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Volume 606: debated on Thursday 25 February 2016

The apprentice national minimum wage applies equally to all apprentices, and from October last year that rate was increased by 21% to £3.30 per hour. We continue to focus on improving the quality of all apprenticeships, and we are putting that into statute. We all go into schools, and one great thing we can do is not only to act as role models, especially if we are female, but to sing out about things such as the apprenticeship scheme, and make clear that it is not confined to boys.

I thank the Minister for her response, but the reality is very different to what is on paper. Results from ComRes commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust in September found that female apprentices earn £4.82 per hour, compared with £5.85 for men. Another survey stated that there is an £8,400 difference in those areas of work where women figure highly, such as social care, childcare and hairdressing, in comparison with men, so actually, it is not correct.

I am not quite sure what is not correct, but, in any event, I know what the minimum wage is and it is for all apprentices. If there is evidence that women doing apprenticeships are being in some way discriminated against in their pay, we want to know about it, and we look forward to the hon. Lady coming forward, meeting the Minister for Women and Equalities, and between us we will sort it out.

Will the Minister assure me that older women are getting a fair deal when it comes to apprenticeships, and especially that they are able to return to work after caring responsibilities? Will she look carefully at the engineering and construction sectors to ensure that they are truly open to all?

My hon. Friend makes a really important point. When it comes to those sectors, the Minister for Women and Equalities and I—in fact, all of us—are extremely keen to make sure that we use every opportunity and anything available to us to make the case that younger women in particular must go into these excellent work streams. We know we need to do more. We all have a part to play and that, of course, includes Government.

Given that the apprenticeship gender pay gap for women stands at about £2,000 a year, does the Minister share my concerns that this is where the gender pay gap begins? Will she explain why the Government’s new institute for apprenticeships does not include provision or targets for women? What message does she think that sends to women seeking apprenticeships?

The institute, with which I am familiar, will comprise all the sorts of people it should have on it—primarily employers, but it will look to work with providers—to make absolutely sure not only that the quality of apprenticeships is good, but that we get everybody and anybody applying for apprenticeships. Whatever someone’s background might be—sex, colour of skin or ethnicity—absolutely does not matter at all. In certain areas, I do not have a problem at all in making a positive case to make sure that more women or more people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds go into apprenticeships, especially the high-quality ones. There should be no barrier.