Women and Equalities Committee
Oral evidence: The work of the Minister for Women and Equalities, HC 1068
Wednesday 1 March 2023
Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 1 March 2023.
Members present: Caroline Nokes (Chair); Dame Caroline Dinenage; Carolyn Harris; Kim Johnson and Bell Ribeiro-Addy.
Questions 1 - 83
I: The Rt Hon Kemi Badenoch MP, Minister for Women and Equalities; and Marcus Bell, Director at Equality Hub.
Witnesses: Kemi Badenoch and Marcus Bell.
Q1 Chair: Welcome to this afternoon's session of the Women and Equalities Committee and our scrutiny of the work of the Minister for Women and Equalities.
Can I thank Ms Badenoch and Mr Bell for coming in this afternoon and for the evidence that you are about to give us? Obviously, as ever—you are perfectly used to this—Members of the Committee will ask you questions in turn.
Can I start by asking how heavily your approach to equalities policy is driven by data?
Kemi Badenoch: Very much so. It is the foundation of everything that we do—well, certainly we try to make it so. Quite often, a lot of what we do ends up being driven by push from other elements, whether it is Parliament wanting something or some legislation that has not necessarily originated from us but that we are supporting, but we always try to start with the data.
Q2 Chair: How helpful has the Equality Data Programme been?
Kemi Badenoch: It only had its results published at the end of January, so we are looking through it now, but it is not in a state where it can start informing policy making, if that is what you mean.
Q3 Chair: Why was there such a delay to that?
Kemi Badenoch: I do not know that there was a delay. Was there a delay?
Marcus Bell: It took quite a long time to get to the point where we had some publishable data, and the main reason was that it is pretty complex data. We were trying to link together different sets of data and make some sense of it, so it did take quite a long time.
Kemi Badenoch: I only started picking it up as the Minister for Women and Equalities. In my previous role, it was not something that I was looking at—the former Secretary of State was.
Q4 Chair: Mr Bell, you told us that the first data release would be in July 2021, and it did not happen until January 2023. Was that just due to the complexities of bringing together all those different strands?
Marcus Bell: Primarily it was to do with complexity, but we have also had a lot of changes in responsibility over the last year, and that holds things up.
Q5 Chair: How would changes in responsibility prevent the publication of data?
Marcus Bell: Because you need to brief a new Minister about it and take their view about what is a priority and how things ought to be taken forward.
Q6 Chair: Has there been a change in direction since you took over?
Kemi Badenoch: There has been in terms of the scope of what we are doing and trying to make sure that it all weaves together, rather than having lots of different buckets of initiatives that had been started by different Governments and different Prime Ministers. In terms of the overall vision of us looking at equality more broadly, not just protected characteristics, no, that has not changed.
Q7 Chair: I appreciate it is only a few weeks ago, but how has that first release of data helped to identify the challenges between prioritising protected characteristics, geography or social mobility?
Marcus Bell: There are two things about that. One, it has definitely told us some things that we did not know. Just to give you some examples from the release: disabled people are significantly more likely to experience crime; men have a lot more wealth than women, which might not be a surprise on its own, but the extent of it was quite a surprise; Bangladeshi and Pakistani people are significantly more likely to experience digital exclusion; and Gypsies and Irish Travellers have much higher mortality rates than others—I think we knew that, but again, we did not know the extent of it.
There is quite a lot in the detail that we were not fully aware of, but there are also two interesting wider conclusions, because part of the point of the EDP was to look at different dimensions of inequality and how they relate to each other. The single characteristic where there were the biggest differences—and the most adverse effects across the different issues we looked at—was disability. It was quite a surprise that the biggest, strongest effect was on disability.
There were some striking variations by geography as well, but probably a bit less than we were expecting. As you know, part of the aim was to look at geographical inequality, and we definitely found some, but the extent of it was perhaps less than we expected.
The importance of all that is it tells us some useful things about what to focus on next. We are expecting to do further work with the ONS because we collaborated quite a lot on that, and that proved to be a productive partnership. That will be to look at other datasets and see what they might tell us about inequality. As an example, at the moment we are looking at Companies House data and, if we relate that to the census, what that can tell us about company ownership and how that relates to inequality. There is quite a lot more to come out of it.
Q8 Chair: Is it still the long-term aim that that programme is going to produce new life path analysis of equality for individuals?
Marcus Bell: Yes, that is something we are continuing to look at and are interested in taking forward. But what we prioritised recently with the EDP was getting to the point where we could release some actual data, for reasons you understand, because it was later than we were expecting. We would like to take that forward, but I cannot tell you when at the moment.
Q9 Chair: I am glad you highlighted disabled people. That was some really stark information about the inequalities that they face. What specific work will now be done across Government, using the auspices of the GEO, to make sure that you are bringing strands from the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that disabled people are not disadvantaged?
Marcus Bell: As you probably know, one thing we are embarking on at the moment is work on a new disability action plan for Minister Tom Pursglove rather than the Secretary of State, and part of that should be about building a better evidence base on disability. In the Equality Hub, we look at data across gender and ethnicity and many other issues, and one thing that we are very conscious of is that the evidence base on disability is weaker than on most of the other issues, for all sorts of reasons. That is something that we are interested in doing more about through the disability action plan.
