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Return to Work

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 23 January 2020

3. What steps her Department is taking to support women returning to work after a career break. (900371)

Encouraging women to return to work after a career break is key to our prosperity and to levelling up opportunities for all. The Government funds 25 programmes to support people to return to work after a career break, including careers in health, policing and legal services, and I am delighted to announce today the launch of the return to social work programme to support previously certified social workers to return to this vital profession.

Mr Speaker, you may think I am young, but as someone who was elected to this place just a few months before my 50th birthday, may I say how fantastic it is to start a new career and be given a second chance? I often meet women in their 50s and 60s who have so much to offer but do not want to go back to the careers they had before. What more can we do to help those women get the skills and opportunities that they deserve?

My hon. Friend is an exemplar of the fantastic contribution that women in their 50s can make to a workplace. We know that there are 4.5 million women aged 50 to 64 in employment, and we are committed to supporting older workers to remain in the labour market through our work on the Fuller Working Lives strategy and through the appointment of a business champion for older workers to spearhead our work to support employers to retain, retrain and recruit older workers.

Can the Minister clarify whether the Government’s commitment to investing in infrastructure will include support to improve social infrastructure, such as childcare?

I am so glad that the hon. Lady has raised that subject. Childcare is, of course, a vital part of this Government’s programme to level up opportunities across the country. I suspect we shall be hearing a little bit more on childcare from relevant Ministers in questions in due course, but we are clear that we want the workplace to be welcoming to everyone. We want to harness their talents and unleash their potential, and helping parents with childcare is vital to that.

Evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee showed that some women experience unwanted career breaks, particularly when they are pregnant or they are new mums, and sometimes those are covered up by non-disclosure agreements. What action is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that non-disclosure agreements are not used to cover up unlawful behaviour, particularly pregnancy discrimination?

My right hon. Friend has been an incredibly ardent campaigner on that important issue and I thank her for all her work on it. As I hope she knows, the Government have consulted on the use of non-disclosure agreements and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), is committed to legislating in due course in that vital area.