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5 Mar 2009 : Column 1088

The Solicitor-General: I will repeat what I have just said, so that the hon. Lady can understand that I do not insult her at all. I say that in her championing of a Prime Minister who showed her womanly qualities by taking milk from kids, but whom we in the north simply call job snatcher, the hon. Lady made a most mellifluous contribution to Labour’s next election manifesto.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) rightly said that the pay gap is complex. Nobody tells girls who choose caring jobs, for instance, that they are going to get paid less. It is complex indeed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), a woman who is praised from all parts of the House, showed her undoubted sympathy for all the people in her constituency, and her understanding of the diverse communities there, from which she does not come, is quite remarkable. Her courage in supporting the victims of unacceptable cultural impacts, from those communities and her own, make her a stalwart. We shall miss her.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) made two points. Suffice it to say that I will be his messenger to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on both.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) made telling points, including her own observations on the paucity of what the Opposition have to say about women. The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller), in so far as she focused on the issues, made a balanced and helpful contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South set out a realistic picture of the impact of recession on ordinary people—compare and contrast with those who cannot manage on 60 grand a year.

The hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) made a point about the stress that women face, and the important point that we must protect and support action in this recession not only in cash but in kind.

The hon. Member for Upminster talked about the woman’s world as being making breakfast, popping a casserole into the oven and then popping out to do her secretarial job. In that somewhat 1950s picture, she missed out the time to make up prettily and the time for hubby to come home.

We need an organised careers structure for women who have children. We still behave as though they were an unexpected oddity in a world of work in which the norm is 40 hours a week for 40 weeks a year for 40 years. It is not acceptable that mothers are expected to pick up the dregs of what is regarded as second-level work that can be delegated to part-timers. That is where a massive amount of the pay gap is derived—only low-skilled work is available, even to the most highly skilled mothers. No less than 50 per cent. of women who work part-time work below their own skill level, which is not acceptable. We have done a great deal on flexible working for women who are in work, but returners face a wall of 9-to-5 jobs with no right to ask for anything different.

We have done a great deal to try to solve those problems and moved the agenda far forward. It is none the less clear that there is a lot still to do. I wish that I had not been reduced to political adversity in this argument, because— [Interruption.]

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Mrs. May: Will the Solicitor-General give way?

The Solicitor-General: The opportunity for a really valuable debate about this issue ought not to have been lost.

Mrs. May: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you perhaps inform the House of something? I thought that it was a matter of the conventions of the House that when a Front-Bench spokesman attempted to intervene on the speech of another Front-Bench spokesman, way was given so that that intervention could be made. This is supposed to be a Chamber for debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I say to the right hon. Lady that it is normal practice for that to happen, but it is entirely a matter for the Minister at the Dispatch Box whether to decide to give way.

The Solicitor-General: The right hon. Member for Maidenhead took a significant amount of time, and I have far less time than she had.

To support women in this downturn, we have a strategy, a Bill and the leadership of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality. We also have a real commitment to all the equalities, which, as the many contributions—

6 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

use of The Chamber (United Kingdom youth Parliament)

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

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Schools (Liverpool)

6 pm

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab): The petition, which I am proud to put before the House, concerns the Croxteth community comprehensive school in my constituency. The school is in a very disadvantaged area, and it does not surprise me that there are more than 3,000 signatures on the petition. They are, of course, the signatures of parents and teachers, but not exclusively so. Many people in the local community take pride in the school. Croxteth has been in the news in these difficult times because of social problems—it is the area, incidentally, in which the youngster, Rhys Jones, was shot—and the people there are very proud to have this community comprehensive school. They have therefore got together and signed this petition. I am sure that, if it is listened to and acted upon sympathetically by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and by the local authority in Liverpool, that will be appreciated not only by the head teacher, who has plans for expanding the school’s role in the community, but by the 3,000 signatories, who represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of the people who are supporting the school.

The petition states:


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Men’s Health at Work

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Mark Tami.)

6.3 pm

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford) (Lab): Thomas Carlyle once said that

How right he was. Work, or, more specifically, getting a job, maintaining a job, and, most important of all, deriving a sense of personal fulfilment and satisfaction from that job, is the key to good health. Men’s health outcomes, in particular, owe much to the type of work that they do and the amount of time and energy that they devote to it. It defines who they are and their place in the world. Even today, men spend far more time in the workplace during their lives than women do. Not only are there more men employed than women—some 1.5 million more, in fact—but there are twice as many men in full-time work as women. Men also work much more overtime than women, and 30 per cent. of men work more than 45 hours a week, compared with 10 per cent. of women. Furthermore, because of the traditional differential in the retirement age, men still tend to work to a greater age than women.

When we consider the extent to which work continues to dominate the lives of men, it is little wonder that they make much less use of primary health care provision than women. The fact that access to most primary care services is still predicated on where people live, rather than on where they work, means that it is much more difficult for men to gain access to help when they need it. That is not the only reason we have this gender gap, as there is a whole range of cultural and psycho-social reasons why take-up is lower among men, but the difficulty men face in simply getting to a GP practice is undoubtedly part of the problem.

