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Volume 929: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals he has to reduce unemployment among women.

The Government's measures to reduce the level of unemployment are intended to benefit men and women alike.

That is not a very communicative reply. Is my hon. Friend aware that there are about 1 million women unemployed, although only about one-third bother to register as unemployed? Does he accept that many women wish to work and that many have to work to meet the problems of inflation? Is he further aware that in connection with the Job Creation Programme, which is supposed to cater for young people of both sexes, it has been found that so far very few schemes cater for girls. Will he look at the prospects for both girls and women in job creation schemes?

I shall try to be more communicative to my hon. Friend. I accept her analysis about the needs of working women, particularly in terms of keeping pace with inflation. I do not want to minimise the problem, but if we look at the figures it appears that women's employment has suffered less than men's during the present recession, particularly if we take into account the extra number of women coming on to the register and the increased inclination by women to register.

On my hon. Friend's second point, about the Job Creation Programme, it is true that about 75 per cent. of the jobs involved have gone to male workers, but this is a question very much of local initiative, and many of these jobs are for manual workers. Nevertheless, we shall look at the matter. I should add that the work experience programme has placed about four women to every three men.

Will the Minister confirm that recent legislation designed to improve the conditions of work for women has made it much more expensive for employers to employ women, and has thus only created more unemployed women?

No. I certainly will not confirm that, because it does not happen to be the case. Of course there is extra cost for the employers involved but there is no evidence to show that it has resulted in the sort of situation described by the hon. Gentleman.

Does my hon. Friend accept that one way of preventing further unemployment amongst women would be to save the 350 jobs threatened at the Plessey factory in Kirkby, in my constituency? Does he further accept that many of these women, because of high levels of unemployment in the area, are the breadwinners for their families? Will he impress upon his right hon. Friend the urgency of taking all measures possible to save these jobs?

My right hon. Friend will have noted my hon. Friend's remarks, and we shall certainly see that they are noted by other Ministers involved.