The most important thing that we can do to support women in business is supporting the economy to grow. Today’s gross domestic product figures show that our economy grew by 0.7% in the last quarter, bringing four-quarter growth up to 2.8%. I am sure that that news will be welcome across the House. These numbers are a boost for the economic security of hard-working people. Growth is broadly based, with manufacturing growing fastest of all. It is more evidence that our long-term economic plan is working, but the job is not done, and it is clear that the biggest risk now to the recovery would be to abandon the plan that is delivering jobs and a brighter economic future.
May I congratulate the Chancellor on the appointment of Karren Brady as small business ambassador? Does he agree that our record of 500,000 new businesses started last year, bringing the total to 880,000 now run by women, and accelerating economic growth to 2.8% a year demonstrate that our long-term economic plan for an entrepreneurial recovery is working in the face of the pessimism and bankrupt business credibility of the Opposition?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the remarkable success story of many women entrepreneurs. Karren is a role model for many of them, and she is helping with a mentoring programme to encourage more women to set up their own business and become entrepreneurs. It is all part of the picture where we now have a record number of women in work, and our proposals to bring in tax-free child care next year will help as well.
The Chancellor will know that one of the main barriers for women setting up a business is the cost of child care. Given that it has risen five times faster than wages in this Parliament, what help is he offering to women in this Parliament to meet those costs?
We have provided extra free child care, and we have increased the number of hours available, which has been a real help. We have also helped the parents, including mothers, of those on low incomes by extending the child care offer to younger children, and we will legislate for tax-free child care. I hope the hon. Lady can support that.
22. Little Bee bakery in my constituency is owned by Melissa O’Dwyer, and it is a great example of a business set up from home that has expanded into an industrial unit, employs exclusively female staff and is growing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an example of female entrepreneurs playing a critical part in economic growth? (902229)
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I congratulate Melissa on her business and her expansion plans. We are there to provide advice and support for women who want to grow their businesses. We are there to provide help, as I have set out, with tax-free child care. Above all, we are there to provide economic conditions in which businesses can grow and our long-term plan is, as the numbers show today, delivering that.
Construction is down as well, but to return to the question—[Interruption.] Well, the Chancellor did not return to it. Support through tax credits and child care tax credits has been crucial for many women going into self-employment for the first time. Proposed universal credit rules will make it a lot more difficult for self-employed people. Will the Chancellor speak to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to help him to get this right for women entrepreneurs?
First, the economy shrank by 7% of GDP when the Opposition were in office. It is striking that no Labour MP has yet got up to welcome the good economic news today. They cannot bring themselves to welcome the news that jobs are being created and the economy is growing and, yes, we are reforming our welfare system with universal credit to make sure that work always pays.