Q10 Chair: You say, “For all sorts of reasons.” Can you identify some of them?
Marcus Bell: What this comes down to is, what are the characteristics that are collected in Government datasets? Pretty much every Government dataset collects information about sex and ethnicity; not all of them collect data about disability, and the response rate on disability is lower. That is one reason why the evidence base is less good than on other areas.
Q11 Chair: Thank you for that; that is very helpful. You have highlighted information that you are gaining from Companies House and told us that datasets around disability are not good, but that datasets around ethnicity and sex are collected. What specific efforts are being made to look at the intersectional challenges?
Marcus Bell: To look at what, sorry?
Marcus Bell: That is something we would always look at. If we want to understand ethnicity data, for example, it is very important to look at how ethnicity data breaks down by sex, how it breaks down by geography and how it breaks down by socioeconomic characteristics.
Some people call that an intersectional analysis, but I think it is always important to look at the different dimensions and how far they relate to each other. If there is a disparity by ethnicity, I do not think you can understand it unless you have also looked at the other confounding variables that might affect it.
Q12 Chair: If you are looking specifically at disability, how much effort is going into making sure that you are breaking that data down by sex and by ethnicity?
Marcus Bell: I am not absolutely certain of this. I think it is very likely that all the data we have about disability is already broken down by sex and ethnicity, because we just have better data about those things.
Chair: You are not sure?
Marcus Bell: I am not 100% certain, but I think it is very likely. You might be able to find one dataset or two where there is better data about disability than ethnicity, but I would be surprised.
Chair: Thank you for that.
Q13 Bell Ribeiro-Addy: As we know, section 35 had to be triggered, which has caused a lot of controversy. What attempts were made during the passage of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill to avoid reaching the point where section 35 had to be triggered?
Kemi Badenoch: We had conversations with Scottish Ministers, but the template of interaction for when Bills are going through is that we in Westminster do not interfere. There is a limited scope for how much you can do without getting in the way. We believe in devolution, and we could see that there were very clear attempts across all parties within the Scottish Parliament to try to look at issues that were raised about the Bill and how it would impact the general UK settlement on the Gender Recognition Act.
That should have been sufficient. We saw many amendments rejected which would have been quite helpful. I had a call with Shona Robison, and I know the Secretary of State for Scotland also had calls with his counterparts, where we expressed concerns about policy in general terms. But in terms of trying to intervene, to stop it getting to a section 35, that is the responsibility of the Scottish Government, not for us.
Q14 Bell Ribeiro-Addy: Have you been able to have any conversations with anyone in Scottish Government since about how they could move forward with the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill?
Kemi Badenoch: Given that they have threatened legal action, anything I do could end up being relevant to a legal case. It is up to them to reach out and we have not had any representations on looking at the Bill.
If they want to amend the Bill, they have plenty of time. There is no time limit to that. If they want to challenge the section 35, there is a time limit, but in terms of amending the Bill, the debate around this issue has been extensive enough that they will know what needs to be done. That is really making sure that the safeguarding elements are addressed, especially as they impact on the Equality Act 2010, which they do, as we put in the statement of reasons.
Q15 Bell Ribeiro-Addy: Do you think that triggering section 35 undermines the Scottish Government's autonomy to draft legislation on LGBTQ+ issues and trans issues?
Kemi Badenoch: No, I do not, actually. Section 35 is part of the Scotland Act, so it was something that was devised along with Scottish Members of Parliament across all parties. It is part of the devolution settlement, and it is a brake that has never been used before. This was quite a significant intervention, but since that intervention, it has been clear that public opinion is on the side of the UK Government, not the Scottish Government.
Q16 Bell Ribeiro-Addy: How are you measuring that?
Kemi Badenoch: It has been pretty obvious. There have been surveys. As we can see from even the reaction they are having during their leadership contest—which I will not go into; it is not my business—it is very evident that public opinion is on the side of the UK Government. I think it will become more evident, whether we see a challenge to the section 35 or not.
Q17 Chair: On that, should the use of section 35 be driven by public opinion or by legal necessity?
Kemi Badenoch: It should be driven by legal necessity—of course it should be—but the justification for section 35 was not public opinion. That is just the—
Chair: I thought you had just given us the impression it had been.
Kemi Badenoch: No, that is absolutely not what I said.
Q18 Bell Ribeiro-Addy: Earlier this year, you stated that the Government plans to update the list of countries from which the UK accepts gender recognition certificates. Could you give us an update on this?
Kemi Badenoch: I believe that we are publishing SIs on some of the countries where we believe the standards in terms of what they are doing on self-identification no longer match UK standards. I do not have the date for when the SIs will be published because we want to make sure we get this absolutely right. The last thing we want to do is alarm people or give the impression that many opponents of the Government and activists want to give, which is that we are rolling back trans rights. What we are doing is maintaining the status quo.
Q19 Bell Ribeiro-Addy: I want to move on to some questions about conversion practices legislation. Does the Government have any plans to introduce a legislative ban on conversion therapy?
Kemi Badenoch: Yes, we do. We have stated multiple times that we intend to bring in a legislative ban on conversion, and we call it conversion practices because it is not therapy.
Q20 Bell Ribeiro-Addy: I agree with that. When do you plan to publish this Bill to ban it?
