Baroness King of Bow Tue, 20 Jan 2015 02:12:24 +0000 The website of Oona King en-gb UK: shameful decline in gender equality hurts us all

Economists at the respected World Economic Forum (WEF) have kicked the UK out of the world's top 20 countries for gender equality. Their report in November 2014, The Global Gender Gap, measures something more intriguing than wealth: the gap between men and women's life chances. In other words, how much opportunity in a given country is governed by gender. You won't be surprised Saudi Arabia didn't make the top 20 either.


In 2013 the UK was ranked 18th for gender equality.  In 2014 we fell calamitously to 26th, ranked below Nicaragua, Rwanda, Bulgaria and Burundi.
So what's changed for the UK? Perhaps most dramatically, women have borne the brunt of swingeing budget cuts. Gender lays bare the nonsense of the Bullingdon Boys' claim that "we're all in this together".

According to the same report, average wages for women in the UK fell by £2,700 in a year to £15,400, while the average for men was unchanged at £24,800. But perhaps the WEF is packed with radicalised feminists; in which case let's turn to a different source: the House of Commons Library. Its figures show that the cumulative impact of George Osborne's spending choices since 2010 have hit women a staggering four times harder than men. Whether housing, work-related benefits and tax credits. In every area women have lost more money than men.

The Coalition government has meticulously and systematically removed the safety net for women. Nowhere is this clearer than in the support available for victims of domestic violence. This was shamefully demonstrated in the Legal Aid legislation, which led to the removal of legal aid eligibility for many women fleeing violent partners..

According to one UNESCO report, since the last general election, the funding for local authority support of victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse has been slashed by nearly a third. More than 30 refuges across the UK have closed. The most vulnerable women are forced to walk a tightrope between coercion and violence from their partners - and indifference and abandonment from the state. But it's not just women pushed onto the tightrope.  We push children out there too. We know the safety net has gone. We know they will fall.  We know their emotional development will be smashed to pieces. And we know we'll pay - when it's too late - to pick up the pieces with an extortionate price tag attached.

I led an Opposition Debate in the Lords on November 6th 2014, which set out these disturbing facts. I pressed the Minister to match Labour's commitment to find the immediate funding needed to save refuges that are set to close. Specialist knowledge built up over many years is at risk of being lost, and in too many areas it has already gone, replaced by generic centres without accommodation. If we don't help women escape domestic and sexual violence, we fail on so many levels.

We are slipping down the league of nations, jettisoning decency as we go, normalising violence, entrenching the increased sexualisation of women and girls, emotionally disfiguring boys, and ignoring the need for proper relationship education - another Labour pledge - in our schools. Research now conclusively proves that gender equality is good for the economy. Of course it is. How can you succeed if you abandon half the workforce?

Obviously, I never expected gender equality from the Bullingdon Boys. But nor did I expect them to actually accelerate gender inequality so rapidly. I couldn't imagine them speeding away from Iceland at the top of the gender equality index and motoring in the direction of Yemen at the bottom, as if on a Jeremy Clarkson- inspired car race. But the facts, extraordinary as they are, speak for themselves. That's why all decent men and women in our country should join Labour in supporting the Women's Aid campaign: SOS Save Refuges, Save Lives. It's time to act.

[email protected] (Oona King) Speeches Mon, 10 Nov 2014 13:19:23 +0000
A Coach & Horses comes to Parliament... Mind the gender pay gap!

Today we will see a coach and horses arrive at Parliament. Not so unusual, but on this occasion it will ride through the spirit of change left by the last Labour government. The Equality Act 2010 was a landmark piece of legislation which simplified, strengthened and extended protection from discrimination. One of the most persistent areas of inequality – first addressed by Labour over 40 years ago – is the gender pay gap.

The Equal Pay Act of 1970 sought to remedy the fact that women were systematically paid less than men. Yet last year, instead of narrowing, the gap actually widened slightly by 0.1%. This figure might seem small but not only are we riding in entirely the wrong direction, we are also witnessing significant hidden regional and sectoral variations. In London for example, women are now paid 13% less than men. And across the UK, women in full-time employment in the private sector are paid a staggering 20% less than their male counterparts.

So what is the Coalition government doing to address this blatant discrimination against women that often impacts hugely both on the children they care for, as well as pensioner poverty once they retire? Not a lot.

For a start, they've been dragging their feet over the important regulations contained in the Equality Act on Equal Pay Audits (EPAs). Regulations that finally come before Parliament today.

Such audits are an important mechanism to bring the gender pay gap to light. Essentially, where companies have broken the law around equal pay, EPAs switch the lights on, so employers and employees can see exactly where the problem lies. Cloaking pay structures in darkness (which is why this problem has dragged on so long) doesn't solve anything. It just increases a company's liability at some future employment tribunal. The best companies carry out voluntary EPAs. Most however, don't.

Ministers have decided to exempt micro-businesses (those with less than ten employees) who break the law on equal pay, from carrying out an EPA. Why? It can hardly be a burden on business: how hard is it to look at six or seven pay slips and compare job descriptions?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission estimates that for a business twice that size (20 people) with five job roles, an EPA takes half a day. So for a micro-business we're looking at about two to three hours work. The government is happy (quite rightly) to slap hundreds of hours of community service on individuals who break the law; yet if that individual owns a business and pays women less than men, Ministers are literally proposing that employment tribunals turn a blind eye. Their continued "burden on business" mantra shows they're not willing to lessen the burden on women.

