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12 Mar 2009 : Column 1268

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, that is wide of the Question. The right reverend Prelate will know that Mr Binyam Mohamed was not a national of this country but was resident here for a period previously. It was on that basis that we made quite strenuous representations on his behalf to the United States.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, is it not wrong that that the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have refused to appear before the Human Rights Committee? Can this not be reconsidered?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, both the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have done that which is proper.

Housing: Rented Homes


11.29 am

Asked By Lord Best

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, the Government welcome the work of the 2020 Group, in particular its support for our long-term commitment to increasing the supply of affordable housing. We are considering the report’s specific recommendations carefully. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss them in detail with members of the group, including the noble Lord.

Lord Best: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that typically helpful and positive response. I declare my interest as chair of the Hanover Housing Association and as a member of the 2020 Group, which brings together Shelter, the house builders’ federation, the Local Government Association and others. Will the Minister use her considerable influence, alongside ministerial colleagues from another place, to impress on the Chancellor the double benefits of supporting a boost in output of rented homes? Will she stress that this brings the benefits of addressing the ailing construction industry’s woes—LGA research shows some 447,000 jobs may go between 2008 and 2010—while simultaneously assisting the housing of homeless people and alleviating overcrowding and all the miseries that go with acute shortages of rented housing?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, anything we do to ensure the supply of social rented homes in the present grave situation will help the construction industry. The need to build many more homes for social renting certainly does not change; nor does the demography. We have to maintain our ambitions. I am glad that many of the report’s recommendations accord with what we are doing already to keep our programme on track in exceptional

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circumstances. In particular, we are bringing forward early £550 million to provide 7,500 social rented homes 18 months earlier. We have invested £198 million of £200 million to buy 5,700 new-build homes from the open market from house builders for affordable housing. All that and more will help the construction industry.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the benefits of a major house-building initiative extend well beyond providing new homes to tackle homelessness and overcrowding? Does she agree that it would also extend to providing economic well-being and positive health and educational outcomes for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable families and would therefore translate into real savings for government in the longer term? I declare an interest as the chair of Circle 33 Housing Association and a trustee of Shelter.

Baroness Andrews: Absolutely, my Lords: good housing is the foundation and at the front line of preventive action on health, well-being, education and much else. That is why our ambitions for social housing are higher than they have been in previous years, and we were well on track before the economic downturn to meet our ambitions for 45,000 social rented homes from 2010. Everything we do will be designed to make sure that we do our very best with the new Homes and Communities Agency in place to promote and build the houses we need and to secure more activity from the local authorities, for example.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, these are ambitious plans. To put them into context, could the noble Baroness tell the House how many social houses were built in the past three years, as opposed to the number intended to be built in the next three years?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, my advice is that we built 75,000 social homes in the past three years.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I know that the Minister will agree that it is important to support the construction industry not just for the present but for the long term, so that skills are not lost when we reach an upturn. What support are the Government giving to smaller housing associations which are struggling because lending is not available to them?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we rely so much on housing associations to provide social rented homes and it is extremely important that we are as positive, supportive and flexible as possible. We are allowing the HCA limited flexibility to increase levels of grant to housing associations to compensate for the difficulties of negotiating Section 106 agreements, for example. So we are doing something immediate and positive there, which will be linked to an agreed programme of future activity. We are also giving ourselves complete flexibility to switch unsold shared ownership stock to rent and HomeBuy. Those are two very positive actions that will help the RSLs step up to the plate.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords—

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Lord Bates: My Lords—

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I think that it is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, what proportion of the housing to be built will be wheelchair-accessible? As the Minister knows, the number of disabled people is increasing. We also have the welfare-to-work provisions. For those who are in wheelchairs, it will be much easier to do all these things if they have good accommodation.

Baroness Andrews: As I recall, my Lords, about 10 per cent of our housing needs to be wheelchair accessible. We are nowhere near reaching that standard but we have made a significant start by committing ourselves to meeting the lifetime home standards by 2013. With these flexibilities such as wider doorways in place, we will be in a much better position to support wheelchair-accessible housing. We are working with disability organisations to ensure that house builders know that these are important progressions to make.

Lord Bates: My Lords—

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords—

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is the turn of the Conservative Benches.

Lord Bates: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister about progress on the HomeBuy scheme, which was aimed at moving social tenants into private home ownership. When it was launched in 2005, the target was that 120,000 people would take advantage of the scheme by 2010. With only one year to go, the progress is that 44,000 have taken advantage of it—a shortfall of 76,000. Will the Minister take this opportunity to restate the target for 2010?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, it is a very important and radical scheme and we are pleased with the progress. As the noble Lord will know, one of the things we are dealing with in the present situation is how to ensure that people can access affordable homes. We have a new HomeBuy Direct scheme that developers have been very responsive to: 130 developers are working with us to enable about 18,000 new homebuyers to access homes. I will write to the noble Lord with more detail on the original scheme.

Business Rate Supplements Bill

First Reading

11.37 am

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

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Arrangement of Business


Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, immediately after the debate in the name of my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton, my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin will repeat the Statement on the progress report by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on the protection of children.

Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill [HL]

Order of Consideration Motion

Moved by The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews)

Motion agreed.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

11.38 am

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.

EU Emissions Trading System (EUC Report)

Motion to Refer to Grand Committee

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.