Kemi Badenoch: “In due course” is the easiest way to describe it. We have decided that we are going down the pre-legislative scrutiny route. It was a matter of debate whether having that would prolong the process, but looking at how contentious the issue has been in terms of how it is discussed, and also looking at the strength of feeling across both Houses of Parliament and on both sides of the argument, we felt that having the PLS process would make the Bill a lot more rigorous. In terms of the timetable for that, it is no longer in the control of Government, but we will publish a draft Bill for them.
Q21 Bell Ribeiro-Addy: Do we expect this before the next general election, whenever it might be?
Kemi Badenoch: Yes. That is something we have committed to. It is certainly something that I want to see.
Q22 Bell Ribeiro-Addy: In your response to the Chair regarding the status of draft legislation to ban conversion practices, you previously said that difficult issues that are not fully resolved are preventing the Government from publishing this draft. Could you elaborate on what those difficult issues are, because they might give us an insight as to why it may take longer?
Kemi Badenoch: A lot of the evidence was received from clinicians and some of what we have seen from the CASS review around the safeguarding of young children. The definition is one of the reasons why we have gone with “practices” rather than “therapy”, and what is likely to be in scope, particularly from a medical standpoint.
Q23 Bell Ribeiro-Addy: Given that it has now been five years since the plans to ban conversion practices and the Bill has not been drafted as yet—
Kemi Badenoch: It is currently being drafted. I am happy with the progress, but I do not want to give a date that will only disappoint. It has to be as good as it possibly can be and cover all the elements that we want covered before we publish.
Bell Ribeiro-Addy: Okay. I am just worried about what message the delay might send to the LGBTQ+ community, and I wonder what the Government are doing to mitigate that message.
Kemi Badenoch: The message we are sending is that we are doing this properly—that this is not virtue signalling fly-by-night legislation that will create problems, particularly for that community of people. They need robust legislation, and they need the issue to be closed once we have finished. We cannot continue litigating this over and over again, so they can have confidence that we are doing this properly.
Q24 Chair: Can I just pick up on a couple of points? The intention was for there to be draft legislation by spring 2022, and I think it was in January that we were told that a draft Bill would be published shortly. In March, it is “in due course”. Is “in due course” longer than “shortly”?
Kemi Badenoch: No. In due course, for me, means it is coming.
Chair: It means shortly?
Kemi Badenoch: I am pleased with the progress, but I cannot speak for what previous Ministers—
Chair: And I am not asking you to.
Kemi Badenoch: I can only tell you what I intend to do.
Q25 Chair: The message last time was as soon as parliamentary time allows. Have you asked for the parliamentary time for this legislation?
Kemi Badenoch: Yes. We are making a bid.
Chair: So, you have not. You are making a bid.
Kemi Badenoch: We are making a bid, and the business managers are aware of the fact that a bid is going to be necessary for the fourth Session. However, without them seeing the draft Bill—which is why the draft Bill coming imminently is important—it is very hard to bid properly for the amount of time.
Q26 Chair: Can I be absolutely specific? Will the bid come from the Equality Hub and not from any other Government Department?
Kemi Badenoch: No. That is certainly not my intention. I am the one who owns the process.
Chair: No other Government Department has asked for the time for this legislation.
Kemi Badenoch: No, unless you are referring to the Department for Business and Trade, which I also cover, but this is something that is coming as equality legislation.
Chair: From the Equality Hub?
Kemi Badenoch: Yes
Q27 Carolyn Harris: Women and Equalities is a very wide brief, so obviously you have a handle over everything that concerns women.
Kemi Badenoch: Close. Not quite, but yes.
Q28 Carolyn Harris: What is your role with the Government’s UK Menopause Taskforce?
Kemi Badenoch: We operate a hub and spoke model. Exactly as you have said, equality legislation crosses all Departments. Every single Department has a part to play. That is a DHSC lead. The Minister for Women is very helpfully a Health Minister, so I do not have a direct role. What the hub does is make sure that the principles with which policy is being done are correct according to our data, and we can support them where we can.
Carolyn Harris: You personally have taken no interest at all in the Government’s own UK Menopause Taskforce.
Kemi Badenoch: It is being led by Health. I could take a part in every single taskforce that touched equality, but I would not be able to cover it.
Q29 Carolyn Harris: I will go back to my original question and say that you have responsibility for women right across the social policy spectrum. Menopause is not just a health issue, so why are you not playing a more active role in guiding the Government on menopause policy across every section of social policy?
Kemi Badenoch: Because that is not the way that the Equality Hub works, and that is not the way that I think is best to push that policy forward. Having me join taskforces is not the best use of a Secretary of State. We have looked at this—
Carolyn Harris: We have not wasted your time because we have not met since last June, so you have had plenty of time to—
Kemi Badenoch: We have a hub and spoke model, which is a model about providing data. It is not for me to carry out health policy because it is for women. Women are 50% of the population. There is no single Minister who can do everything. What we do is support other Departments that hold the levers, whether it is on women’s health, women’s employment, women’s education, and so on.
Q30 Carolyn Harris: So you are helping with women’s health. That is brilliant. What plans or work are you doing to make sure that women over 50 can stay and get into work?