Over a lifetime, the pay gap burden for women in full-time work stands at £361,000. The government's foot-dragging might be less insulting if we were making swift progress. While last Friday’s headline on The Evening Standard was ‘Pay gap widens’, it has been going this way since 2010. UK women are now missing out on an extra £177 a year in their pay packets because the Coalition has failed to make the same rate of progress to close the gap as Labour did in government.

For gender issues in general, the UK ranks 18th in the world – behind the Philippines and Nicaragua. Within this context it is shocking that the UK government takes such a laissez-faire approach towards the systematic under-payment of, and discrimination towards women.

So the air will be laden with irony in the Lords this evening, as we finish the debate on EPAs and move on to consider the ‘regret motion’ brought by former Commons speaker, Betty Boothroyd. The motion regrets that the Prime Minister is paying his Leader in the Lords - a woman, Tina Stowell –less than the man who preceded her in the job, Jonathan Hill.

If a female Leader of the Lords is paid less than her male counterpart, what hope is there for those out in the real world, for the hairdresser, stockbroker, dinner lady or shop assistant? One thing's for certain: that coach and horses will be trampling around Parliament tonight.

[email protected] (Oona King) Speeches Mon, 28 Jul 2014 00:00:00 +0000
British Values: who forced Mr Gove’s u-turn?’s-u-turn.html’s-u-turn.html

I was delighted to speak on behalf of the Labour front bench in the Lords covering an Education debate on “British Values”.  Here’s my take on it:

Who forced Michael Gove into a massive u-turn? In 2007 he said “‘There is something rather unBritish about seeking to define Britishness’. Now he has decided not only to define Britishness, but to legally require every British school to define Britishness and “promote British values”.

Everyone agrees that British values around the rule of law, individual liberty, and tolerance, helped create of one of the world's oldest and most successful democracies. We're less agreed on the recent implication that a better understanding of, say, the Magna Carta, might sort out poor school governance in Birmingham. That's obviously a bit of a caricature, but the point is that shared British values should be instilled by example, not diktat. Moreover it feels like an Orwellian and distinctly un-British approach to do what the Government has done in the wake of the Trojan Horse affair, which is to tar an entire community with language taken from counter-terrorism strategies.

The crisis in Birmingham throws up two key issues that are central to improving our education system. The first is oversight and accountability. The second is ensuring our children get a balanced education, within tolerant, aspirational communities.

On accountability, it's extraordinary that a self-confessed neo-conservative like our Education Secretary (who rails against the tyranny of centrally-planned economies) has devised a school bureaucracy so centralised it would make Lenin proud. If it made Lenin proud and it worked, that would be one thing. But the insanity of the Education Secretary thinking he can run thousands and thousands of schools from a desk in Whitehall has been a shambolic failure.

It’s not just that Mr Gove’s desk was submerged; children and parents were failed. And teachers – while delivering high attainment for their pupils – were abandoned. The minority of schools concerned displayed appalling governance, gender discrimination, homophobia, financial irregularities, and were unduly influenced by a conservative religious minority.

So what's the answer? It's a combination of the following 4 areas:

Firstly end centralisation, and introduce local oversight. That’s what Labour's approach on School Standards Commissioners does. The Tory policy is to introduce 8 regional commissioners – but this system still lacks local oversight, so can’t remedy the current weakness.

Secondly, where discrimination is found, for instance in attitudes towards girls, gay people, or members of particular religious groups, then it’s time to put that great British value into action: uphold the rule of law and enforce the 2010 Equality Act - don't start talking about terrorism prevention strategies instead! That’s why the last Labour Government introduced the Equality Act, because it safeguards basic British values around fairness and individual liberty. And we did it in the face of full-throated opposition from many Conservatives and Lib Dems.

Thirdly we need schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum, and Ofsted should judge schools on their ability to do this, and prevent them offering a narrow or doctrinaire approach.

Fourthly we should urgently reflect on the wisdom of removing the responsibility for schools to promote community cohesion. The Government rejected Labour’s view that this was important, but events in Birmingham show this was a mistake.

So yes, let's learn from our past. The most relevant history however isn't the Magna Carta. It might be important that 800 years ago our baronial forefathers slapped King John about (mainly for their own interests), and put him in his place – a place on the throne which became less divine and fractionally more accountable and democratic. But no, our relevant history isn't from 1215, it's from 2001.

The key finding of the 2001 Cantle Report into the Oldham and Bradford riots was that a failure to integrate education systems placed communities on a collision course. British values around the rule of law, and respect of individual liberty, went up in flames. None of us want that. The current atomised and fragmented system, so beloved of Mr Gove, makes it more likely that schools and communities become isolated. And it puts schools at risk from narrow sectarian interests who can wreak havoc by evading scrutiny.

The Department of Education was alerted to the situation in Birmingham 4 years ago. You can imagine the letter lying unopened on Mr Gove’s cluttered desk, while teachers and children were left alone to deal with intimidation, discrimination and worse.

Let’s hope the Government now does its homework, becomes less ideologically-driven, and puts local safeguards in place to protect children’s education. By all means define and promote British values. But let’s be clear, it was Mr Gove’s laissez-faire values and disregard for oversight and scrutiny that led to this fiasco. It was Mr Gove who forced Mr Gove into a u-turn. 