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Bradford and Bingley plc Compensation Scheme (Amendment) Order 2009

Northern Rock plc Compensation Scheme (Amendment) Order 2009

Tax Credits Up-rating Regulations 2009

Guardian’s Allowance Up-rating Order 2009

Guardian’s Allowance Up-rating (Northern Ireland) Order 2009

Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations (Amendment) Order 2009

Occupational Pension Schemes (Levy Ceiling) Order 2009

Financial Assistance Scheme and Incapacity Benefit (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2009

Pension Protection Fund (Pension Compensation Cap) Order 2009

Occupational Pension Schemes (Contracting-out) (Amendment) Regulations 2009

European Parliamentary Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2009

Motion to Refer to Grand Committee

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.

Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill

Second Reading and remaining stages

Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 47 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time and passed.

12 Mar 2009 : Column 1273

Women: Economic Crisis


11.39 am

Moved By Baroness Gould of Potternewton

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I am delighted that, once again, we are having a debate to commemorate International Women’s Day and that so many noble Lords are taking part. This shows the importance that is attributed to the subject. While I appreciate that the majority of contributions will revolve around the position of women in the UK, the recession is global. We must not see ourselves in isolation, but also understand the differential impact that the economic downturn will have on women internationally.

I declare an interest as chair of the Women’s National Commission. In that role, I formed part of the recent UK delegation to New York to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, from where I have just returned. The discussions that took place there on the effects of the global economic crisis for developing countries focused on the serious gender-specific consequences for women in poor countries: on girls becoming more vulnerable because they have been taken out of school as households cope with declining household income; on the effects on women's health; and on the almost inevitable increase in infant mortality. In a UN agency communiqué last weekend, it was estimated that women's unemployment will soar. This was further endorsed by the International Labour Organisation, which stated that, while gender inequality in the world of work has long been with us, it will be exacerbated by the crisis. It estimates that the number of unemployed women will rise by 22 million in this year alone and is looking for creative solutions to address that gender gap. The commitment by the Department for International Development to provide gender-specific funding is unparalleled and, following the Prime Minister's statement this week, I am confident that DfID's commitment to help women fulfil their economic potential and help girls into schools and women to healthcare will be maintained.

In the run-up to our visit to the UN commission this year, I met with Women's National Commission partners at a series of events in January and February to discuss women's advancement in a global setting. One of the questions we discussed was the impact of the economic downturn on women. I have heard from women in London, Newcastle, Glasgow, Northern Ireland and Wales, and the messages are all the same. Women are feeling increasingly vulnerable in these uncertain times because their wage packets are so important to the family income.

Many women expressed concern that job losses would increase poverty levels for women and, for women with caring responsibilities, the future is challenging. The obvious restrictions placed on women with childcare or eldercare commitments are likely to make it more difficult for them to find and keep employment as the number of jobs on offer will dwindle. This has serious implications for the families involved.

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I am sure that we will all have read many articles on the causes and effects of the downturn in the economy but, apart from some notable women journalists and commentators, there has been no detailed analysis of the female dimension and the differing impacts on women. That is why the new government booklet Real Help Now for Women is going to be so valuable, as it recognises that while the global downturn affects women and men, it affects them in different ways.

Since the last recession, women's lives have changed dramatically. They have become more complex. However, at home, women are still more likely to be in their traditional, entrenched gender role of being responsible for the well-being of the family. It is still the case that women, in the main, will have to bear the brunt of any loss of income and are still the managers of the family budget. At work, they are more likely to work part-time, or to work flexibly, or be one of the extra 250,000 lone parents in employment compared to 1997. Fortunately, part-time workers and those on fixed-term contracts will benefit from the Government's introduction of giving them the same rights as full-time workers. These rights are crucial at a time when employers are more likely to focus on part-time workers when they need to make redundancies. Women still suffer from pay discrimination, at the same time as they are making a greater financial contribution to the family budget.

In a recent poll of public attitudes to the recession, it was revealed that women are more worried than men about how the downturn will affect their ability to pay the bills, and its consequences on the quality of family life. These facts in no way diminish the difficulties that men face on losing their jobs, which can be socially divisive. For some men the loss of a job can be traumatic and can lead almost to an identity crisis. The frustration of job loss, creating instability in their life, can be a recipe for violence in the home, and—as an aside—this is at a time when voluntary organisations and charities supporting women victims are having their budgets cut. To me, it makes social and economic sense to provide additional support at this time.

The long-hours culture means that fathers still do not spend sufficient time with their children. In 1961, it was estimated that men spent just three minutes a day with their children. Thirty-eight years later, it is still only 16 minutes a day. The long-hours culture also reinforces women's roles as the carer, be it for childcare or eldercare, or both, as a result of the “sandwich generation”.

This is the first general rise in unemployment since the increase of women's participation in the labour market. Over the past 20 years women's employment rates have significantly increased, with 70 per cent of women at work in the UK, while for men there has been an overall reduction. But it is still a labour market constructed for a male family provider, to which women have had to adapt. In spite of the many improvements that the Government have made to ease that passage, the labour market is still polarised across gender.

Nevertheless, female employment is traditionally seen as being more resilient than men's, working, as women do, in sectors such as health, education and the care services. There is no evidence to date to

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suggest that that resilience has diminished. However, against that, we cannot ignore the fact that for the past 20 years the UK economy has been skewed towards the retail and service sectors—the development of which has coincided with the rise in female employment—now heavily affected by the downturn, coupled with the fact that, while occupational segregation remains strong, far more women are now working in a wider range of sectors than previously.

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