Kemi Badenoch: Making sure that women over 50 stay in work is not a menopause issue alone—I would not even say it was a menopause issue primarily. It does have an impact, but we are seeing severe changes in the labour market across all people, both men and women, over 50. As Business Secretary, I would look at the policies that we are putting in place around labour market shortages. That is a role I have picked up only in the last couple of weeks. I know that there is a directorate that looks at that, but I would not start labour market shortages with the menopause.
Carolyn Harris: I did not say labour market shortages; I said women in employment.
Kemi Badenoch: It is a labour market issue.
Q31 Carolyn Harris: One in 10 women leave the workforce because of menopause; four in 10 women reduce their hours because of menopause; 68% of women do not seek promotion because of menopause. Is that not an issue that troubles you, Minister? Do you not think that you have a role to play there?
Kemi Badenoch: It is an issue, but there is quite a lot of work that is being done. You asked about my personal activity. There is quite a lot of work that is being done. DWP leads on some of that; I know that they are hiring a Disability Champion—pardon me, a Menopause Employment Champion.
Carolyn Harris: Menopause is not disability.
Kemi Badenoch: No, I know—I corrected myself. They are appointing a Menopause Employment Champion. They are also doing lots of work around guidance. We had an independent Government report, but the menopause is not a new issue, and it is not something that we are going to solve by creating lots of taskforces. It requires a change of culture. Government have some part to play, as do employers, but if you are referring to the actions that the Select Committee put forward in terms of dealing with this, I just do not think that they would work, so we disagree.
Carolyn Harris: Why?
Kemi Badenoch: It is all in the response that we provided.
Carolyn Harris: It is not. I would not be asking the question if it was in the response.
Kemi Badenoch: The Committee should provide you with the response, which—
Q32 Carolyn Harris: I have the response, but I am asking you the question. Why would you not consider it a special characteristic?
Kemi Badenoch: We did consider that. The answer is for many, many reasons.
Carolyn Harris: Yes, but why? Give me one.
Kemi Badenoch: Carolyn, I need to answer the question, so please do not barrack me. We have so many things that people ask to be protected characteristics: carers, single people, having ginger hair, being short. We have all sorts of things that people ask for as protected characteristics. Creating a new special characteristic for the menopause is a complete misunderstanding of what protected characteristics are: they are immutable characteristics; we have nine of them that cover everyone.
The menopause can be dealt with alongside three existing ones: age, sex and disability, because it is a health condition and many disabilities are health conditions. We have the laws in place. The reason why it is not a good idea is because we would spend a lot of time doing these processes and legalistic things that would make it a protected characteristic, but nothing would happen. It is not a good idea.
I am very sorry, but I just disagree. It is not a good idea. It sounds like a nice idea, but that is not how the Equality Act works. It is a tool for anti-discrimination. It is not a tool for changing particular employment characteristics for women of a particular age. We can deal with those things with existing protections in the Equality Act.
Carolyn Harris: Not for the menopause.
Kemi Badenoch: I disagree. This is a difference of opinion.
Q33 Carolyn Harris: You bring a discrimination case on multiple discriminations, but you cannot combine them. So where in the existing legislation—
Kemi Badenoch: You can run them in parallel.
Carolyn Harris: So why are more women not coming forward and making discrimination cases?
Kemi Badenoch: That is a question that would be better for you to look at than me.
Carolyn Harris: I am not responsible for equalities—you are, as you have just said.
Kemi Badenoch: I am, and I do not agree that the way you want us to tackle the menopause is the way that is going to work. I have given my reasons why making it a protected characteristic will not work. The Equality Act is very good legislation. I even have a list somewhere about all the things that people have asked for in terms of protected characteristics. This is not how to do it.
Q34 Carolyn Harris: Okay, so what about a pilot on menopause leave? Why would you not even consider that?
Kemi Badenoch: I cannot remember the details that we provided in terms of why. We have written to the Committee and we are happy to write to the Committee again. Carrying out a pilot does not need the Government—anyone can carry out a pilot. We spend so much time creating lots of new work for Government to do that we spread our attention thinly and then we miss things. That is not how we will tackle this.
There is already lots of good work that people are doing on the menopause. There have been recommendations that we did accept. There is a lot of good work that is happening in DWP, and I am very happy to support them in doing that, but I do not think we should make it a protected characteristic.
Q35 Carolyn Harris: You talk about the DWP and the emphasis on getting women over age 50 to work. Where are these Menopause Employment Champions?
Kemi Badenoch: I believe that the Minister for Employment is looking into appointing someone, and that will be announced in Parliament very shortly.
Carolyn Harris: That is not a waste of time then, is it? We are doing all these different things across Government, and a Menopause Employment Champion is not a waste of time, but women having a pilot on menopause leave is.
Kemi Badenoch: That would require far more resources than encouraging employers in terms of changing their work culture and demonstrating where the guidance is and lessons learned. We do not need Government to do that. This is a philosophical perspective that we are arguing over. We can go over it until time ends. You are speaking from a left-wing perspective on creating something. I am speaking from a centre-right perspective. I do not think—
Carolyn Harris: I do not think my politics are a matter for this.
Kemi Badenoch: I think it influences the approach that you take. I do not think creating another pilot on more leave is what is going to help women who have the menopause.
Carolyn Harris: If I could just let the Secretary of State know that I did not personally write the report from the Committee. It is a politically mixed Committee—
Kemi Badenoch: I know that it is.
