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In thinking about the impact of government policy, we must recognise that it is women and girls who suffer most severely from economic backwardness. Research in the World Bank and elsewhere has shown that women and girls suffer most from conflict and from natural disasters, many of which are associated with climate change. Weak infrastructure can lead to women and girls walking long distances for water or fuel, making them more vulnerable to physical attack and keeping the girls out of school. Social discrimination can have profound and malign influences where we see in some countries preferences for boys leading to the selective abortion of female foetuses, female infanticide or the relative neglect of girls in nutrition, education and medical treatment.

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These differential impacts constitute one set of reasons why it is so important that we continue to focus strongly on the millennium development goals, which cover income poverty, health, education, the environment and particularly gender equality. They are a key part of the explanation of why we should be so worried about the slow rate of progress towards these goals, particularly on child mortality round the world and on many of their dimensions in Africa.

There is another vital set of reasons which goes beyond the impact of policy on women and girls; we must also look at the impact of women and girls on development. Research has shown that societies where women are better educated have much healthier and better educated children—for example, making much better use of clean water supplies. Indeed, many studies have shown that education for girls is among the most productive of all investments. Societies where women and girls are better educated, have greater access to paid work, have clearer understandings about their rights and have better access to reproductive services have slower population growth. We have seen, for those reasons, the fertility rate in Bangladesh fall from around six children per woman 30 or 40 years ago to around three now. Societies that have a higher proportion of women in Parliament have better governance and less corruption. We have seen in South Africa and elsewhere that social transfers which go to women are spent much more sensibly than those that go to men. We have seen throughout the developing world that credit is used more wisely and repaid more reliably if the loans are to women. The entrepreneurship of women is a crucial and underused dynamic force for development.

I believe that many of these lessons apply to rich countries too. In thinking about the impact of policy, let us also recognise that empowering women and promoting gender equality are not only of crucial policy importance in their own right, but also constitute a very powerful force for development in all societies.

12.44 pm

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stern, on his magnificent maiden speech and to be able to congratulate him on behalf of the whole House. When I was handed his biography this morning, at first glance I thought that he and I would not have much in common in our backgrounds—he as a professor of economics and a former chief economist and senior vice-president of the World Bank with a hugely distinguished career in finance and economics, and I as a social worker who can hardly add up. I did find some possible common ground in that he, too, speaks French and lists literature as one of his interests. But then of course I made the connection about just who this Lord Stern is, and realised that he and I and every Member of your Lordships' House—indeed, every person on the planet—have something in common with him. His Review on the Economics of Climate Change is

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universally admired, respected and seen as the most important contribution thus far produced to this most seminal of debates.

The Stern report is a long and weighty tome. I know that because I have posted it off to friends in various parts of the world, the interest in it is so widespread. The noble Lord’s contribution this afternoon was much shorter, but equally considered and thoughtful. We are privileged to have him with us here and look forward to the many more contributions that he will make to this House.

I also thank my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton for securing this debate today and I make no apology for speaking about carers again, as I have done in the past in similar debates associated with women’s day. I am sure that other speakers will also mention the role of women as carers, as they are so high on the agenda now. I want to report on progress since last year. So far as progress for carers is concerned, there has never been a year like this one and I have worked in the field now for 22 years. But before I embark on the good news, let me remind your Lordships of some facts. Women are much more likely than men to be carers in all age groups up to 70 years old. Almost a quarter of women in their 50s are carers. Women are much more likely than men to be at the heavy end of caring. One in five female carers cares for more than 50 hours each week compared with one in seven male carers. Approximately 14 per cent of female employees are carers compared with 10 per cent of male employees.

As we have already heard, part-time work brings a penalty and women are much more likely to combine part-time work with caring. Of those women working full-time and aged between 45 to 59, one in five is a carer. These are women at the peak of their careers and if they were forced to leave work—as many of them are because of their caring duties—they would find it extremely difficult to return and would face a significantly reduced pension.

