakes and publishes. It is my understanding that more than 2,500 Treasury papers have been published, so it is really a question, is it not, of where we draw the line? If a piece of research is proving very difficult, and would be very resource-intensive and so on, that will obviously make it less likely to be done than if it is a more straightforward piece.
Yes. My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very important point. As I have already pointed out, around major fiscal events we have household distributional analysis, which covers welfare, taxation and public expenditure. It takes a cumulative approach to that information and it is often relied upon by Government to take subsequent decisions. We also have, on substantial individual tax and national insurance contribution measures, tax impact and information notes—the so-called TIINs—which were introduced in 2010 and were not there under the previous Labour Government. We are, therefore, doing a number of things, both in the context of major fiscal events and on a tax-by-tax, national insurance-by-national insurance change basis, which look to provide just the kind of information that informs decisions around equality.
The third part of new clause 9 relates to the taxes to which this analysis would apply. On income tax, as I have said, we are looking at impacts on households. We may raise the personal allowance, as we did in the last Budget. That is now up to £11,500. It could be argued that that disproportionately favours one sex over another, but when we look at the effect on the household, income is typically distributed within families, within households and within the family unit. That is extremely difficult—in fact, I would go as far as to say impossible—to capture.
The Minister made that point the last time we tried to discuss this issue. Forgive me, but he seems to be presuming that a household is a man and a woman. Has he managed to get his head around single person households and single women, because women’s incomes are disproportionately hit by Government policy? At the very least, could he manage to measure the women who are affected by his tax and policy changes who do not live with a man who might confuse him?
If the hon. Lady can come up with a sure-fire way of identifying women who live with men who do not confuse them, we will probably make some progress. The point I am making is that this area is riddled with huge complexity, yet new clause 9 seeks to achieve the presentation of reports and assessments that have the imprimatur of Government and the Treasury upon them. They are relied upon to take very important decisions, yet the arguments I am prosecuting suggest that we would actually end up with an incomplete picture. In fact, I would go further than that and say that they could be misleading in a way that would be unhelpful to what I know the hon. Lady is seeking to achieve and indeed what the Government are also seeking to achieve.
Does the Minister share the view expressed by many of us this afternoon that while those on the Opposition Benches are looking for very complicated analysis that may, unfortunately, be rather misleading, we actually have a very strong track record, if we take a step back, of reducing inequality and making things better for those on the lowest incomes?
Yes. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. We know that the gender pay gap is at its lowest level on record, for example. That is a very substantial achievement and we are making considerable headway in that particular respect.
Some of the other taxes mentioned in new clause 9 include employment and disguised remuneration. Disguised remuneration is a highly complicated area, as Anneliese Dodds will know, having discussed it in some detail in Committee. The mind boggles as to how one would possibly unpack the effects on the various protected characteristics of that particular taxation. Pension schemes are also extremely complicated. Settlements and air passenger duty are perhaps a little bit easier than some of the others, but the point is that overall—and we have to look at the new clause in its entirety—new clause 9 is extremely complicated indeed.
Finally, there should be no doubt that those of us on the Government Benches are entirely committed to ensuring that we drive the equality agenda and drive it very hard indeed. We should, as my hon. Friend Helen Whately suggested, look to our own record in that respect. We now have more women in work than at any time in our history. In the past year, 60% of employment growth came from female employment. We have the lowest gender pay gap in full-time employment ever. Those companies employing 250 employees or more, as we have said often in this debate, are now required by law to provide a gender wage audit. Contrary to what Dawn Butler suggested, there are teeth. Penalties can be applied by the ECHR, and fines can follow where that is not done. For those who are disabled, we spend a record amount in excess of £50 billion a year on benefits. As has been said by a number of Government Members, the national living wage has disproportionately helped some of the most needy in our society. When we talk about equality on this side of the House, we mean it. I urge the House to reject new clause 9.
Having a detailed understanding of how policy choices exacerbate or eliminate inequality at every stage of policy making is key to tackling burning injustices and producing good policies. I wish to put new clause 9 to the vote.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House divided:
Ayes 265, Noes 304.