By 2030, 3 million women will stand to gain, on average, £550 more per year as a result of the recent reforms. The DWP has produced an estimate for keeping the state pension age at 60 for women and 65 for men, and that estimate assumes that state pension continues to be uprated at least at around average earnings going forward. The reality is that the Government’s reform has been focused on maintaining a balance between sustainability of the state pension and fairness between the generations, in view of the demographic challenges. My retirement age is 67. The Government have already introduced concessions costing £1.1 billion.
The Government’s position on the changes to the state pension age has been clear and consistent, and there are substantial problems with the various practical alternatives offered by different voices.
I understand what the hon. Lady is saying. We have an older workers champion, who is working with employers, in both the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and that links into the industrial strategy. As Employment Minister, I am keen to tackle the stigma around older workers and the feeling that it is better to be retired than on benefits or not working. For me, this is about equality and opportunity. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), people can have the best part of their career later in life.
As I have set out, we have the enhanced Through the Gate service specification, but I am more than happy to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend. I would be interested to know a little bit more about the particular project to which he referred.
In addition to the Through the Gate service, I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware of the social impact bond. In June of last year, we published our strategy for female offenders, setting out our vision and a plan to improve outcomes for women in custody and in the community. Like her, I am keen to do all that we can to help women who are leaving custody.
The hon. Lady will have heard what I just said about the new training programme, but it is part of a wider policy framework. In particular, there is work on the Lord Farmer review to improve family ties for female offenders and a further investment of £5 million for community provision. My experience last week at Her Majesty’s Prison Eastwood Park taught me a lot about how women can help each other and support each other through the process, which can often be a very traumatic time for them.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that important point. As I have said, the roll out of the new POWER scheme is going to be very important in terms of giving prison officers the tools they need to help support women with mental health needs. I do think that our overall strategy is now translating into real change, with the key worker scheme allowing prison officers to work with individual prisoners to identify their needs, so there is progress, but I accept that much more needs to be done.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, because domestic violence clearly impacts the whole of family life, and there is evidence that children are also affected. We need to ensure that there are no legal barriers to sharing data to protect children or vulnerable adults, and we need to ensure that the £8 million we are spending will help those children recover from domestic violence.
I am extremely grateful, as always, to the hon. Lady for her kind invitation. Sadly, I am not sure that, as a Minister, I am allowed to join an all-party group, but I very much look forward to learning from its work. Of course, if it ever wished to invite me to a meeting, I would be happy to accept the invitation.
I do; I hope the hon. Lady understands that I cannot comment on a particular case at the Dispatch Box, but that is why we have the destitute domestic violence concession—to give immediate crisis support to victims of domestic abuse whose residency status depends on the partner who may well be abusing them.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Only last week, when I visited a domestic abuse refuge in the area around Preston in Lancashire, I heard for myself the particular needs of women in the area who have no recourse to public funds. The Bill’s purpose is to provide a statutory definition and so on, to help all victims of abuse, regardless of their immigration status, but of course this matter may well be scrutinised by the pre-legislative Joint Committee of both Houses. We very much welcome that.
We are very conscious of the additional pressures women in the asylum system face, particularly if they are in the system through family visas, where, sadly, we know there are cases where the perpetrators of the violence are the people on whom they rely for their asylum status. UK Visas and Immigration has set up a safeguarding hub to look at whether urgent intervention is necessary in each asylum case, and that obviously includes domestic abuse. We are concentrating on this in the forthcoming package of domestic abuse measures.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I had the privilege of meeting Sammy some months ago to discuss the complexities of her case. We clearly do not want the family courts to be used as another forum in which abusers can continue their abuse. The hon. Lady will know that I and my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are working together on the Bill, but also on educating those who work in the tribunal and court systems to be alert to that possibility.
The women’s centenary suffrage fund supports initiatives across England to engage women in local democracy. We will also be funding an Ask Her to Stand event. We funded one in July that was attended by more than 300 women, many of whom were interested in becoming councillors. I congratulate my hon. Friend’s borough on the progress that it has made.
The hon. Lady raises an important point. We know that quite often the care given to female offenders in prison does fall short, and I will look at the specific issue that she raises. Clearly, we need to ensure that the best maternity support is given to them.
The CAP code, which is the independent Advertising Standards Authority’s rulebook for non-broadcast advertising, including print and online, does not apply to classified adverts, but it does prohibit ads for illegal products and services. DCMS colleagues are working to ensure that technology companies meet their responsibilities of preventing their services from being used for criminal activity, and they are further exploring how classified ad websites are used to facilitate crime. I would be delighted, as always, to meet the hon. Lady.
It is a pleasure to take a question from the hon. Lady, and she is right to highlight this despicable crime. As I have said, we believe that such practices are already against the law under the 2003 Act, and as I said to the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), I am happy to continue looking at what more we can do.
That is an interesting project and I am interested to hear about it. On the impact of periods on girls attending school, the Department for Education has conducted an analysis of absence statistics to see whether there is any evidence of period poverty having an impact on school attendance. There is currently no significant evidence, but we very much keep it under review, which is why there will be questions about it in the Department’s 2018 surveys for pupils and senior school leaders. We will of course review the project in Wales and, in fairness, the project in Scotland as well.