Carers UK recently recalculated the value of unpaid care to our nation and found it to be £87 billion a year, an increase of 52 per cent since 2002. Research by the University of Leeds for Carers UK showed that over 40 per cent of those caring full-time and not in work say that they cannot return to employment because of the lack of services available. More than four in 10 of those new to caring say that the person for whom they care is reluctant to use care services. Only a quarter of working carers feel that they have adequate support from formal services to enable them to combine work and caring. Between 40 and 50 per cent of working carers say that the lack of flexibility and sensitivity to the delivery of services is hampering them.

That is the extent of the contribution of women expressed statistically, but let us never forget what this means to people personally. Caring takes place within an existing relationship and naturally the quality of that relationship varies, but most carers will tell you that however much they love or feel obligated to the cared-for person, it does not stop the caring being stressful and meaning that it affects their life and their

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well-being financially, practically—a carer’s health is notoriously bad—and emotionally. Most carers do not want to stop. They are willing to go on, but many more carers will be needed—9 million as opposed to the 6 million that we currently have. We are going to find more and better ways to support them and enable them to continue. I am thankful that my Government are not only recognising the contribution of carers, as Governments have been doing in some measure since the 1970s, but also translating that recognition into policies that will make real differences to the life of every carer.

I will list some policy developments from the last 12 months. The most important, perhaps, is the launch of the New Deal for Carers in February last year, when the Prime Minister and the Minister for Carers—having that Minister is another welcome development—launched the review of the national strategy, which was first put in place in 1999, at the home of a carer. Throughout last year and this, the Government have consulted with carers and carers’ organisations to help draw up a revised national strategy. Carers UK has held a series of events, including the first carers’ summit in November. In January this year, the Prime Minister attended a consultation event in Leeds, organised by Carers UK and the Department of Health. He met more than 60 carers and heard their view on the issues that affect them. Ministers are considering the results of the consultation and the recommendations of the four task forces that were set up, focusing on income, employment, equality, and health and social care. The strategy is expected to be published in May this year and Carers UK is calling on the Government to make it as visionary and far-reaching as possible. It should certainly contain aspirational goals and describe Labour’s vision of how families will be supported to care in 10 years’ time.

Another welcome development is the announcement of a standing commission on carers. The Prime Minister announced the commission, to be chaired by Dr Philippa Russell, and I declare an interest as a member of it. It has met several times and includes a wide range of expertise. It has drawn up terms of reference and is currently focusing on overseeing the review of the national strategy. It will then begin a programme of work on the long-term challenges that will impact on carers. We expect publication of the strategy next year and we will have to judge it on whether it improves carers’ lives in particular areas—specifically by ensuring better incomes for carers, better recognition from professionals and from society, better quality services, support to combine work and care, measures to improve carers’ health and measures to end discrimination against carers. Since last year, we have also had the Work and Families Act, which introduced the right to request flexible working for 2.5 million working carers. Early indications are that the right is working well in most cases—the CBI reports that 90 per cent of requests are accepted. But carers’ organisations feel that awareness is still low among carers and employers. The Pensions Act last year introduced a new carer’s credit for those caring for more than 20 hours a week. This should give almost 200,000 carers greater rights to the basic state pension and the state second pension. Other

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measures, such as the reduction of the number of qualifying years for a full basic state pension, will also help many carers.

We have forthcoming legislation that will affect carers. The Health and Social Care Bill will create a care quality commission to regulate health and social care services. We need to ensure that the new regulator involves carers and views them as key partners in the provision of care. The Pensions Bill will create a system of personal accounts aimed at low to medium earners not currently saving for a pension. This will benefit many carers, although we need to ensure that it pays to save, by ensuring that as many carers as possible have a full record of state pension contributions. We must ensure that when the White Paper on the census for 2011 is brought before this House and another place, it retains the important questions on carers that were first included at the beginning of this century. Finally, I will mention the Comprehensive Spending Review, which announced a Green Paper on long-term care. This and other discussions are beginning to look at how social care can be made the equal of healthcare. This is vital for caring families. Great progress has been made, but there is still a lot to do to ensure that this welcome recognition and helpful policies translate into real change in carers’ lives. I look forward to reporting on progress next year.

