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Vulnerable Women: Return to Work

Volume 651: debated on Thursday 20 December 2018

Last month, I announced the next phase of our returners programme—£500,000 targeted at those with additional barriers to participating in the labour market, including those who speak little English, people with disabilities, and those who are homeless or have been victims of domestic abuse.

Does the Minister think that the fund is resourced sufficiently to help with the huge roll-out of universal credit, which disproportionately impacts on women? That is especially so in my constituency of Glasgow North East, which will have the highest number of universal credit claimants in Scotland: more than 16,000. It is vital that we have a targeted programme to assist women, who will be disproportionately affected. Will the Minister lobby hard for extra resources to focus on the women worst affected by the roll-out of universal credit?

Our returners programme is not designed to do what the hon. Gentleman has asked; it is a distinct fund. We have also announced some additional money to support women facing the greatest barriers to getting into the labour market. We should absolutely be talking to every Government Department, including the Department for Work and Pensions, about universal credit and other policies, to ensure that they are supporting women.

The fund is just one piece of work that the Government are doing, but it is focused primarily on women. However, my hon. Friend raises an important point. If he is aware of my recent speech at Bright Blue, he will know that we are also very focused on addressing the barriers that prevent men from taking up the roles that they would wish to do—being prime carers for their children, for example. We are also looking at those issues, and my hon. Friend is right to raise them.

I recently met a group of Somali women in my constituency who are very concerned about the wellbeing and employment of Somali women in our community. They have faced all sorts of barriers, and those barriers appear to be getting worse; the women are now identifying a rise in depression. Will the Minister write to me explaining how the fund she is launching will be able to contribute to the support that the women in my constituency need, so that they can access some desperately needed resources?

Absolutely. I will happily write to the hon. Lady with further details about what we and others in the Government are doing. She is absolutely right to point to this issue. White women have an employment rate of 73.3%; that of women of Bangladeshi ethnicity, for example, is just 32.8%. Bringing my Department into the Cabinet Office, co-located with the race disparity unit, will help greatly in addressing the multiple disadvantages that people face.

I wish you, Mr Speaker, all hon. Members and everyone across my constituency a merry Christmas.

The Minister has stated that she hopes that the returners fund will help women trapped in zero-hours contracts and low paid and low skilled work. Will she speak to her colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions to ask for a review of how universal credit, in-work conditionality and sanctions are damaging the prospects of low paid women?

It will come as no surprise to the hon. Lady that I am already speaking to the Department for Work and Pensions about a whole raft of issues. We need to focus much more on broadening the work of the Government Equalities Office towards addressing the issues of low paid women. Women with low pay will often still be in low paid work a decade later. We need to look at the barriers to their having the career progression and the training that they want, while enabling them to cope with all the other things that women do.