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Volume 527: debated on Thursday 5 May 2011

The Government’s aim is to achieve lasting growth in employment by tackling the deficit that we inherited from the last Labour Government, improving the competitiveness of the economy and encouraging the growth of new business. We aim to ensure that women are well placed to take advantage of the jobs created by a successful economy through universal credit and the Work programme. We are also reforming the welfare system to ensure that work pays and that women are provided with the support they need to fulfil their potential.

Let us see whether we can get an answer to the question asked earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). Does the Minister believe that cutting the child care element of the working tax credit will make it easier or harder for women to gain employment and stay at work?

The hon. Lady will be aware of the decision by her Government to increase the child care element of the tax credit from 70% to 80% in April 2006. What is now clear to everybody is that that was a decision this country could not afford. We have already made it clear that with the universal credit, we have an opportunity to ensure that child care support gets to those who need it most. We will invest at least the same amount of money in child care as under the current system and we will aim to provide support for those making their first moves into work. I am sure that the hon. Lady, like me, wants to ensure that women who have taken time out to have a family can have access to child care to get back into work, if working fewer than 16 hours. I am sure she would like to support that.

Does the Minister recognise that decisions made by local councils such as the Tory one in Derby to close Sure Start projects is another example of where women are losing out and finding their opportunities for employment much diminished?

Like the right hon. Lady, I am a huge supporter of Sure Start. The Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), has ensured that funds are available to maintain the network of Sure Start centres. That is certainly happening in my county of Hampshire, where savings are being made in the management structures behind the front-line services, and I urge all councils to take a similar approach.