Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Ros in the Lords: Social Security (Maternity Allowance) (Participating Wife or Civil Partner of Self-employed Earner) Regulations 2014

Occasionally, as a member of a Parliamentary Party, you need someone to step in at short notice to deal with a piece of legislation - perhaps the usual spokesperson is ill, or absent, or double-booked, and yesterday saw one of those days, as Ros was asked if she could speak for the Liberal Democrats on a piece of secondary legislation. As you can see, she was able to demonstrate her versatility here... 

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD): My Lords, I support the social security regulation which we are debating today - not just because it avoids an €11 million fine. I think it is a good thing in its own right. For once, we have a welcome change to the benefits system in that it is beginning genuinely to reflect the diversity of people’s lives and the lives of women in the workforce. That is a very good thing indeed. It is bringing a new group of women, predominantly from the very small, micro-business sector, within the ambit of maternity benefit. I just wish that the gold-plating had been left in place just on this one occasion so that they could have had a benefit more in line with everyone else.

I want to ask two questions. The first is about disseminating information, because this is a very difficult group to reach. They do not tend to be members of chambers of commerce, and that sort of thing. I do not have a particular answer, but I wanted to put in the plea that all efforts are made to ensure that women who are likely to benefit actually know about it and are able to. We hope that the Government’s new enterprise allowance scheme will be successful, so we could have even more very small businesses starting up in the coming year or so, so we need to get on top of how we can ensure that women know that these benefits are available.

Secondly, I welcome the discussions on shared parental leave - I know that the Deputy Prime Minister has been very keen on this and it has some support within government. It would provide welcome flexibility, but I am curious as to how these arrangements might work if we have shared parental leave. With those questions, I welcome the instrument.

From the Labour benches, Maeve Sherlock, a former NUS President and one of their social security experts, was kind enough to describe her contribution as one of "excellent questions", which is nice. You couldn't really imagine that sort of courtesy in the Other Place, could you?

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