Carolyn Harris: So my politics have absolutely nothing to do with that.
Kemi Badenoch: I do not think that the approach that you are taking is one that a centre-right Government would take—
Q36 Carolyn Harris: So the Committee is left-wing then?
Kemi Badenoch: The Committee is not responsible for policy, Carolyn. I am, and I have said that I do not think this is the right way. The Committee is responsible for scrutiny. I am very, very welcoming to suggestions, many of which we have taken up. This is not one of them.
Q37 Carolyn Harris: You did not take many up from the menopause report. Do you know what you did take up?
Kemi Badenoch: There are many actions that the Committee will recommend that we will take and there are many that we will not take. It is my job to create the policy, and it is your job to do the scrutiny.
Carolyn Harris: Minister, I thank you. I think your commitment to women has been displayed quite adequately this afternoon.
Kemi Badenoch: I think what you are talking about is a disagreement. I will respond to that. We are free to have disagreements on how to deal with the menopause, but that in and of itself is not a display of my commitment to women. I think women know exactly how committed I am to women’s rights. We have a policy difference, and I am sorry that we do, but I will not have my commitment questioned in any way.
Q38 Chair: Can I just ask around the policy difference? Carolyn has highlighted this Committee’s work on looking at menopause as a protected characteristic. You two clearly have a policy difference on that. One of you thinks that it should be, one of you does not. Are you aware what the Committee actually called for?
Kemi Badenoch: The Committee called, if I recall correctly—I remember seeing it; this was something that had started just before I joined, but I remember signing off on the response, although I am not sure I have it in my notes exactly—for it to be a protected characteristic.
Q39 Chair: Let me help you. The Committee called for a consultation on whether the menopause should be a protected characteristic. Might it have been helpful for a formal consultation to happen to look at both sides of the argument?
Kemi Badenoch: We do not need a consultation to do that. Honestly, Caroline, we could spend all our lives doing consultations on new things to add to the Equality Act. I have here accent, obesity, armed forces membership—
Q40 Chair: No, I am not interested—really, please do not feel the need to reel off the list to me. The Government carries out consultations on many issues every single year, some of which they bother to publish the responses to, some of which they do not, such as conversion therapy practices—we are still waiting for the response to that consultation to be published. I am just trying to understand what the specific objection is to a consultation, which would have given you a legal perspective and business perspective. You are the Business Secretary. Was it a cost challenge or is it a philosophical decision of yours and yours alone?
Kemi Badenoch: It is not a philosophical decision, and I was not actually the one who made the response to the recommendation, but I agreed with it. We understand why this is something—
Q41 Chair: Who did the response?
Kemi Badenoch: Caroline, please let me answer the question. We understand why the Committee wants to do this, but constantly looking at what new protected characteristics we can bring in is certainly not something that this Government are going to be doing. We are not bringing in new protected characteristics. If we are not bringing in new protected characteristics, there is no point creating consultations. We have explained what we think protected characteristics are there for.
Chair: You have made your point.
Kemi Badenoch: We think the ones that are there are sufficient, so launching a consultation to do something that we are not going to do would not be a good use of time or resources.
Q42 Chair: That was not your response. Was that Maria's response as Health Minister?
Kemi Badenoch: This is the response I am giving to you now.
Chair: No, you said you did not respond to the Committee’s report.
Kemi Badenoch: The report was already ready to go before I was Minister for Women and Equalities. I was happy with the recommendations that were accepted and not accepted at the time, and I am giving you my view on amending the Equality Act. Deciding to look at amending the Equality Act is a huge decision and, as I have said many times, loads of people want to use it as a tool for different personal agendas and interests. That is not what it is there for. It is anti-discrimination legislation that is a shield to protect people who are at risk of serious discrimination.
Chair: You corrected yourself when you used the term Disability Champion when you meant to say Menopause Champion.
Kemi Badenoch: Menopause Employment Champion.
Chair: Absolutely. We welcome the news that the DWP is speeding up the appointment of that, and you are right, we are expecting that announcement very shortly indeed. You then went on to indicate, however, that you are happy that women should bring discrimination cases using disability discrimination.
Kemi Badenoch: That is an option open to them.
Q43 Chair: Are you happy they are using disability discrimination?
Kemi Badenoch: If people are being discriminated against, they should use all the legal avenues available to them. Why would I not want that?
Chair: I would question, if you yourself acknowledged that menopause was not a disability when you answered—
Kemi Badenoch: I did not say that. I said health conditions in certain circumstances can be a disability.
Chair: Yes, at that point. But you—
Kemi Badenoch: It is not for me—I am not a doctor. I do not think that the menopause—
Chair: Please could you let me ask the question, instead of just talking over me?
Kemi Badenoch: Well, let me finish the first question that you asked.
Chair: When you were talking about the Disability Champion and corrected yourself, you said that menopause was not a disability—very clearly. You said it was not.
Kemi Badenoch: What I said was that health conditions can be. Different people—
Chair: No, that was in response—
Kemi Badenoch: Will you let me answer the question or are you just going to talk over me the entire time?
