Work offers the best opportunity to move out of poverty, irrespective of gender. We are proud that the female employment rate under this Government is at a record high of 72.4%, with nearly 2 million more women in work than back in 2010. Wages have outpaced inflation for 23 consecutive months. Shortly, from April, the national living wage will increase again, also benefiting women the most.
But a recent report by Welsh charity Chwarae Teg highlights the fact that 38% of women in Wales on universal credit are in work compared with 29% of men. What is the Minister doing to ensure that there is strong action in the Budget to tackle women’s in-work poverty?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. Wales and opportunities for women is an issue close to my heart—she will know that. I had my best opportunities working in Wales, and I want that to extend to everyone. Universal credit will offer 85% of childcare costs. The flexible support fund also helps women into work. I would urge all women to take the opportunity to go into their jobcentre and ask about the mix of benefits and support they can get. But one particular issue always holds women back, and that is confidence. Women should feel confident that they can go for it under this Government and under universal credit.
I speak to many mothers in Dudley South who say that they want to return to work but the level of childcare costs means that it is not financially worthwhile. What action are the Government taking to help parents to return to work?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Under this Government, ensuring opportunities for women’s progression is an absolute priority for me, the Secretary of State and the Department for Work and Pensions. The fact that women get more childcare costs under universal credit is really important. Under the legacy system the figure was 70%, and under universal credit it is 85%. People should not forget the flexible support fund, which means that they can return to work at any time. If they talk to their jobcentre, it can help them with that.
If work is the best route out of poverty, why are four out of five people still in low-paid jobs 10 years later?
Ensuring opportunities for women’s progression absolutely is a priority, as I have already said at the Dispatch Box this morning. We need to see what the barriers are. Sometimes confidence about returning opportunities is minimal. We are using our fuller working lives policy and strategy. Tomorrow I will be in Newcastle talking to women returners to see what is holding them back. It is about time that women got the progression and the pay rises they deserve.