[email protected] (Oona King) Speeches Wed, 25 Jun 2014 21:46:40 +0000
Keeping the flame alive: the Olympic legacy. My speech to parliament:

Baroness King of Bow (Lab): I begin by declaring an interest as Channel 4’s diversity executive and I am incredibly proud of Channel 4’s legacy as the Paralympic Games broadcaster. I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, about Channel 4’s achievement in changing attitudes towards disability, not least the “Meet the Superhumans” trailer, masterminded by Dan Brooke. It was nothing less than a game-changer. So, too, was the entire legacy promise of London 2012. No previous Olympic Games had ever put legacy at the very heart of the bid. Our legacy promised,

“nothing less than a healthier and more successful sporting nation, open for business, with more active, sustainable, fair and inclusive communities”.

The key question was posed by one of our veteran 2012 medallists, the rower Greg Searle. He said: how do we turn all the national pride generated in all corners of the country into producing not just the next generation of Olympic gold medallists but the next generation of good citizens? How do we inspire a generation, make Britain a more active sporting nation and, through the Paralympics, give every disabled child the same chance of engaging in sport as their able-bodied counterparts? Our report considers those huge questions, and how we can fulfil the legacy before it is too late.

I will start with the most obvious and urgent legacy: a healthier, more active nation. Why is it so important? The answer is simple: it is a matter of life and death. Is this an exaggeration? It is not, especially if you live in Tower Hamlets. I will come to that shortly. The obvious starting point is the well documented obesity epidemic facing Britain. Data from the Health Survey for England show that by 2050 fully one-quarter of young people under 20 will be obese. Today only one-third of boys and one-quarter of girls achieve the recommended 60 minutes’ physical exercise a day. That means that two-thirds of boys and three-quarters of all our girls are setting themselves up for health problems in later life, including but not at all limited to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In other words, they are setting themselves up for premature death.

I am sorry to say that in Tower Hamlets we have already reached the future predicted for England in 2050. Today, on average, women in Tower Hamlets already die 18 years earlier than their counterparts in Richmond. Men in Tower Hamlets can worry a bit less: they die only 15 years earlier than their counterparts in Richmond. You lose approximately a year of life for every stop on the District line as you move from Richmond to Tower Hamlets. In Tower Hamlets, more than one-quarter of all children leaving primary school are clinically obese. If you add together the children leaving primary school in Tower Hamlets who are both overweight and obese, the figure is over 40%.

There are two things that will stop those children dying younger. It is not rocket science—we know what they are. One is increased activity and the other is better nutrition. I will leave better nutrition for another day, although I confess to being slightly obsessed with it, because too often I spend the morning at the school gates in Tower Hamlets watching children eat crisps for breakfast and drink fizzy cola. I will concentrate instead on increased activity and grass-roots participation in sports. That is why the committee’s recommendation to improve PE teaching is so important. In our report we state that,

“PE needs a greater emphasis in the school day … Improving PE is fundamental … and we call on the DfE and Ofsted to take more active roles in making this change happen”.

I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said on this issue. If we need to lengthen the school day, let us lengthen the school day. Surely it is better than shortening children’s lives. I also endorse the excellent report by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, calling on the Government to give PE greater priority in the school curriculum.

It is absolutely critical to improve the link between primary school and secondary school sport. My noble friend Lady Billingham has already spoken about the sad demise of the school sport partnerships. The problem with the current system is that money goes to individual schools but does not support the sporting infrastructure between schools that promotes competitive sport.

A related problem that we have already heard about in some detail is the negative impact on team sports of the “No Compromise” approach. The focus on medals above all else has damaged funding opportunities for team sports. Team sports are the ones that kids are most likely to play—football, netball, volleyball, basketball, rugby and hockey —the sports we all remember playing as kids. They are the sports where you get the most bang for your buck in terms of grass-roots participation. They are the sports kids want to play. These sports will arguably do most to keep the London 2012 flame alive. How perverse would it be for our elite medal quest to reduce the sporting participation of British kids and shrink our sporting talent pool?

I understand that our approach has had huge success and I would be the first to say that I was filled with enormous pride at our medal haul. To come third in the world behind only China and America is extraordinary. The mountain we climbed was perilously steep, as we have heard, from being ranked 36th in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 to coming third overall in London 2012. But the one thing that would be even more extraordinary and make me even more proud of this country would be a 2012 legacy that inspired a fitter, healthier country. It would be seeing Britain climb the league table to become the healthiest and most active country in the industrialised world. It would be to see our children living longer and having more active and meaningful lives.

That is the thing about sport: it creates this magic thing that politicians and policy wonks call social cohesion. We all remember the Oldham riots, where Asians and whites fought running battles in the streets. What was the one thing, the only thing, that the council could find that represented a bridge between the two communities? It was football, and that is because sport is a universal language.

London 2012 also made sport more inclusive, particularly for disabled athletes, as we have heard, but also for women. Women in the Olympics have come a long way. The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, is similar to many great men in history. His achievements were, well, great—and his belittlement of women was even greater. At the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, which de Coubertin arranged, 245 men took part, representing 14 countries, competing in 43 events. No women took part because de Coubertin said their presence would be,

“impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect”.

