Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 209)

MONDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2006

MS AMANDA ARISS, MS KAVERI SHARMA, MR ALAN CHRISTIE AND MR SUKHVINDER SINGH

  Q200  John Penrose: I am sorry, but what I am after is a specific example. Are we saying that we should make sure that a certain proportion of the construction contracts are let to companies owned by black people, or are you talking about something different?

  Mr Singh: I think what we are looking at here is basically in terms of saying procurement can be used as a business initiative or business case for organisations, in terms of trying to change the attitude of employers. What we are saying is, if there is a business out there and employer out there who know that "Actually, to get a contract with, for example, a government department I have to have policies in place or have a workforce which is reflective of the local communities," that is an onus on the employer to say, "Actually I need to do something." It is up to, for example, the Government Department to put that forward, to whoever is coming for the contract, to say, "If you want this contract with us, there are certain criteria that, as an employer, have to have." It is about saying to the employer, "Rethink about your workforce, rethink about your policies, in terms of actually what is my workforce, is it a diverse workforce, have I got the right policy in place? From a business point of view, if I want that contract, I am going to go to the bottom line, I need to readjust, relook at my policies. Maybe I need to look at my recruitment policy, in terms of is my workforce not reflective of the local community. If I do not monitor my workforce, actually if I am going to get future contracts I need to start looking at monitoring my workforce."

  Q201  John Penrose: That is clear, thank you. I am getting nods as well; would you like to add anything to that?

  Ms Ariss: Yes, that is very much what it is about. I think Sukhvinder summarised it pretty well; that is the kind of thing that we want people to do. We also want them to look at the subject matter of the contract, so if it is a contract to provide leisure facilities, for example, in the public sector, when you specify what facilities you want to have provided are you looking at whether those facilities will appeal to all different sections of the community, are you looking at things like can we provide a cre"che, so that users who have got young children can still use the facilities. It is that sort of thing, building things into the specification, if it is school meals building in health standards but also providing different kinds of food. It is what you are asking contractors actually to deliver in the service, as well as challenging them to comply with good standards of employment practice.

  Q202  Chairman: There are increasingly parts of the employer confederation which insist on Internet-only applications; the NHS, in particular, is really getting into this. I can see that can be discriminatory in terms of people with disabilities; is that a further complication for ethnic minorities or ethnic minority women or low-skilled people, or is it just knowledge, or do you not know? If you do not know, please say so?

  Mr Christie: Certainly for smaller businesses, ethnic minority small businesses, it can be, partly because of language, partly because of culture, there can be an issue there. I would not want to claim it was a huge discriminatory issue, but there can be a problem there.

  Q203  Jenny Willott: A final couple of questions about women who have dependent children. How do the barriers to getting into work, and then, once in work, progressing within a job, differ by ethnic group for women with dependent children?

  Ms Ariss: That varies a little bit depending on which group we are talking about. For example, Black Caribbean women are disproportionately likely to be single parents. Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are likely to have, not in all cases, a larger family than average. They have got quite different kinds of childcare needs, if you like, from the majority picture. There is quite a big issue about making sure that the National Childcare Strategy and what employers are doing around childcare, which is something we very much encourage them to do, meet different kinds of needs. There is a big issue around childcare. There are also issues about travel time to work. This is a general pattern for women. The more children they have the shorter the journey to work they are normally willing to make, for fairly obvious, practical reasons, that if you have got to fit in working and collecting children from childminders and schools at all different times of the day having a one and a half hour commute either way really is not a very practical proposition. The more children people have the more likely they are to be restricted in the distance they will travel to work. That is a particularly significant issue for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, who are likely to have more children, that they need to be able to travel to work fairly quickly in order to be able to work. There are also issues around training and these are to do with the point in their life at which women start to have children. Generally, across the population as a whole, the age at which women are having their first child is going up and it is now around 30, but for some groups of ethnic minority women it is much lower, particularly Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, who are much more likely than white women to have children in their late teens or early twenties, so the point at which lots of people are in higher or further education. A lot of our higher and further education infrastructure concentrates on people in their late teens and early twenties and that means, for some groups of women, they really miss out. The policy of targeting skills, training, apprenticeships, and so forth, on 14s to 19s might be a good policy for the economy as a whole and for the workforce as a whole; it really does disadvantage those groups of women who are particularly likely to have taken time out at that point to have children.

  Q204  Justine Greening: It seems to me that these are decisional things for families. Are you saying that one of the aspects we should be doing is trying to explain the challenges those families will face if they start a family that early and they have that many children, that perhaps one of the sorts of things we should be talking to families about is saying, "Well, that might be something you want to do but there are downsides to that and you should be perhaps more aware of them than you are when you are just married, 19 or 20"? Perhaps we should be talking to families about the implications those decisions will have in the longer term, of which perhaps they are not aware?

