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Volume 540: debated on Thursday 23 February 2012

The Government are helping women to move into employment, including self-employment, through the Work programme and our business mentoring scheme. We are also improving careers advice and training, and encouraging more women to enter apprenticeships. The action that we are taking to increase flexibility in the workplace and to support child care costs will help to provide more opportunities for women.

As the Minister will know, women contribute significantly to the employment base in my constituency, but there are serious problems on the horizon, first as a result of lost local government jobs and secondly because of the hugely increasing demand for, and cost of, child care. What will the Government do about those serious problems?

The hon. Gentleman has raised some important points. Yes, it can be very difficult for women in the workplace at present, although, as we heard earlier, there are 50,000 more women in work than there were a year ago.

Child care can present a significant barrier to a return to employment. We will be spending some £300 million under the universal credit scheme to give more women who are working shorter hours access to child care, and, as already been announced, we are increasing early years education funding to some £760 million to give all three-to-four-year-olds 15 hours of education a week. Those are some practical measures that we are taking to help the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, and other women throughout the country, to return to work.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the specific difficulties of women who want to return to work after having a family? What help are we giving such women, particularly those who wish to work part time for a period?

My hon. Friend is right: it can be difficult for women to return to the workplace. Programmes such as the Work programme can make a real difference by ensuring that women, and indeed anyone who wants to return to work, have the skills that will get them jobs. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), is extending the work experience scheme so that women have a solid foundation of experience to include in their CVs, which will help them to obtain work in the long term.

The Olympic Delivery Authority has set an excellent example by securing construction jobs on the Olympics site for more than 1,000 women. What lessons will the Minister take from that in terms of using Government procurement to ensure that women have a fair chance of obtaining jobs, and better-paid jobs?

We need to ensure that women have broad horizons when it comes to obtaining jobs in, for instance, engineering and construction. Through programmes such as the Work programme, we can give people opportunities to gain experience that can make a real difference to their ability to secure jobs, because they can bring that experience into play during job interviews.