You wonder what he would have said about the Paralympics; it does not really bear thinking about.

In 1912, women were allowed to compete in swimming for the first time, but none of those competing was from the USA, because the USA banned its women from entering events without long skirts. I am not talking about Saudi Arabia; I am talking about the USA. That illustrates how far we have come. We have come so far, in fact, that, today, the words “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect” would probably be a fair way of describing our men’s football team in London 2012, but not our women. I salute all the British women who performed so magnificently and I look forward to the Minister securing equality of funding for women’s sports.

On the subject of fairer funding, we should also look at who gets to represent Britain in the first place. Elite sport is dominated by those who are privately educated—that should not be such a surprise, because everything is dominated by those who are fortunate enough to have a private education—but it is still staggering, even though we know that that is real world, to find, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, first pointed out to me, that more than 50% of the medals won in 2012 went to British athletes who were privately educated. Why should we get so exercised about that? Well, it is about the talent pool, stupid, because that means that more than 50% of our sporting talent is drawn from less than 7% of our population—the 7% of British children who go to private schools.

I have raised some of the problems affecting children growing up in very disadvantaged areas. These problems, which lead to nothing less than premature death, require structural change. One small yet decisive structural change in government that would support London’s 2012 legacy is our committee’s proposal to have a Minister for the Games Legacy. I have one simple question for the Minister: what could harm could it do? It could no harm, yet it could secure immeasurable good. It would make current plans more coherent; it would give added impetus at a government level. It would cost nothing—zilch, zip, nada—not even a newly minted 12-sided pound coin, not even a threepenny bit. If it is so cheap at the price, why are the Government so resistant to considering it? It would be fantastic to get a considered reply and not just a restatement of government policy, although experience tells me that that is probably the most the Minister will be able to achieve—but I live in hope.

As our report states, and as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who so ably chaired the committee, stated, we hunted for white elephants but we did not find them. What we found, despite the resounding success of London 2012, were myriad missed opportunities. Some were modest, some were galactic—such as the missed opportunity immediately to harness the enthusiasm of the volunteers—but the biggest missed opportunity would be a failure to nurture increased sporting participation. Given the link between sport and social cohesion, between sport and good citizenship, and between sport and living longer, it would be an unforgivable failure of the promise of 2012 if that legacy was not realised. I therefore urge the Minister to heed the report, which states:

“We are unconvinced that the Government’s current oversight arrangements represent a robust way to deliver the legacy”.

For that reason, I ask the Minister to give a more positive response to the committee’s well researched and evidenced recommendations than we have thus far received.

[email protected] (Oona King) Speeches Wed, 19 Mar 2014 20:10:54 +0000
My speech to Parliament January 9th 2014 – on the need for affordable childcare.–-on-the-need-for-affordable-childcare.html–-on-the-need-for-affordable-childcare.html

Baroness King of Bow (Lab): My Lords, I thought I would start with a reflection on what a strange breed working mothers are. All you really need to know about us is that we never sleep and continually stress over childcare. Between 1 am last night, when I gave the baby his last feed and started jotting down a few notes for this speech, and 5 am this morning, when my husband got up to feed him, I was woken six times. I have four children so I have no one else to blame but myself. It is my bed and I made it; I just wish I could lie in it, but that is a problem entirely of my own making.

What is not a problem of my own making is that when I drag myself out of said bed and complete several school runs, as I did this morning, and when I finally arrive at my two year-old’s nursery, I find that I must pay £1,100 per month if I want her to go full-time, five days a week. Despite the fact that I am, by definition, extraordinarily privileged because—look—I am standing in this gilded Chamber as a Member of Britain’s most prestigious LinkedIn group, the fact remains that I cannot afford £1,100 a month. So my daughter does not go full time; she goes half time—two and a half days a week. For that I pay £660 a month.

When I previously had two pre-school children, the cost for me to place them in the local children’s centre was £880 per child, or £1,760 per month. That is why, as my noble friend Lady Prosser said, once you have two pre-school kids it is simply impossible for most people to afford that childcare. At the time I had what most people would consider to be a really good job. I was senior policy adviser to the Prime Minister but still I could not afford to spend £1,760 a month on childcare. So I left Downing Street and got a job where I could afford more childcare. So what? Who cares? My point is this: if you are a woman working in the Prime Minister’s Office and your employment choices are governed by the lack of affordable childcare, then you know that women with fewer resources and fewer networks have no chance at all of being able to pay for childcare out of their salary. They are forced to stay at home or make arrangements for their children that put those children at risk and do not take care of them.

Many others can hold down a job only if they have a sympathetic boss. Working mothers and working parents, therefore, often become unfairly beholden to the individual views of their boss. I was in a situation—a lot of us have been—in which I had a sympathetic boss. My boss in Downing Street was, after all, the first Chancellor and then Prime Minister to recognise the importance of massively increasing funding for childcare. He recognised that it was a national investment, as important in terms of infrastructure—certainly to women—as, say, transport.