12.55 pm

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I rise a little diffidently from these Benches, as they remain—currently at least—a male preserve. I can think of a number of members of the female sex in this House who might well grace the Benches with distinction and, as the debate goes on, I occasionally think that they themselves would like to do so. I join other Members of the House in welcoming the debate and thanking those who introduced it so splendidly, including our maiden speaker.

Tomorrow is Women’s World Day of Prayer, aligned in the calendar with International Women’s Day. Many church organisations that focus on the work and contribution of women to the church and to society—especially the worldwide Mothers’ Union—have long marked this day in various ways. At the outset, I pay tribute to the considerable achievements of the present Government in improving the welfare and well-being of women and children—building, no doubt, on the work of previous administrations. In relation to women, I mention the gender equality duty and the national minimum wage, which has been a civilising force in our society, not least as our labour market has been opened up to nationals of other EU countries. One can well imagine what would have happened without a minimum wage—there would have been considerable downward pressure. The minimum wage has benefited both men and women, but has been of particular benefit to women, who have often tackled the less glamorous but vital roles in the workplace. I welcome yesterday’s announcement of a further uprating and look forward to the minimum wage edging up further, ahead of increases in average

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earnings. In some Scandinavian countries, the level of the minimum wage, in real terms, is much higher than in this country, to the obvious benefit of the whole community and indeed of community cohesion. I also mention the important changes to arrangements for the state pension, which have a particular benefit for many women in our society who would not have had a complete entitlement record for a pension. Alongside this has been protection against gender-based discrimination in the workplace, improved arrangements for maternity leave and pay and new rights for working families. There have been many, and real, gains on these and other fronts, including the enhanced provision of tax credits for parents with children.

Others will say more about the vexed and difficult subject of domestic violence and crimes against women, including the abhorrent act of rape. Much progress is desperately needed in these areas, which will come only when society as a whole develops—and I think I can also say “recovers”—a greater respect for women. I pay tribute to the many voluntary agencies that work with women who suffer domestic abuse and with their easily forgotten children. These charitable groups are supported by their local authorities and increasingly by the police. I could speak about wonderful voluntary organisations in my own diocese, both church-based and with a wider base, that do so much on this front. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that their contribution, with local authorities and the police working co-operatively and collaboratively in partnership with them in the future, is the key to tackling that particular agenda. As with so many social problems, the solution will not lie simply with more laws and statutory provision, but with real partnership between the agencies of the state and the citizens of our land.

The general story of government policy in recent years has been largely a story of the drive towards greater equality for women in the workplace. It has been a good story and one that the Government can take credit for. I suggest a slightly different and complementary tack that the Government might consider as they attempt to move forward in their positive agenda for women in society—and whatever benefits women in society must also benefit children. The different tack would start from the acknowledgement that in addition to being absolutely equal with men, women are also different from men.

Let us think of the great lengths to which we rightly go to acknowledge racial differences amid the equality of all people and to respect those whose race is different from our own. However, those differences have only a slight genetic or physical basis. The difference in genetic make-up between those with contrasting racial characteristics is minuscule—a very small fraction of 1 per cent. The genetic difference between men and women is much greater. As the recent passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill reminded us again and again, issues surrounding our biological origins are often overlooked but they have a habit of emerging because their significance is such that they simply cannot be overlooked. I believe that the dignity of women

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requires an acknowledgement of both their equality with men and their proper differences from men.

Perhaps I may suggest two areas where we could ponder the implications of the differences between men and women. I do not wish to suggest any resultant inequality, for what I say could apply in principle to men as well but in practice tends to apply more to women. The first concerns the taxation policy in the UK for families, and specifically for families where there are two parents who share the same home. The tax and benefit system in this country is notoriously complex—I see the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, sitting in the Chamber and quake at the thought of getting this wrong because of her expertise in all these matters, which is renowned among us. In what follows, I rely on the very recent publication, Taxation of Married Families, from the organisation CARE. The work of CARE in this regard, and the accuracy of this piece of research, is endorsed by Professor Robert Rowthorn of King’s College, Cambridge, and is also based on independent OECD data.