As I said, we are watching with interest the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver access to free sanitary products in schools and other educational institutions, along with the Welsh commitment. We will look at and review the outcomes of those studies and projects.
The hon. Lady and I have already met to discuss this, and I know that she is greatly concerned. I am discussing the issue with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions, and of course the Minister for Women and Equalities will meet her to discuss it further. We are very clear that the DWP and those who work in jobcentres are a gateway to potentially offering support and help to women who present with those symptoms.
I thank the hon. Lady for that. I know that she is personally very committed to this subject. I was delighted to join Hestia this week at its launch event for a piece of technology that I believe will have a real effect on helping survivors and victims of domestic abuse. We are allocating £8 million specifically to help children who witness domestic abuse in their homes, because we all recognise the great harm this can cause children, both at the time of the abuse and in the longer term. That is precisely why children will be at the heart of the draft domestic abuse Bill, which will be presented to this House in due course.
We are obviously very sensitive to the issue of domestic abuse, which is completely unacceptable in any circumstances. Work coaches in jobcentres are specifically trained to identify situations in which domestic abuse may be occurring and to offer options and assistance to people subjected to it, including alternative payments. We do not currently see the need for default split payments, because the current benefits system does not operate in that way, and a number of benefits are paid into joint accounts. However, we are aware that the SNP Government are working on an alternative, and we are happy to work with them on that in Scotland and to see how it goes.
We very obviously did consider that, which is why we created the alternative payment method. The current benefits system does not operate on a split payment basis, and we have not yet seen any evidence, in areas where universal credit has been rolled out, that the current system is exacerbating the situation. We firmly believe in our policy on domestic violence and abuse—the Government have made a significant commitment to that—and legislation on a comprehensive plan will come out later this year. We are not convinced that the benefits system is the way to solve domestic abuse, albeit we need to identify, in particular, women who are subjected to it and signpost them to the right kind of assistance, accommodating them in the system if we can. We do not think that doing this on a default basis is the correct approach at the moment.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that this is a priority. It is a priority for individuals, employers, families and the economy, which is why we allocated £5 million in the last spring Budget to make sure that we set up programmes for training, guidance and supporting businesses and employers in achieving exactly that. I will have further announcements on this and look forward to making them to the House.
I am incredibly proud that this Government have made that commitment, and we are going to consult on it to ensure that we get it right. It is important to distinguish between relationships education, which is going to be compulsory in primary schools, and sex and relationships education in secondary schools. The areas the hon. Lady highlights will of course be considered as part of that, but this Government have actually done a lot to address the scourge, unpleasantness and horror of forced marriage and FGM.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and thank his wife and everyone who works in domestic abuse refuges. We are of course meeting Women’s Aid and other organisations. Along with other colleagues, I am determined to ensure that the future of refuges is funded sustainably, and I urge anyone with an interest in this area to respond to the consultation.
We have the £20 million domestic abuse fund, which the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is overlooking. As the hon. Lady knows, we are also consulting on the draft domestic abuse Bill this year. I hope that consultation will start soon, and the Government would welcome responses from people who are interested. I make it clear that we are absolutely committed to funding refuges properly, and I am pleased that we have had a 10% rise in bed spaces since 2010.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. I encourage him and Newark Women’s Aid to take part in the consultation. On the long-term funding of women’s refuges, it is fair to say that nothing is off the table. The Government have not ruled out a national funding scheme, if our consultation shows that that is correct.
Representing the Department for Communities and Local Government, I find quite offensive the idea that giving funding direct to local authorities to support women in crisis in their community is in some way pulling the plug on them. We have been absolutely clear that we will continue to review the funding for care and support, and whether housing costs should be paid direct as grants to local authorities or not. We continue to explore all the options, including a national model for refuge provision.
The hon. Gentleman is very right to raise that question. Clearly, there is support on that matter across the House. However, it is also right that arrangements for the state pension system reflect welcome changes in average life expectancy and address long-standing inequalities in pension age. If we had not equalised state pension ages, women would be expected to spend more than 40% of their adult life in retirement.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady is considering taking on an apprenticeship, because a very large number of women over the age of 60 are. I do not think that anybody should be forced to take one on, but those who want to should be practically encouraged to do so. Between August 2016 and April 2017, the number of apprenticeship starts for people aged 60 and over was 3,500, an increase on the previous year.
I am very glad to be continuing my brief—my hon. Friend always delivers the question that I expect. I assure him that, with regard to access to housing, I am not aware that ex-offenders will be given any more priority than people who have not committed an offence. With reference to whether we treat men and women who have committed offences equally, I am interested in reducing crime and I am convinced that a disproportionate number of women are committing crime because of the way in which they are treated, be it by their partners or indeed by their housing circumstances. I think he will agree that, if we can get this right, we will be reducing crime, which I think is the best outcome.
I agree that we are not getting the treatment of women offenders right. That is why I was eager to introduce a new strategy. The Manchester area provides an example of where the Department is investing in a whole system approach. I do not think Whitehall is the place to make decisions on a woman’s future before, during or after prison. I would prefer to localise decision making so that decisions are made by people who understand the women concerned, so that we can keep them in the community and away from prison.