Notwithstanding that, when I arrived at the local childcare centre that I mentioned and found a sign on the gate saying, “Closed due to staff sickness”, I felt sick in my stomach because I was due to have my first one-to-one briefing with the Prime Minister on my policy area. It was Sod’s law. I arrived in Downing Street with a 16 month-old on my hip and was shown in to see Gordon Brown, who had a face like thunder. To be fair, he often has a face like thunder, so I was not entirely sure if it was because I had a baby on my hip. However, I knew that I would not be pleased if a member of my staff turned up with a baby on their hip for a meeting. The baby started to cry, I was jiggling him and when I turned back, Gordon had disappeared. I thought, “Oh my God! He’s just walked out and is going to sack me. He is outraged and I do not really blame him that much”. Then his head popped out from the side of his desk. He was on his hands and knees and he said, “Maybe your son will like this little train set. My sons play with it”. He pushed it round and round for 10 minutes, and then said, “I think he’s settled now; we can get down to business”.

The point is that even though he was a sympathetic boss, let me get away with bringing the baby into the office, presided over a sea change in funding for childcare, and created and funded Sure Start, the fact is that now we see the gains falling back. Too often we see Sure Start being used as a political football or, indeed, not being used at all. When Labour was in power, Michael Gove said, “The Tories may well be wary of Sure Start because they believe it is the nationalisation of childcare”. If childcare is affordable and of high quality, I frankly do not mind who provides it, whether it is the voluntary sector, the private sector or the state. In reality, it is only the Government who can ensure that affordable, quality childcare is available to all children who need it. I thought that the point made by my noble friend Lady Prosser about the role that trade unions have played in providing childcare was important. I am reminded of the school run that I do each morning. Every day I pass a small blue plaque at the bottom of my street saying that this is where Sylvia Pankhurst set up the first crèche for working women—those otherwise known as the matchstick girls. Of course, times have changed since then, but not enough. Although we have poured in that money—and I recognise some of the very important points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin—we need to be smarter about how we invest it. We need to do as well as or better than our European competitors. However, I imagine that as well as spending the money more smartly, if we are to deal with all those children—and parents—who need childcare we are also going to have to bite the bullet and invest more.

This is where we come to the nub of this debate. What is the case for increasing access to affordable childcare? We have the economic case and we know that it is worth £15 billion to £23 billion per annum to the Exchequer, but what is the social case? In my few remaining minutes, I want to talk about how childcare impacts on tackling inequality and on improving social mobility, and how it can also improve parenting across social classes. I hope that we will also take note of the early intervention debate and how we can improve outcomes.

Let us remember that childcare is first and foremost about care of the child, and the best way to take care of children who would otherwise be at risk is to invest in their early years. I want to quote briefly from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, which has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. It says that,

“by age 3, there are already large gaps in cognitive and other areas of development between children with high-income or well educated parents and those with low-income or less well educated parents. These gaps get harder and more expensive to tackle as children get older”.

The point is that if we cannot come to a political consensus in this country that we need to invest in this area then we will just spend more and more of our money at the other end of the system in crisis, and that is not an intelligent way for us to spend our money. The OECD has stated that greater spend and higher enrolment in early education is correlated with increased social mobility. Universal, affordable and high-quality childcare helps in two ways. First, it lifts maternal employment rates and, secondly, it improves child development for the most disadvantaged children. I hope that we will note the report of the Early Action Task Force, entitled The Deciding Time—Prevent Today, or Pay Tomorrow, which reinforces those points.

In summary, investment in early years education and childcare is possibly the single most effective policy that government can implement. That is why I am proud of Labour’s vision on this issue, and I am glad to hear that we may have cross-party consensus here. However, over the long term what we need is more radical than what we have heard mentioned. Over the long term, we need free universal pre-school childcare. As Labour’s shadow Minister for Childcare, Lucy Powell MP, has stated, there is a clear economic argument for it: it will pay for itself over time.

Therefore, my only question for the Minister is a big, overarching one: does she agree with Labour—and, by the sound of it, the Liberal Democrats—that in the long term we must deliver free universal pre-school childcare? I hope that she does. I would certainly get a bit more sleep at night if she were able to consider that.

[email protected] (Oona King) Speeches Thu, 06 Feb 2014 08:39:47 +0000
Democracy for the next generation Democracy for the next generation

The Battle to Engage: Renewing democracy for the next generation

It’s time to re-write the compact between people and politicians, citizen and state. This means genuinely embedding democracy in our current governance structures, and inventing new ones that give more power to the people, and in particular young people. By redistributing influence we tackle entrenched inequality, and help build stronger communities. Our task is complicated by a globalised world, with a churning population, that makes it harder to build cohesive communities – and easier to stir up hate.

Managing diversity and building social cohesion are key challenges of our time. As people feel greater insecurity, witness widespread change, and feel less control over their lives, they become either despairing or angry, and withdraw from the democratic process. These days, democracy-rage drives people insane: the rage against those in charge, the inability to pin them against the wall, and the conviction that politicians just don’t care.

Both politicians and people must change. Modern democracy was founded on the principle of ‘no taxation without representation’. But in the 21st century, representation isn’t enough – and it certainly won’t coax people into voting. Even if it did, voting alone won’t breathe life into our democracy. The lesson we are learning is that there can be no real democracy without effective engagement. And there will be no future for democracy if we don’t persuade young people to engage. It’s not about magic wands and quick fixes – only a genuinely participative democracy will do.

