Skip to main content


Volume 540: debated on Thursday 23 February 2012

1. What recent assessment she has made of the contribution of women to the economy; and if she will make a statement. (95935)

Women’s role in the economy is obviously very important. Making better use of women’s skills is good for the economy and good for women. That is why we are introducing universal credit to help to make work pay—including an extra £300 million for child care. We are also supporting women’s enterprise, encouraging greater transparency on gender equality, and working with business to ensure that more women reach the boardrooms of our leading companies.

From the Minister’s answer, one would not realise that since she has been in that role of women’s unemployment has risen by 27%. Given that the majority of retail workers are women, and that retail companies are now reducing the hours that they offer to paid workers and substituting them with unpaid workers, what conversations has she had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on protecting women in the retail sector?

First, I must tell the hon. Lady that there are tens of thousands more women in employment today than there were when her party left government in 2010. On the issue of retailers, we have an excellent work experience scheme that is giving young people very good opportunities for work experience, on a voluntary basis, which will help them to get into the workplace. I think that it is time for the hon. Lady to stop talking retailers down. A career in retailing can be an extremely good career. There are many people at the top of retailing who started their working life on the shop floor, and retailers have often led the way in providing flexible working opportunities for women.

According to the Department’s own figures, women have the lowest representation among engineering professionals, information and communication technology professionals, architects, town planners and surveyors. What is being done to tackle that issue?

My hon. Friend raises an extremely valid point. I have always had a particular bee in my bonnet about encouraging women to take up careers in engineering. We are trying to ensure that women are given proper information about such opportunities, by refocusing and recasting the careers advice that is given to young people and, indeed, to people of all ages throughout their careers. In that way, we want to open up opportunities to young people, including young women, so that they do not feel that they are simply being pushed down what one might call the traditional, stereotyped routes.

This week I was contacted about a mother who is working 22 hours in a local shop. She cannot get the extra regular hours she wants, although she has tried hard—she cannot find alternative work, but at least she has a job, is contributing to the economy and is supporting her family. Her husband has lost his job and is struggling to get a new one because he has had a stroke. In six weeks’ time the Government will take away the working tax credit from her family, and they could lose over £3,000. They will not be able to pay their mortgage; they will be better off if she gives up work; they will be better off if the family splits up. This is going to happen in April. Does the Home Secretary support this policy, which will hit thousands of working women, and what advice would she give to that mother now?

The right hon. Lady raises a very particular case, but the issue is about the welfare—[Interruption.] Perhaps Opposition Members could wait for me to finish my sentence before they try to interrupt. The right hon. Lady has raised a particular case, but the issue is about welfare reform and the particular welfare reforms that this Government are putting through. I know that the Opposition find it difficult to decide where they position themselves on welfare reform, but it is necessary for us to reform the welfare system. Crucially, what we will do—and it will be of benefit to women—is introduce the universal credit, which will make work pay. I applaud people who want to get into the workplace in order to provide for themselves and their families, so it is important to ensure that the benefit system makes work pay. That is why we are introducing universal credit and making it easier under it for people to work fewer than 16 hours and still have access to child care support.