The menopause is a condition that all women will go through at a particular age, so the menopause is not a disability. However, a particular woman's experience of the menopause, which can be a health condition, can be so extreme as to qualify as a disability. That is how disability legislation works—if you are impaired to a significant degree, you can be classified as that. That is what I mean, and I have not said anything contrary to that. Please do not put words in my mouth.
Chair: I did not. I repeated your words back at you. You are content that women should continue to have to use disability discrimination.
Kemi Badenoch: That is what I said right at the beginning of the question, but you can do so on age, sex or disability. There are three protected characteristics that will allow looking at this issue, so we do not need a new one.
Chair: Okay, thank you.
Q44 Dame Caroline Dinenage: Congratulations on the new role. I am fascinated to know how you envisage you could best combine the responsibilities of Business and Trade and the Women and Equalities agenda to maximise the potential of bringing the two together.
Kemi Badenoch: This is one of the interesting things about how we merged the role of Equalities Minister with different Departments so everybody gets to take a different focus.
Just before I became Business and Trade Secretary, one of the things I was looking at was women in trade. I did some good work with the WTO director general on how women in poorer countries are able to access many of the means that allow them to trade internationally. There is some good work going on there with the international aspect. We do things like helping other countries with gender pay gap reporting.
With the business element, there is a lot more scope to look at what more we can do from a policy perspective. One of the nice things is that, if we look at, for example, our workplace sexual harassment Bill, which is a Government-supported Bill, I have a few more levers to make sure that that legislation can be strengthened in the workplace when it is brought in.
We can look at flexible working practices again to get more women into certain sectors and businesses. A lot of the work is around STEM Returners, which I was doing just from an equality side. I think I have more levers—not complete levers, because of the way that the Department is structured—to look at those issues, and that is what I intend to do.
Q45 Dame Caroline Dinenage: As far as I am concerned, that is a really interesting combination of portfolios. You are uniquely placed to understand some of the massive potential of maximising the skills of everybody, no matter what their background in the workplace.
We have talked about menopause, which is a typical reason some women may leave the workforce, feel that they need to work less or not apply for the promotions that they want, particularly if it is combined with other things such as caring responsibilities. Do you see that part of your role will be to drill down into some of those aspects and understand how the Government can intervene best to make sure that women are supported?
Kemi Badenoch: In terms of what we can do now, the hub has data and some of that data will be able to support different Departments in terms of policymaking. My holding the two roles together means that it will not just be the beginning of the process, where someone says, “Here is some data that we think you can do something interesting with,” and then it depends on the level of time or interest or prioritisation of different Secretaries of State to actually look at those things. Now I can pick the ones that are my priority, and I have the levers.
In terms of challenges, our data shows that childcare is an area significantly impacting women’s employment, and that is not in business. What I would look at is what we can do as the Department for Business and Trade to support the childcare problems that women in the workplace could have. I cannot solve childcare—I am not the Treasury; I am not DfE—but what can we do with employers to perhaps help their staff in terms of managing that sort of issue? That is the kind of lever one can have. Another is on some of the existing bodies, such as the Women’s Business Council or Women’s Enterprise Taskforce. Not all of them will be appropriate, but there will be some that will enable us to push forward certain policies that we think would be helpful in the workplace. I am very keen that we have outcomes, not just initiatives.
There are thousands of good ideas; many of them will deliver only marginal benefits that will be hard to measure, so finding the ones that are really going to be game-changing is the difficult bit—getting good outcomes rather than lots of activity. Lots of activity turns up to use civil servants’ time, but at the end of it, it is hard for us to show what the point of it all was. I am trying to make sure that what we do actually delivers for the average person.
Q46 Chair: Picking up on that and the business role—I am surprised that Caroline did not ask the question because she usually does—when it comes to women starting businesses, or growing and scaling businesses, we know that there is a significant difference between the rate at which men scale businesses and the rate at which women do. We know there are barriers and challenges to women accessing finances. How do you see yourself being able to use the levers of your new Department to beat some of those barriers down?
Kemi Badenoch: I did some work on this when I was in the Treasury. The best lever is looking at some of the support that the British Business Bank already does in this area. There is a lot of work; it is not a neglected area. There is work taking place in this area, and it is just about making sure that we continue to monitor and find out what new things can be done.
The barriers are multiple. Some of them are women’s approach to risk-taking, which can make a difference in terms of returns that people expect in terms of investing. Some of them are just around the usual things that are barriers to women working anyway, as I mentioned, such as childcare. It is about making sure that we create an enabling environment as much as is reasonably possible. We cannot fix everything, but a lot of good work has been done with institutions like the British Business Bank.
Dame Caroline Dinenage: Can I recommend that you look at the work of the BIPC, which comes out of the British Library? It has hubs all around the country, but women-led businesses that are started with support from the BIPC seem to have a much greater chance of survival and longevity, and it has many more businesses led by women and people from different minority backgrounds than in the general population, which seems to suggest it is doing something quite useful.
Q47 Kim Johnson: A couple of months ago, the BBC aired a documentary looking at the disproportionate number of black children who were sent to special schools in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We are seeing parallels of that at the moment in terms of the disproportionate number of black children who are excluded, sent to pupil referral units or put in lower sets. Can you tell me how the Inclusive Britain recommendations are dealing with some of the issues I have just identified?
