There are record numbers of women in work and we are taking strong action to support them, including by extending the right to request flexible working from June this year, introducing a new system of shared parental leave from next April, and supporting families through the new tax-free child care scheme from next October.
For international women’s day last Friday, we held a What Women Want at Work event in Westgate community college. Women from across the constituency raised many issues, including zero-hours contracts, sexism, stereotypes and the minimum wage, but the No. 1 issue was child care and how it prevented mums from going to work and those in work from having children. Will the Minister now back Labour’s pledge to increase free child care for three and four-year-olds to 25 hours?
This Government have done a huge amount to improve the child care situation for women in work. We have increased the number of hours that are available free for three and four-year-olds and extended that to more deprived two-year-olds. Under universal credit, we will increase the amount that is refunded for recipients of child care tax credit from 70% to 85%. As I said, from next year we are introducing tax-free child care for parents of children under the age of 12. We are also increasing the number of child care places, and this is having an impact. For example, the cost of child care, particularly after-school child care, is starting to come down in England.
7. The renaissance in manufacturing, particularly in the car industry, means that there is a skills shortage that could be reduced if more women chose that career path. Will the Minister encourage other companies to act like Jaguar Land Rover, going into secondary and primary schools to advocate such career paths? (903040)
The right hon. Lady is right. This is very important. The Government are doing quite a lot of work to try to encourage the number of women going into science, technology, engineering and maths. The Government have a project with the Royal Society on diversity in STEM and we are supporting a scheme of STEM ambassadors going into schools to encourage people to take up those subjects. Of the 25,000 ambassadors, 40% are women and 10% are from ethnic minorities, so the Government are doing as much as they can to try to increase the number of women in these areas.