  Ms Ariss: By and large, policy tends to adapt itself around the majority pattern, so it tends to follow what people choose to do in their lives. I guess we would argue that different choices are valid and that it should not be beyond the public sector to be able to recognise and respond to different patterns in the way that services are tailored.

  Q205  Justine Greening: Choices should be made with full information and I am saying do you think it is a problem that some of those families do not have that level of information to be able to think ahead to the impact of perhaps wanting to start a family and have a particular number of children, which they do perhaps for cultural reasons; that is something which is not understood?

  Ms Ariss: I think we would see it as more of a problem that the systems which work around training and FE and HE are not as flexible as they might be. There is an issue about the sort of information people get when they are going through the sort of careers advisory stage. We think there is still a lot of stereotyping going on around gender issues in general, as well as around ethnicity, and that there is quite a lot that the Careers Advisory Service could do to make quite a big difference that it is not doing. For example, it could tell people about the pay prospects of different sorts of jobs, which it does not tend to do now, and lots of women say that they would have made rather different choices had they known what the differences in pay were. I think there are some issues around information, but I think the bigger issue is around whether public services can respond to the challenge of people being different.

  Q206  Jenny Willott: Picking up on that, the next area I wanted to talk about was the needs; you were just saying that there were different needs according to different ethnic groups. Are the differences being reflected sufficiently in government policies to try to encourage parents back into paid work?

  Ms Ariss: I guess the short answer to that is, no. There is some work being done but I think there is still quite a way to go. Just to take childcare as an example, there has been a lot of progress in the last few years, but from a pretty low base. I think there is more to be done and it is about making sure that strategies which target ethnic minority people take account of differences between women and men, and strategies which target women recognise that women from different ethnic groups, or indeed women with disabilities and without, and so on, have different needs, so making all of the mainstream programmes much more nuanced and subtle but making the targeted programmes speak to each other as well. The Women and Work Commission Action Plan and the Childcare Strategy, and so on, really need to be getting a grip on the fact that different women have different needs.

  Q207  Jenny Willott: What do the rest of you feel, and are there specific changes that you think should be made to policies as well?

  Mr Christie: I agree completely with everything that Amanda has said. I think this is another illustration of where properly targeted policies which engage the community or the individuals or the group being served are desperately important; how else will we know what that particular group needs if we do not engage them. Particularly with ethnic minorities, I think one of the big mistakes that we make, in general, as policy-makers, is that we look at communities as unitary in some way. We try to identify community leaders and assume that they have some kind of all-knowing, all-seeing insight into everything that is going on in their community. Whereas, in actual fact, all of these communities are much more layered, they are much more complex matrices than the notion of community leadership would imply and really we need to have policy-making abilities to reflect that diversity within any given community.

  Mr Singh: Rather, the normal practice of Government has been in terms of group community leaders, where actually, if you dig deep down into ethnic minority communities and some differences there, what we look at there is people called influencing gatekeepers, rather than community leaders, for example, schoolteachers, community workers, youth workers, who actually have more of an influence than so-called community leaders. Also, it is looking at the issue in terms of saying if we are doing policy, for example, again, not generalisation, work for women, in terms of an issue, there is not just the individual woman we are looking at but actually the whole family structure around it. Sometimes what we need to look at is what we need to do to educate that family structure, with the community as a whole, to say "This is what we need to do," rather than concentrate just on the individual. It is very much in terms of being tailored towards some communities and, it can be argued, the individual, in terms of surrounding how the community or the extended family network has an impact on any decision really.

  Q208  Jenny Willott: Ms Sharma, is there anything you want to add?

  Ms Sharma: No, I do not want to add anything to what has been said; thank you.

  Ms Ariss: We have covered a lot of things but there is one policy area perhaps we have not mentioned, which is looking at the impact of the existing arrangement of credits and benefits in low-earning households can act as a disincentive, if one person is working, for the other partner to take up work, if what they lose in tax credits and benefits wipes out pretty much the wage, especially if you get childcare costs to offset against the wage. We would like the Treasury to have another look at that. They know it is an issue and they have done something about it, but it is still a problem.

  Q209  Jenny Willott: That applies particularly to larger families, as you were saying?

  Ms Ariss: It is a big issue for low-income families, and you do find, for example, Pakistani and Bangladeshi men often are poorly paid, so that might be part of the reason why Pakistani and Bangladeshi women have lower employment rates. If they get a job, they lose so much in credits and benefits that it is all worked out, so there is not much incentive.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Thank you for your time and assistance.






 
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