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Covid-19: Equal Economic Recovery

Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 26 May 2021

What steps she is taking with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to help ensure an equal economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak for women. (900670)

We have targeted economic support at those who need it most, including with unprecedented levels of support in sectors that are big employers of women, such as retail, hospitality and leisure, with the public sector also being a large employer of women. For private firms, the suspension of business rates until June will save employers almost £10 billion, helping to protect these jobs.

I thank the Minister for her answer. Analysis by the Women’s Budget Group has highlighted that young women aged 18 to 25 are the largest group to be furloughed, by age and gender. Will the Minister set out what discussions she is having with the Chancellor to ensure that those women are supported, so that we do not have a lost generation of young women even further adversely affected by the pandemic?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his observation. The economic impact of the pandemic by gender is not clearcut. Furlough take-up and redundancy impacts are affecting men and women differently. We know that women are slightly more likely to have taken up the furlough scheme, but the latest employment figures continue to show a higher redundancy rate for men. So our economic package of support is to address everyone, and if he looks at the support for jobs package, the summer economic update that the Chancellor announced, as well as announcements in the Budget on the kickstart scheme and so on, he will see that all these things are addressing the issues on employment for young people and especially for those young women.

Evidence shows that mothers have been harder hit by the pandemic than fathers in terms of redundancies and their employment opportunities. Does my hon. Friend support the words of the Secretary of State for International Trade yesterday when she was advocating flexible working in order to overcome some of these problems? Would the Minister, like me, support seeing job sharing as part of a forthcoming employment Bill?

I always support the Secretary of State for International Trade. It is a pleasure to work with her, and we definitely want to see more flexible working and more job sharing. I cannot say for certain what will be part of the employment Bill, but we will speak to colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and across government.

The December 2019 Queen’s Speech promised an employment Bill that would extend

“redundancy protections to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination”.

Despite ministerial assurances of action during my Westminster Hall debate on this issue last month, the employment Bill and that promise are nowhere to be seen. If the UK Government are not going to deliver on their promise to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination, will they devolve employment law to Scotland so that the Scottish Parliament can deliver this much-needed reform?

This is a very serious issue. We are having a roundtable with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to look at pregnancy discrimination. I reiterate that covid-19 and the new employment Bill do not change the fact that there is a law on pregnancy and maternity discrimination—there is no place for it in any circumstances. Employers should be regularly reviewing their risk assessments for all pregnant workers and implementing any controls needed.

The economic impact of covid has hit women disproportionately hard. According to the Women’s Budget Group, 52% of people who have been furloughed are women, despite their making up only 47% of the workforce. The Government have promised to strengthen pregnancy and maternity protections “when parliamentary time allows”. Does the Minister not agree that this is an urgent priority given that the end of furlough is approaching and there is grave concern about unequal job losses in the autumn?

I refer the hon. Lady to my answer to the earlier question; this is not what the evidence tells us. I have seen the Women’s Budget Group report. What we are seeing is that men are more likely to be made redundant and women are more likely to be furloughed. The furlough is part of the economic package of support we have put in place. It is not right to say that women are more economically impacted when they are still having their jobs, but we do recognise that when the furlough scheme ends, we may see some changes. We are working to protect everybody in this crisis, both men and women. We have made a statement on the employment Bill, which is that the Government are committed to bringing it forward to protect and enhance workers’ rights. But given the profound impact that the pandemic is having on the economy and on the labour market, now is not the right time to introduce the employment Bill. In the interim, the Government have taken the unprecedented but necessary steps I mentioned to support business and protect jobs.