Kemi Badenoch: This was an area that the Commission spent a lot of time looking at when it first published its report, and it found exactly where the exclusion was happening. It was not black children; it was black Caribbean children. Black African children were actually less likely to be excluded. Most of the policies that it recommended were around family. We have done a family review; we are also looking at things around the criminal justice system that impact the likelihood that people will be excluded. I do not have the specific actions in front of me, but I remember looking at the way that we got young people to plead guilty and the second chance actions, and the way that the criminal justice system would review what was taking place to make sure that these young people did not end up going down the pathway that meant the criminal justice system would be their main interaction with public life. There are actions that the DfE is taking around pupil referral units, and we can write to the Committee on that. There are also actions that the MOJ was looking at, on which we have some updates that I intend to give, probably by the end of this month, in my one-year review.
Q48 Kim Johnson: Can you update us on the 74 actions outlined in the Inclusive Britain strategy? Have the Government started working on them, and how many have been fully completed?
Kemi Badenoch: Let me just check. I will be giving a full update in Parliament later; I have promised to do that. I am quite pleased with the progress that has been taking place around online abuse. The Online Safety Bill has picked up many of those. I think about 20% of them are complete and we expect about 27% to be completed in year one. Those were the statistics that I had, so not the exact number. In terms of what will make a difference, it is not necessarily the number, but the particular actions that will have a big impact. I cannot say too much on that—I hope to do so by the end of the month—but actions have started on everything.
Q49 Kim Johnson: It is good to hear about that. A UN working group of experts of people of African descent recently visited the UK and published its preliminary findings on 17 January. It cited the Inclusive Britain strategy, along with other Government efforts to eliminate racial discrimination, as good practice. However, the working group stated that from the perspective of people of African descent, racism in the UK is structural, institutional, and systematic. How do you respond to that, Minister?
Kemi Badenoch: We strongly reject most of their findings in that area. I actually found the way that the working group viewed African people as a homogenous group to be slightly disturbing. It was a very superficial analysis. I am almost certain they had written the report before they had come here, and they just wanted to confirm what they felt about the UK. I was quite disturbed by their behaviour when they went to a prison asking for things which even I, as a Secretary of State, would not have been able to do, accusing the prison staff of all sorts of heinous things. The fact is that every single country they visited, they found to be racist, and all those countries happen to be western countries. They do not go where there are actually serious problems.
This working group is not one of the best ones that has come out of the UN. I did offer to work with them and provide them with more data, but they were not interested in data. Some of the recommendations they put forwards were about defunding the police and not sending people to prison. It was just not a body that we in this Parliament should be engaging with seriously, given some of the claims that they put forward.
Q50 Kim Johnson: Even though it was a UN working group?
Kemi Badenoch: It is a working group, but it is not one of the formal groups that is properly commissioned by the UN. So no, absolutely not.
Q51 Kim Johnson: The Government committed to publish new guidance for businesses on voluntary ethnicity pay gap reporting by summer 2022. When should employers expect to see that?
Kemi Badenoch: I will update you. I think where we are now is a good place. When I became Minister for Women and Equalities, I looked at what had been done. The answer was not very much, but what is brilliant is that BEIS was looking at it, and that is now within my own Department. That is something that I intend to get out by the end of the month, in my one-year review.
Q52 Kim Johnson: Okay. Why have the Government still not published the response to its consultation on mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting, which closed in January 2019?
Kemi Badenoch: The intention was always to publish it when we published the guidance. Because the guidance has been delayed, the response has also been delayed, but it should come out at the end of this month as well.
Kim Johnson: The end of this month?
Kemi Badenoch: Yes—well, whenever I do the one-year review. The end of this month is my target, but you never know.
Kim Johnson: Okay. I have some questions on human rights.
Chair: Kim, can I bring in Bell, who wanted to follow up one of your earlier questions?
Bell Ribeiro-Addy: No, I think you have answered the question about your views on the UN working group—that you cannot really engage.
Q53 Chair: Can I ask a question on ethnicity pay gap reporting? This time last year, I think there were 14 FTSE 100 companies voluntarily reporting their ethnicity pay gap. As the Secretary of State for Business, what would your ambition be for FTSE 100’s reporting voluntarily?
Kemi Badenoch: I do not think it is for me to tell businesses what they should do. That is one of the reasons I think it should be voluntary. Ethnicity pay gap reporting is very different from gender pay gap reporting. They are not the same thing at all. The purpose of these things is to make sure that companies are identifying issues where there are barriers to people entering the workplace. What we want is to make sure that when they do it, they do it properly. It is easy for people to say they are doing ethnicity pay gap reporting, and what they are doing is junk. Then they will put out data talking about how inclusive they are, when what they are doing is nothing of the sort. I see the role of Government as making sure that data is rigorous and that what people are saying is actually what they are doing. My focus is on encouraging them to do that. If that was what we wanted to do, we would have made it mandatory, which I also think is the wrong thing to do.
Q54 Chair: Have you looked at any of the 14 from the FTSE 100 who are reporting?
Kemi Badenoch: No, I have not looked at the people who are reporting. I have looked at the data and the research on how this kind of reporting is happening. When I did it, that was quite a while ago, so I would not be able to recall the facts. I think some of those companies would have been in there, but I do not have the facts to specifically recall any individual company.
Q55 Chair: As you have not published the guidance, would it be fair to say that you are not really championing voluntary reporting either?
