§ Mr. Timothy Smith
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what important improvements have been made by his Department since May 1979 in the field of women's affairs.
§ Mr. Newton
During the passing of the Social Security Act 1980, the Government made it clear that they intended to introduce changes relating to the equal treatment of men and women in social security and took powers to make these changes in that Act. Under these provisions women will be able to claim supplementary benefit and family income supplement for their families on the same terms as men; additionally, supplementary pension will he payable to a couple when either partner reaches 65. Provision was also made during 1980 to introduce similar treatment of men and women in the contributory benefits field. It is intended that these changes will be completed by November 1984. In addition maternity grant has been made non-contributory for births from 4 July 1982 and it is expected that about 60,000 more women will qualify each year as a result.
In the NHS all patients, men and women alike, have benefited from the real increase in resources we have allocated for improvements in services. So far as women are concerned we attach particular importance to improving the quality of maternity services. The safety of the mother and child is the first aim but we need a service more sensitive and sympathetic to mothers and their families. To help the NHS to this end we set up the maternity services advisory committee in 1980 to review services. The committee has now published its first report on antenatal care and is preparing its second report on care during childbirth. The report has been commended to all concerned in the provision of maternity services as providing authoritative guidelines of good practice. The Department has also recently commissioned three research projects relating to equal opportunities for women in the NHS.