HC Deb 21 February 1989 vol 147 cc588-9W
Mr. Cohen

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will describe his Department's principal achievements in respect of race relations and equal opportunity since May 1979.

Mr. Moore

In the employment field my Department has implemented many of the recommendations of the joint review of policies and procedures on race relations in the Civil Service (1983) and the programme of action for women (1984), through its network of equal opportunities officers established in 1985. The more significant initiatives on race equality which have been carried out include:

  1. (a) participation in the phased programme of departmental ethnic surveys of staff which was completed last year with the then DHSS response rate averaging 75 per cent.,
  2. (b) the introduction of ethnic monitoring of recruitment in 1987 when early surveys indicated a shortfall in ethnic minority recruits compared with the ethnic minority working population; positive action in recruitment such as the use of ethnic media to attract ethnic minority recruits,
  3. (c) participation (as one of four departments) in an OMCS initiative in London and the south-east to provide access training for potential executive officer recruits from ethnic minority groups,
  4. (d) a study in 1987 of ethnic monitoring of promotion which is being followed up this year with further monitoring of promotion and job allocation, and
  5. (e) the commitment to sponsor a Windsor fellow in 1990.

With regard to sex equality, my Department has seen an increasing number of women progressing to middle and senior management grades—about 16 per cent. of SEOs and above are women. Encouragement is also given to part-time working and job sharing with 6 per cent. of staff now working part time—over 5,500 officers. Improved special leave provisions have specifically targeted help for single parents and those caring for elderly or infirm relatives and a keeping in touch scheme was introduced in 1988 which allows preferential reinstatement for people who have to take a break from work for domestic reasons. In the area of child care, care parent and holiday play schemes assist staff working at the Department's Newcastle office and further holiday play schemes are planned for 1989. My Department also runs a successful management development course for women in grades HEO to grade 7.

As far as benefit policy and service provision and concerned ethnic origin is not relevant to entitlement to benefit. There has been a continuing programme to ensure that social security legislation conforms with the requirements of the relevant Community directives on equal treatment for men and women in statutory and occupational schemes. Thus, clause 19 and schedule 3 of the Social Security Bill currently before this House will, if Parliament passes it, implement Council directive 86/378/EEC.

As far as means-tested benefits are concerned, income support and its predecessor, supplementary benefit, have been available to men and women on exactly the same conditions since November 1983. Prior to this date only the male partner of a couple could claim benefit.

My Department has recognised the particular problems faced by members of ethnic minorities in claiming benefits and has developed a range of measures to assist them. The more important initiatives include:

  1. (a) publication in six Asian languages and Turkish, of the leaflet "Which benefit?", which covers the whole range of social security benefits,
  2. (b) a free telephone advice and information service in Urdu and Punjabi,
  3. (c) training courses for local office staff which are designed to equip them to serve successfully a multi-racial community,
  4. (d) an interpreter/liaison service in Bradford, and
  5. (e) signs and posters to help ethnic minority callers in local offices and public areas.

Model guidance on equal opportunities implications of policy proposals, recommended by the ministerial group on women's issues, covers race and sex discrimination and has been extended in my Department to include disability issues. This guidance will shortly be circulated to divisional heads and this will direct attention to equal opportunities issues in all areas of the Department's business.