We now have more women in work than ever before, using their skills to gain economic independence. To see sustainable economic growth, we need to ensure that working mothers can take advantage of the full range of opportunities available in the workplace. We continue to tackle the barriers that might prevent them from reaching their potential.
The Secretary of State speaks warm words, but in Newcastle alone 1,768 women will be affected by the Government’s mummy tax. Low-paid new mums stand to lose £180 in maternity pay and more than £1,300 in total from the Government’s cuts to benefits and tax credits. We know that life is hard enough for working mums. In too many sectors, too many women do not return to work, and we lose their skills and contribution, so why are the Government making life even harder for them?
I have to challenge the hon. Lady’s assertions. It is clear that the Government are giving women the tools and support to become economically independent. The facts speak loudly. This year, we will have taken more than 1 million out of tax altogether. That is the sort of action we want to see—women coming out of tax, being lifted out of poverty and being given the tools to be economically independent.
What working mothers need from employers most of all is flexibility, but employers find it difficult to be flexible when lots of working mothers are thrown into chaos, through no fault of their own, when schools are closed during snowy weather. As a nation, we are not tackling this problem nearly enough. Will my right hon. Friend hold discussions with the Department for Education to see whether we can nail this problem once and for all?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that, as working parents, we rely on certainty in regard to child care and to schools. The decision on whether a school is open is one for head teachers—they can assess things better on the ground—but his point is well made and I will certainly ensure that it is brought to the attention of my hon. Friends in the Department for Education.
Yesterday, six mothers wrote to The Guardian to object to the Government’s real-terms cuts to maternity pay and other pregnancy and child-related benefits. Having babies costs money, and low-paid mums are set to lose £1,300 during pregnancy and their baby’s first year as a result of the real-terms cut to statutory maternity pay, cuts to other pregnancy support and cuts to tax credits. The real-terms cut to SMP alone equates to the price of 24 nappies a week to a low-paid mum. The Prime Minister said that his Government would be the family-friendliest ever, but does not that promise sound hollow now that they are helping millionaires more than mums?
The hon. Lady has to realise that, in a time of difficult economic circumstances, which is certainly what the coalition Government inherited, we have had to make some tough decisions. The tough decisions that we have made are about helping women into work, and helping them to get the skills they need to ensure that their families are financially independent. She will of course be aware that, in April 2011, the child element of the working tax credit was uprated by £180 above inflation, and that the reforms to the tax system have already set us on the path to taking 1 million women out of tax. Surely she should be supporting those changes.