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Women and Equalities Questions

25th February 2016

Harriett Baldwin answers MPs’ questions on tackling gender economic inequality and VAT on sanitary products.

Gender Economic Inequality

4. Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): What steps she is taking to tackle gender economic inequality. [903739]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Harriett Baldwin): The employment for women is at a record high, and the gender pay gap is at a record low. The Government are committed to enabling women and men to fulfil their economic potential.

Susan Elan Jones: That all sounds very nice, but with women being over-represented in sectors in which low pay is prominent and persistent, what is the Government’s strategy for tackling extended occupational segregation?

Harriett Baldwin: I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that 65% of the people who will benefit from the new national living wage in a couple of months will be women. This Government are taking that very important step to raise pay for the lowest-paid in our country.

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I do not doubt my hon. Friend’s commitment to reducing the gender pay gap further, and I commend the Prime Minister for his position, but the reality is that women in my constituency of Basingstoke face a gender pay gap of 30%. Should this not be on the agenda of every single company throughout the country, as well as on that of our local enterprise partnerships?

Harriett Baldwin: As my right hon. Friend will be aware, given her interest in this matter, not only are we taking steps to publish this information for companies with more than 250 people on the payroll, but for financial services—the sector I, as Economic Secretary, engage with most—which has the highest pay and the biggest pay gap, we have appointed Jayne-Anne Gadhia to review pay in the sector and see what further steps we can take. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last July:

“Transparency, skills, representation, affordable childcare—these things can end the gender pay gap in a generation.”

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): The WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality—campaigners are not going away, so will the Minister raise the issue of better transitional state pension arrangements with her Department for Work and Pensions counterpart? These women deserve fair play.

Harriett Baldwin: As a woman whose state pension age has gone up by six years during her working lifetime, I welcome the changes that will equalise the state pension age for men and women. That will end the discrimination of women in their late 50s, which has prevented far too many of them from reaching higher-paid roles in our society.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): What are the Government doing to reduce the economic inequality caused by gender differences in life expectancy?

Harriett Baldwin: We are putting more money into the NHS to ensure that everyone benefits from the good healthcare that has resulted in one of the remarkable features of our age—the fact that people of both genders are living much longer, which we should welcome.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Women’s under-participation in the labour market costs the UK economy £600 billion in lost productivity, according to the Government’s own analysis. Will the Minister guarantee that the forthcoming Budget will reverse the universal credit cuts that reduce work incentives and guarantee a childcare place to every working mum who needs one, and will she ask her colleague, the Chancellor, finally to change course and stop introducing a series of measures that disproportionately penalise women?

Harriett Baldwin: I am afraid that the hon. Lady, who is my twin, is completely wrong on this. The facts are that we are extending the free childcare offer to many people and bringing in tax-free childcare for many, many people. I share her aspiration to unleash the economic potential of women in our economy. The OECD has said that if the participation rates of men and women were equalised, the economy would be 10% larger. We are therefore taking a range of steps to encourage that to happen.

Ben Howlett (Bath) (Con): I welcome the draft gender pay gap reporting regulations that the Government published last week. Although I understand why the Government would not want to bring in enforcement procedures for non-compliance, will the Minister assure the House that the matter will be kept under constant review? Does she agree that it would be counter-productive for companies not to comply with the new regulations, as it would deter the most talented women from applying for their jobs?

Harriett Baldwin: My hon. Friend makes a very good point and I welcome his support for the initiative. It is a voluntary scheme. We are trying to change the culture, and transparency is part of that. It will allow women to make a choice. If they are thinking of working for a company, they will be able to ask, “Am I able to see how this company treats men and women?” And at a time of record employment for women in this country, women have more choices.

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Sanitary Products: VAT

17. Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): What progress the Government are making in negotiating the removal of VAT on women’s sanitary products. [903753]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Harriett Baldwin): The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has written to the European Commission and to other member states setting out our strong view that member states should have full discretion in regard to the rate of VAT that they can apply to these products, and that that should be considered in the context of the Commission’s action plan on VAT, which we expect to be published in March.

Paula Sherriff: Frankly, I think that many women throughout the country will be rather disappointed by the Minister’s response. Will she guarantee that the Prime Minister or the Chancellor will come to the House and make a statement once the Commission has responded to our request, so that the public know where we stand before the referendum?

Harriett Baldwin: Of course, the Government do believe that this is something on which we want to take action. I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that the Chancellor has already announced a new £15 million annual fund to support women’s charities in the interim period before we can tackle this on a unanimous basis across Europe.

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