That publication demonstrates that, unlike in most countries, the tax and benefit system in the UK largely ignores the presence in a family unit of a second parent. In general, the tax burden—the proportion of income paid in tax—on many types of household in the UK is broadly similar to that elsewhere. However, family units with two parents and children are a striking exception. I quote from the report:

Things have been getting worse, not better. I quote again:

The basic problem is that, unlike in most other countries, we do not permit partners who do not earn money to transfer their tax allowance to the partner who does. This has a particular effect where the partners concerned are also parents and it contributes to the endemic problem of child poverty in our country.

Tax policy in this country has focused too much, I believe, on the taxpayer as an individual and not on the wider context of the family. This has resulted in many one-earner couples on average and somewhat below average wages bearing a bigger and increasing share of the tax burden. Addressing that need not involve abandoning an independent tax system but simply the introduction of transferable allowances in support of family life. This would both reduce child poverty and introduce more equality between adults.

I have not framed these arguments in terms of marriage, although they would apply equally to cohabiting couples, but I believe that a move in this direction would offer a small but significant step in the direction of much needed support for the institution of marriage and the consequent benefits

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for children. In most families where there are two parents and dependent children, both parents wish to work, either full-time or part-time, and I fully support those choices, but there are many families where, for one reason or another, one of the parents does not wish to work. That can be because of the particular needs of the children or the work that the other partner has and a desire to support him or her, or it can be a desire to contribute voluntarily to the work of society. I believe that we need to support that more obviously in our financial arrangements.

Finally, I should like to refer to a broader issue related to flexible working. I welcome the Government’s commitment to look at the extension of a right to flexible working to those who care for children up to the age of 16 or 18, rather than up to the age of six, as at present. I believe we are waiting for a report on that matter. It is a prime responsibility of every generation to nurture the next generation and for all necessary attention to be paid to the rights of children. However, I believe that the overall impact of changes in our society in recent years has tended, often inadvertently, to contribute to a certain neglect of children.

Returning for a moment to my biological theme, human children are typically dependent on their parents or equivalent for 16, 18 or 20 years—and, in fact, often for even longer. Mammals with equivalent life-spans to us, such as elephants, will need to look after their babies for only about four years. The significance of parenthood and the care of children seem to be hard-wired in us.

A recent UNICEF report, The State of the World’s Children,emphasised the value of flexible working to those societies that had taken it seriously. We certainly try to do that in my own diocese and I see the benefits. It does not lead to inefficiencies; it leads to happy, contented, purposeful people who go about their work in flexible ways.

Looking beyond the present aspiration to give parents of teenage children the right to request flexible working, there is also the question of those who train for our professions. I have two daughters, both in their 20s. One has just qualified as a solicitor and one is about to become a medical student on a graduate training scheme. Through their prime child-bearing years, it would be extremely difficult for them to hold down a relationship, let alone be a mother, because of the sheer pressures. Alongside the equality that they have rightly and properly taken advantage of, there has been a sort of unwritten sense that they have to conform to a man’s world in doing so. There are deep issues here which our society should have the resources and the will to address in the years to come.

I conclude with the time-honoured words to the Government from innumerable school reports: “Has done well, could do better”.

1.06 pm

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, on yet another of her annual tours de force in opening this debate about women.

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I want to concentrate today on something about which I feel very strongly. It relates to women overseas but the policy of our Government can affect it. It concerns global attitudes to women as sex objects and victims of war. We are lucky enough to live in a country where many men and women have good, caring and equal relationships. Exploitation happens, violence happens and rape happens, but at least we have a legal system which tries to deal with all that, and the cultural attitudes which our Government encourage do not permit treating women as anything less than equal. The way in which our legal system protects women has many shortcomings, about which I have no doubt other noble Lords will speak, but it is there for them. We still do not do enough to protect women and children from violence in the home, but that is not what I want to focus on today.

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