[email protected] (Oona King) Young People Fri, 12 Jul 2013 09:37:09 +0000

Asked by Baroness King of Bow

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many households, broken down by local authority, are currently in receipt of benefits totalling more than £500 per week, but are exempt from the Household Benefit Cap on the basis of their entitlement to Disability Living Allowance.[HL1371]

Lord Freud: A Local Authority breakdown of the number of households currently in receipt of benefits totalling more than £500 per week, but are exempt from the Household Benefit cap on the basis of their entitlement to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), will be placed in the library.

Please note DLA claimants are exempt from the benefit cap. From the data available in May 2013, we estimate an additional 47,000 households would potentially be brought into scope of the benefit cap if this exemption did not apply and by virtue of other benefits being claimed. This estimate references those whose only reason for exemption from the cap is that either the HB claimant, their partner or a dependent child in their household receives DLA. Please note that it includes those in the scope of both the £500 and £350 benefit cap limits.

Please note that household numbers are rounded to the nearest 100. Areas with fewer than 100 households affected are denoted by “..”, as additional disclosure control has been applied to these areas.

The benefit cap is being applied through a phased implementation which commenced on 15 April 2013 in Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey. National implementation of the benefit cap commences 15th July and by the end of September 2013 all appropriate households will have been capped.

Estimates assume that the situation of these households will go unchanged, and they will not take any steps to either work enough hours to qualify for Working Tax Credit, renegotiate their rent in situ, or find alternative accommodation.

The Department has made extensive contacts with households who are likely to be affected by the cap and we are offering advice and support through Jobcentre Plus, including, where appropriate, early access to the Work Programme before the cap is introduced.

[email protected] (Oona King) Written Questions Wed, 10 Jul 2013 00:00:00 +0000
A stronger London means a stronger UK A stronger London means a stronger UK

My latest speech in Parliament

 Baroness King of Bow (Labour)

This report sets out the role that financial autonomy can play in driving economic growth. A greater tax base for London means a greater incentive to promote growth and, as the report’s conclusion states, this would be good news not just for London but for the whole country. It is amazing to consider that New York keeps over 50% of taxes levied there, yet London keeps only 7%. London needs to be freed up to compete with the other leading global cities.

On the whole, it is fair to say that I am not a huge fan of this Government’s economic policy—it seems to have almost pushed us into a triple-dip recession—and therefore I am not known for quoting its key architect, George Osborne, but perhaps I may change the habit of a lifetime and quote him very approvingly. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that, “under the right conditions, fiscal devolution has the potential to increase the financial accountability of local government and promote additional growth”.

I was also very impressed by the three tests the Chancellor of the Exchequer set the commission, which my noble friend Lord Harris has already quoted. His proposal was that whatever the commission came up with, its recommendations should be judged against three tests; namely, whether they were evidence-based, whether the proposals had cross-party support and whether they were without detriment to the rest of the UK. Those are excellent tests and I am sure that we would all like a lot of legislation to be benchmarked against them, especially in the current climate.

However, the real issue is how we are going to deal with a huge and growing city, and support growth in London. It is estimated that the infrastructure spend required to support London and allow it to thrive will need to be about £75 billion by 2020. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I feel strongly that housing is one of the most important aspects of infrastructure, although it is not always technically considered to be infrastructure, along with transport and so forth.As regards housing, the London Finance Commission states:

“Measures to shift public funding from personal subsidy to investment in built assets should be further explored”.

I have argued for that since I became an MP many years ago. The London Finance Commission has put that in very polite terms but the lack of affordable housing in London presents a massive, ongoing crisis. London workers need somewhere to live. Not everyone can commute into London, especially those on modest incomes which do not allow for the cost of the commute. If we do not have that investment in bricks and mortar, only the very rich, or the very poor in whatever social housing is left available, will be able to live in the capital city. That will inhibit growth for our capital, and that is putting aside for one moment the moral obligation that I think is there as well. Therefore, as has been stated, one way in which to resolve the issue is to move from individual subsidy to bricks and mortar. I trust that the Minister will press the Government to look at this issue with urgency.

While I am on housing, I cannot help but comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said. He decries the concept of more government but is concerned about rough sleepers. The biggest drop in the number of rough sleepers was under the leadership of Louise Casey who was tasked with reducing rough sleeping. Although she is one of the most innovative civil servants you will ever come across, even she would admit that a lot of her success was down to the fact that investment was quadrupled. A laissez-faire approach is the last thing that will reduce the number of rough sleepers on our streets. This cross-party report clearly argues that such an approach is also the last thing that will deliver a high-level investment plan for London.

The report essentially argues for a more grown-up relationship between London and central government. It argues that London needs greater freedom to borrow. Most critically, that would be subject to London’s own self-discipline. It is only where that self-discipline is proven that such freedom should be granted.

In summary, we do not want a city state. We want a world city which will support the growth of the whole of the UK. I believe that that is what this report sets out. It provides the framework for that and I sincerely hope, notwithstanding the politics between the Mayor of London and the Prime Minister, that this report will be acted upon.

[email protected] (Oona King) Blog Wed, 03 Jul 2013 00:00:00 +0000
Sex and Relationship Education

   Sometimes there’s so much casualised sexism – at home, at work, in the media, in the street – that you either feel completely overwhelmed by it, or (maybe even worse) just let it wash over you.  That’s why I was thrilled to present Laura Bates with an award recently for the fantastic work she is doing to highlight the sexism that creeps in everywhere.  One way to address the issue would be to have more effective sex & relationship education at school.  In the Lords this week I raised the fact that one-third of British 16-18 year old girls experience unwanted sexual touching at school.

