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Female Unemployment

Volume 541: debated on Monday 5 March 2012

The Government are supporting 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 into apprenticeships. The action we are taking to increase flexibility in the workplace and support with child care costs will also help to open up opportunities for women.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but she did not mention the fact that female unemployment is now at a 25-year high. The Daycare Trust has found that, with nursery costs having increased by an average of 6% in the last year, some families are no longer better off in work once child care costs are taken into account. When will the Government accept that the self-defeating cuts in child care tax credit have made the female jobs crisis far worse?

The hon. Gentleman will also know that we are doing a great deal to help to make child care more affordable for those parents who need to use it. Early years education has been increased to 15 hours a week for all three and four-year-olds and our support for disadvantaged two-year-olds has increased by £760 million. An extra £300 million will go in through the universal credit to help women who are currently working limited hours to get access to subsidised child care. This is the sort of practical support that can truly help.

In Wales, women are currently being hit disproportionately hard by job losses. Indeed, last month’s unemployment figures show that there were 2,000 more women out of work but 5,000 fewer men out of work. As the public sector job losses begin to bite, what extra are the Government doing to help women in this regard?

We entirely understand, and take very seriously, the challenges women face in getting back into the workplace, including the problem of retaining jobs. That is why the Minister with responsibility for employment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), is putting so much effort into the Work programme and universal credit, both of which will help many hundreds of thousands of workless households into work. Again, that is the sort of practical support that can truly make a difference for women.

Of the 348 current vacancies listed at the Malton job centre, some of the hardest to fill are care worker posts. Will the Minister use her good offices to ensure that women returning to work are pointed in that direction as well as to skills such as national vocational qualifications?

My hon. Friend is right: care work is now a very important job in all our communities. Jobcentre Plus has a number of vacancies in that area, and it is always trying to ensure that people with the appropriate training apply for them. As she rightly says, we also need to ensure that people have access to training, and the Work programme can help in that respect.

Motivation, employability and skills are the attributes that best help unemployed men and women into the workplace. Will my hon. Friend the Minister congratulate Conservative-led Kettering borough council, of which I am a member, on its employability and skills fair to be held this Friday, which will bring together local unemployed men and women with agencies and employers in an attempt to tackle the unemployment situation head-on?

My hon. Friend is right: we should applaud the work of those councils, including Kettering, that ensure that such skills fairs take place. Through them, unemployed people can learn not only where the jobs are but where the training can be found. There are currently more women starting apprenticeships than men, which shows that great changes can be made.

Despite promising policies to cut unemployment and make work pay, the Government are supporting measures that will leave many mums better off out of work. Is it not clear that these out-of-touch Ministers have not got a clue what life is like for mums struggling with food and fuel bills, given that their benefit and tax changes will cost the average family £580 this year, with thousands being hit by up to £4,000 as a result of the tax credit cuts alone?

I am sorry, but rather than leaving the country with the massive deficit that the hon. Gentleman’s party left us, the Government are putting practical programmes in place—if these had been done when his party was in government, the country would perhaps not be facing the current fiscal deficit.