There is good evidence to show that if we provide health services in environments that are more accessible to men, such as in the workplace, men do take advantage of them. For example, Royal Mail, 85 per cent. of whose work force is male, introduced a health awareness programme in 2004 as part of a wider scheme to reduce employee absenteeism. The scheme succeeded in reducing employee absenteeism from 7 per cent. to 5 per cent. between January 2004 and May 2007—equivalent to putting an extra 3,600 employees in work. A report by the London School of Economics calculated that if the 13 sectors of the economy with the highest absence rates followed Royal Mail’s lead, the resultant reduction in absenteeism would be worth £1.45 billion to the UK economy.

The Work Fit programme developed by BT is another example of an effective workplace-based health initiative aimed at men. BT, 75 per cent. of whose employees are male, commissioned the Men’s Health Forum to develop a lifestyle improvement programme that would appeal particularly to men. The resulting Work Fit programme was a 16-week scheme delivered mostly online, which focused on nutrition and physical activity. More than 16,000 staff, three quarters of whom were male, registered to participate in the scheme, and 6,000 were successfully tracked over the course of that 16-week programme.
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Each participant lost an average of 2.3 kg during the programme and a six-month follow-up found that most had managed to sustain the progress they had made.

The success of those initiatives underlines the value of workplace-based health schemes. The NHS needs to work closely alongside employers, unions and industry associations to ensure that such schemes are more widely disseminated across the country. There is no reason why many of the services provided in traditional NHS settings could not be delivered just as well in workplace settings. Basic health checks, screening services and some routine GP appointments are among the services that could easily be provided in the workplace.

Not only do workplace-based schemes produce tangible results in terms of improved health and higher productivity, they also help the NHS to meet its obligation under the gender Equality Act 2006 to ensure that services are delivered more equitably between men and women. The value of gender-sensitive approaches in enhancing the effectiveness of workplace-based health initiatives is also acknowledged in Dame Carol Black’s review of the health of the working-age population, “Working for a healthier tomorrow”.

It is clear from the Department of Health’s willingness to give its backing to last year’s national men’s health week, which looked at health in the workplace, that the Government appreciate the vital importance of this issue. The mini-manual produced for men at work that was funded by the Government is evidence of that, but we need to do more. The Men’s Health Forum is organising, with Department of Health support, an expert symposium on 18 March to look at those issues and I am told that Carol Black, the national director for health and work, will be speaking at it. I hope that the Minister will look seriously at the outcomes and recommendations for policy, practice and research that arise from this event.

The centre for men’s health at Leeds Metropolitan university has already identified a need for research to look at what we know, what we do not know and what we need to know regarding the promotion of men’s health in the workplace. I would like the Department of Health to work closely with the Men’s Health Forum, which I am pleased to see is now a strategic partner, on developing this agenda.

I would like to move on to the importance of good work for a man. I have focused so far on the role of the workplace as a means of helping men to gain better access to health services and information, but I want to return now to the issue I started with—namely, the relationship between work itself and the health outcomes of men.

We know now that the quality of employment has a direct and quantifiable impact on people’s health, life expectancy and life chances. Arguably, that applies even more to men than women, given the residual importance our culture continues to attach to the role of the man as a successful breadwinner. Yet while it is clear that unemployment has a particularly corrosive effect on the physical and mental health of men, there is now equally strong evidence to show that having a good job is considerably better than having a bad job as far as men’s health is concerned.

Poor-quality work among men is associated with low levels of well-being, a higher incidence of physical or mental illness, low levels of self-esteem and a sense of
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powerlessness. In the Greek myth, Sisyphus was punished by the gods for his deceit by being condemned to work without purpose. His punishment was to roll a large boulder up the same hill, without purpose or object, for eternity. Every time he reached the top, the boulder rolled back down the hill and he had to start all over again. As Albert Camus said, the gods

As humans we need purpose and meaning in our lives, and work, along with family, is the primary vehicle through which meaning is created. To quote Kant:

We are much better off—socially, physically and spiritually—when we have work that offers us a chance to find an outlet for our creative spark and also provides us with a degree of stability and rootedness.

The famous Whitehall study of British civil servants, carried out by Michael Marmot, emphasised that point. He found that people in those grades that do the most routine work experience the most rapid clogging of the arteries. Between the ages of 40 and 64, those in the bottom grade were four times more likely to die than those at the top.

In a recent book, “The Craftsman”, Richard Sennett, the sociologist, underlined the importance of “craftsmanship” in human society. The craft process, whereby we select our materials and then manipulate them, using our skill and experience to create something of tangible value, is a necessary human experience, and without it we are lost. The craft process lies at the heart of all “good work”.

What do I mean when I talk about “good work”? According to a recent Work Foundation publication by David Coats and Rohit Lekhi, “good work” can be said to embrace the following features: employment security; work that is not characterised by monotony and repetition; autonomy, control and task discretion; a balance between the efforts that workers make and the rewards that they receive; whether the workers have the skills they need to cope with the demands pressure; observance of the basic principles of procedural justice; and strong workplace relationships.

In some of those areas, we have made very good progress over the past 12 years. Nevertheless, it is clear that we still lag behind many of our European neighbours in a number of areas. Take the measure of job quality, for instance: according to a recent Eurobarometer study, the UK has marginally more low-quality employment than France and Germany, and significantly more than the Nordic countries.

Nearly 70 per cent. of jobs in Denmark are deemed to be of high quality, compared with only 42 per cent. in the UK. The Danish experience shows just what can be done when reasonably tough employment laws, high-quality active labour market programmes and high benefits are combined. That creates an inclusive labour market with decent work for the overwhelming majority of employees, which results, unsurprisingly, in a happier and healthier population.

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