Kemi Badenoch: When we publish the guidance, people will see that we did it properly, rather than just getting an announcement out and moving on to whether it was done appropriately, which would not serve people from ethnic minority backgrounds. I speak as someone who has worked in the corporate sector and has seen lots of junk initiatives being promoted that are meant to pacify ethnic minorities in the workplace. While I am doing this job, I am going to make sure that it is done properly.
Q56 Chair: Can I ask whether you are prepared to look at those 14 companies and give some sort of indication as to whether you think their reporting is junk?
Kemi Badenoch: It is not for me to go in and review what people are doing voluntarily. That is where Government end up spending time doing things it has no business doing. We will set out how we think the reporting should be done.
Chair: Okay. I just think it is worrying to hear you describe their reporting as junk.
Kemi Badenoch: No, I did not describe their reporting as junk. I said in my personal experience, I had seen initiatives where I worked—I did not say it was ethnicity pay gap reporting—about encouraging ethnic minorities that were junk. We need to make sure that people who are doing voluntary reporting are doing things properly. I did not speak about the people who were carrying out ethnicity pay gap reporting. I said I have seen reports of what some people are doing. I think some of it can be better, but I have also seen people selling information about how to do these things which is certainly junk.
Chair: Right. So you have not looked at any of this, but you want to make sure that if it is—
Kemi Badenoch: Caroline, I would really appreciate it if you would stop putting words in my mouth. I need to be able to speak and say things without—
Chair: I just want to clarify. Could you please let me ask the question without us talking over each other?
Kemi Badenoch: Do not put words in my mouth.
Chair: I just want to clarify that you have not looked at any of these specifics—you are not going to look at any of them—but when the Government do it, they are going to make sure that it is done properly. So those 14 will be advised to look at your guidance when it comes out.
Kemi Badenoch: I am sure policy officials will be looking at that.
Chair: Fabulous, thank you.
Q57 Kim Johnson: Minister, how can the EHRC plan and operate effectively when there have been continual delays in setting its budgets in recent years? Can you confirm if they know what their budget is for 2023-24?
Kemi Badenoch: They know what their budget has been for the last year. It has been delayed. That has been a function of multiple ministerial changes. Sadly, the EHRC budget is not within my control. There have been many letters that have been written to numerous Cabinet Office Ministers. I am pleased that the 2023 budget was done in the end and the EHRC are fine with that. We are currently finalising allocations for 2023-24, and we expect the budget of the EHRC to remain at around the same level.
Q58 Kim Johnson: Can you confirm whether you have tasked the EHRC to work with you on the Inclusive Britain report, and have they been given any additional funding to do so?
Kemi Badenoch: I think there was only one action. I cannot remember specifically which one, but anything that we ask them to do, we would make sure they had the funding for.
Q59 Kim Johnson: When the EHRC was reaccredited by the UN, it was recommended that it should have a separate ringfenced budget line. Can you say whether this will happen or not?
Kemi Badenoch: I am not sure about the ringfenced budget line. That is a matter for the Cabinet Office and it would be for Cabinet Office Ministers to report back. I was very pleased with their accreditation because that was not necessarily guaranteed, so they have budgetary independence from us. What I do is lobby on their behalf to make sure they get the money, but I cannot control exactly how it is accounted for.
Kim Johnson: There is an event this evening about black children who were classed as educationally subnormal. I think it would be great if you had time to come along and listen directly to those people who were, and are still, adversely affected by racist practices in the 1970s and 1980s.
Q60 Dame Caroline Dinenage: Thank you very much. Can we move on to talk about the Social Mobility Commission, please? When do you expect to appoint the new permanent chair, and will there be a formal public appointment process?
Kemi Badenoch: Yes. We have an interim chair, who was deemed appointable at the time of recruitment, so it could have been either him or Katharine Birbalsingh. The Minister for Women and Equalities at the time went with Katharine Birbalsingh. I have appointed him as interim chair, and I would like him to be the chair because the recruitment process takes so long. The amount of time we would spend recruiting would not be good for the Social Mobility Commission. My intention is to make a direct appointment, which I do have powers to do, but he is interim chair now.
Q61 Dame Caroline Dinenage: When is that likely to happen?
Kemi Badenoch: I do not know. I have started the process. When would that happen?
Marcus Bell: I would say not very long.
Kemi Badenoch: So, very soon. It is certainly the intention that it will be under the current leadership. We just need to make sure that all the i’s are dotted, and the t’s are crossed.
Q62 Dame Caroline Dinenage: Katharine Birbalsingh told us in November last year that she agreed with former SMC chairs that this should be a full-time role rather than a part-time role. Have you any thoughts on that?
Kemi Badenoch: It would be nice if it could be a full-time role, but the work of the Commission is often very dependent on how much the chair wants and wishes to do. We collaborate with them on a programme of work. At the moment, what we are able to fund and sustain is a part-time role. I think that is one of the reasons why we have commissioners, so the chair is not the only person. We have had co-chairs before to manage that situation. We thought it would be a good situation to have a chair and a deputy chair with Katharine and Alun Francis. That is something we can consider again, but it is certainly not a priority for the Social Mobility Commission.
Q63 Dame Caroline Dinenage: Do you think there are any lessons to be learnt from