Topical Questions

Women and Equalities – in the House of Commons on 13th January 2021.

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Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Minister for Women and Equalities

As we recover from covid, we need to make sure that everyone in Britain has a chance to succeed and is being treated fairly in the workplace. We are broadening the focus of the Equality Hub from protected characteristics to equality for all and, in particular, tackling the scourge of geographical inequality. I will shortly be saying more about our new fight for fairness, delivering a better deal for everyone and standing up for fundamental human rights and freedoms across the world.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

I very much welcome the fact that the equality agenda will be looking beyond simply protected characteristics. One key problem has been white pupils eligible for free school meals and how they have underperformed academically compared with other low income groups. Does the Minister feel that the equality agenda we have been working with, which has been almost exclusively focused on protected characteristics, may be an explainer in why that is the case?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Minister for Women and Equalities

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The attainment score at GCSE for white British children who receive free school meals is lower than the equivalent for black and Asian children. At the Equality Hub, we are conducting a life path analysis to understand where the real issues are, and we are working closely with the Department for Education to take action on this issue.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

The impacts of 10 years of austerity are stark: 14 million people are now in poverty, figures out today show that 45% of disabled people in work at the start of last year reported no earnings by summer, and figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that there are more women likely to live in poverty. In 2010, the Tory-led Government scrapped the Equality Act 2010’s socioeconomic duty. Addressing class and other inequalities is not an either/or. Given the Minister’s new-found passion for addressing class and poverty, will she now enact the socioeconomic duty?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Minister for Women and Equalities

We have made significant progress since 2010 in addressing disparities—for example, closing the attainment gap in education—but we recognise that, during the covid crisis, more needs to be done to address inequality and help to level up our country. The way we are going to do that is to focus on equality for everyone across our country, making sure that everyone has a fair chance—including addressing the issue of geographical inequality, which is severe in this nation.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

The evidence shows that women face a significantly greater risk of violence and harassment than men in many aspects of their lives. To show their continued commitment to this issue, when will the Government ratify the International Labour Organisation’s new global convention outlawing violence and harassment at work, and will my right hon. Friend join me in supporting UN Women’s “Safe Spaces Now” campaign for better safety online and in public spaces?

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch The Exchequer Secretary

We are finalising consultations across Government on the ratification of the ILO violence and harassment convention. Once complete, we will inform Parliament of our intentions regarding ratification. The Government share the “Safe Spaces Now” campaign’s goals to see street harassment stamped out and are committed to tackling all forms of abuse against women and girls.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

In a speech last month, the Minister for Women and Equalities stated that she wanted to focus on “facts”, not “fashion”—she has made reference to that today—and to concentrate on “data and research”. The overwhelming body of evidence of structural racism is clear. It is a fact that black Caribbean children are more likely to be excluded from school. It is a fact that black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth. This is not fashion: they are facts. Does this evidence not point towards the need for action, rather than the continual denial and dismissal of the realities of systemic racism?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Minister for Women and Equalities

My hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities has already presented the clear evidence on the covid crisis. My point is that, rather than looking at equality through the prism of groups, we should be focusing on making sure that every individual in this country—regardless of their race, their background, their sexuality or their sex—has the opportunity to succeed. That is what the data project we are working on will look at.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I have been contacted by a WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—woman who is a carer for her severely disabled ex-partner. She stopped work in 2019 due to his escalating care needs and was awarded carer’s allowance. When she finally received her state pension after decades of paying into the system, she was shocked to find that she was no longer eligible for carer’s allowance. How can it be right that when they hit pension age, carers—72% of whom are women—are no longer eligible for support?