You can click here to read the full debate during Oral Questions, or click here to read Laura’s excellent article in the Huffington Post.   I’m pleased the minister has agreed to meet with me and Laura, so that we can impress on him the urgency required to tackle this issue.  Girls need to be taught that they deserve respect in relationships, and that unwanted and abusive relationships are unacceptable.  Boys need to be encouraged to bring out the best in themselves – this is particularly true in an age of social media and widely available online pornography, which distorts the real value of relationships.  When 80,000 British women are raped every year, we know something’s gone very wrong… and we need to take proactive steps to tackle it.

Asked by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that all children have access to sex and relationship education, focusing particularly on the responsible use of the internet and social media.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): My Lords, sex and relationship education is compulsory in maintained secondary schools. As part of that education, we expect that pupils will learn to develop positive values and a moral framework that will guide their decisions, judgments and behaviours in all areas of life. The Government agree that responsible use of the internet is very important. We are introducing e-safety as part of the national curriculum in primary schools and this will be reflected in the new computing programmes of study at both primary and secondary levels.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure that we all share the growing alarm at the evidence of young people using illegal internet pornography sites to learn about sex and then attempting to replicate it, including using social media, to put pressure on young girls to act out those roles, sometimes with absolutely devastating consequences. Obviously, this needs a cross-departmental approach in, for example, persuading the internet providers to behave more responsibly. However, does the Minister accept that the department needs to give more urgent leadership to schools on this matter? Does he, for example, accept that sensitive and personal issues around internet safety cannot be taught effectively in IT classes and that it needs specifically trained teachers? Does he also accept the need for all young people, from an early age, to learn about peer pressure and how to resist it, as well as how to have a positive body image, and to understand what makes a healthy relationship so that they can avoid exploitation and abuse in the future?

Lord Nash: I certainly share the concern of the noble Baroness. Young people should not be using pornography to learn about sex. Pornography does not place sex in the context of relationships. I can assure her that the Government are taking a very firm stance on this issue.

We have been working across the department since 2010 with internet businesses, charities and other experts through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety to find the best ways to minimise children’s access to potentially harmful online content and very good progress is being made. Trained teachers should be able to teach issues of internet safety effectively in computing classes, and there will be resources to support them in this. There are also organisations—such as CEOP, the PSHE Association and Teen Boundaries—that can provide resources and advice. However, I agree that we need to improve the focus on this area through teaching, schools and ITT providers, and I agree with her last point that the statutory guidance on sex and relationship education makes absolutely clear that schools must focus on these areas.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the link that Ofsted identified in its report last year between bullying—in particular, internet bullying—and the success of a school’s PSHE programme? Given that link, and given the duties that schools, as public bodies, have in relation to the Equality Act,

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does not my noble friend think that PSHE should be compulsory in the national curriculum and not just advised?

Lord Nash: I know that the noble Baroness and I appreciate the importance of PSHE, but it is not this Government’s intention to make it compulsory. This Government trust schools and teachers to tailor their PSHE support to the particular circumstances in a school, which vary enormously. There are plenty of resources to enable them to do this, and all good school have an excellent PSHE programme.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: Does the Minister agree that giving advice about where to get help is important in health and relationship education? What support is being given for access to school counselling and to organisations such as Brook and the FPA, which give advice to young people? I declare an interest as president of Brook.

Lord Nash: SRE guidance makes clear that pupils should know how to access support, counselling and advice, and we will expect all schools to ensure that pupils are aware of the available health services and expert organisations, such as Brook and the FPA. We acknowledge the value that these organisations contribute.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, will the Minister go a little further in explaining why the Government believe that, in terms of the curriculum, a very heavy top-down approach is okay in teaching history, but PSHE is seen as optional? Surely the Minister could talk to, for example, the Lords spiritual about the way that church schools in counties such as Lancashire view PSHE as being even more important than the bits of detail in history education?

Lord Nash: I am aware that church schools are very good at pastoral care. However, this Government take the position that being a child in the modern world is a very complicated situation. For some children in some schools, gang issues are very important. In other schools it may be forced marriages. We trust our teachers to tailor their advice to the particular circumstances of their pupils.

Baroness King of Bow: I understand the Minister to be saying that he wants to put trust in schools, and I agree with that. Will he also trust the experience of young girls? One third of British girls between 16 and 18 experience unwanted sexual touching at school, and 80,000 British women a year are raped. Will the Minister not agree, therefore, with the view that this subject should not be optional and that it must be studied at school? At the very least, will he agree to meet with me and members of the Everyday Sexism Project, which has documented the scale of this terrible problem?

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Lord Nash: Nobody wishes to deny the importance of the points that the noble Baroness makes. I will be delighted to meet her, and I would like to understand more about this issue.

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, given that, it seems, everyone who has asked a question today agrees that teachers are the best people to deliver specific sex and relationship advice to their pupils, when were the guidance notes on best practice in schools updated?

Lord Nash: The most recent guidance is from Ofsted, which recently introduced a very good report. Part B of that report contains some excellent recommendations on best practice. They flag up a number of very useful resources available to teachers, including the Sex Education Forum.


[email protected] (Oona King) Oral Questions Tue, 18 Jun 2013 00:00:00 +0000
Schools: Sport

Asked By Baroness King of Bow

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to increase sports activities in schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): My Lords, the Government are providing £150 million for each of the academic years 2013-14 and 2014-15 to be distributed to every state-funded school with primary age pupils. This funding will be ring-fenced and must be spent on improving the provision of physical education and sport. Schools using this funding will be reviewed by Ofsted. The funding will complement efforts across Government which will ensure that all children enjoy opportunities to take part in sporting activities. We are also spending up to £166 million on the School Games.

Baroness King of Bow: Is the Minister aware that the Prime Minister has lamented the fact that elite sport is dominated by those with a private education? This happens because private schools have hockey masters, rugby masters, cricket masters, and so on, who can spot and develop talent. Is he further aware that state schools can do that only if they create the infrastructure by pooling resources essentially to do the same thing? Incidentally, that is what the school sports partnerships do. Will the Minister come to Tower Hamlets Youth Sport Foundation to see how the borough's schools are pooling resources so that everyone can continue to keep the Olympic legacy alive and have the chance to do more sport in schools?

Lord Nash: I would be delighted to come to Tower Hamlets to do that. The noble Baroness may be pleased to know that, in addition to the four free schools we already have opening in Tower Hamlets, several more will probably be approved shortly. She makes a very good point about independent schools. The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference is working on a scheme for co-operation between private schools and primary schools and King Edward's School in Birmingham is developing a scheme and looking for other schools to do the same.

Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, sports and activities are incredibly important for disabled children and some very pleasing figures have been released in Wales today in the aftermath of the Games which show that participation among disabled people has risen. Has the Minister given any possible consideration 
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to whether sports provision could be cemented within the educational plans as proposed in the new Bill? It is much more cost effective than therapy and it would be a perfect opportunity to help change the fitness and health of disabled people.

Lord Nash: One of the best ways to celebrate and encourage disabled pupils is to celebrate the success of our Paralympians, including that of the noble Baroness, who won 11 gold medals, four silver and one bronze. It is central to our curriculum that all children enjoy sport at school. We have provided £300,000 to Sport England for disability sport to encourage wider participation in sport among children and of course the School Games are open to all participants. We have also been involved in a number of other measures.

Lord Higgins: My Lords-

Lord Addington: My Lords-

Lord Higgins: Thank you. I was going to give way. I declare an interest as patron of Herne Hill Harriers. Does my noble friend agree that far too many people give up sport when they leave school and that it would both encourage the general standard of sport in schools and encourage people to continue sport after school if more schoolchildren joined outside sports clubs before they left school? Will he see whether the department can do something to encourage this?

Lord Nash: My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend. I would like to see all our children doing sport every day. The Department of Health has funded the Change4Life sports clubs. We aim to establish 13,500 clubs in schools by 2015. We also aim to have 6,000 partnerships between schools and local sports clubs by 2017 by providing funding for the national governing bodies of the various different sports. A number of other measures are also in place.

Baroness Billingham: Is it not the case that one-third of schools have reported a decline in sports participation in the past two years? They report that this is due to a cut in funding and to timetable pressure. Michael Gove has much to answer for. Given the dire warnings, how do the Government intend to deliver the promised Olympic legacy of a new sporting generation?

Lord Nash: The latest Taking Part survey shows that the number of 11 to 15 year-olds participating in sport increased significantly in the six months to September 2012, from 86% to 94%. The school sport partnerships were expensive and patchy in their delivery. We have announced £65 million to release PE teachers to help primary school pupils, in addition to the funding that I mentioned earlier.

Lord Addington: My Lords, there is a great deal of consensus that if we want school-age sport to follow on to adult activity we must involve clubs at an early stage, as my noble friend suggested. Will the Minister give me an assurance that in future, if any changes are 
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made to the interaction between a club and a school, all those involved will be publicly consulted to make sure that the changeover does not take anybody by surprise and that we keep as much expertise as we have gathered so far?

Lord Nash: I am reluctant to give my noble friend that assurance here and now, but I am very willing to discuss this with him further to see whether we can do whatever we can to alleviate his fears.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the effective use of the money that has been set aside for sport depends on the continued willingness of teachers-not just dedicated PE teachers but other teachers-to support sports activities outside the normal school curriculum and timetable? Will he take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the teachers who put a lot of their own time into making sure that children are able to take advantage of sporting opportunities when they arise?

Lord Nash: I agree entirely with the point made by the noble Baroness and will take this opportunity to pay tribute to teachers. The House has heard me say before that I regard teaching as the most noble of professions. All good schools provide a comprehensive range of sports during and after the school day and we are keen to send a message to all schools that we expect them to do the same.

Lord Woolf: My Lords, does the Minister think that it is important to extend the very broad approach that he is adopting to the use of sport to the criminal justice field, and in particular young offenders? Is this a matter that he discusses with the Ministry of Justice?

Lord Nash: I agree with the noble and learned Lord's point. We have approved a number of alternative provision schools that cater for young people who have been involved in the criminal justice system. They are particularly keen on activities, including sport.

[email protected] (Oona King) Oral Questions Mon, 20 May 2013 00:00:00 +0000