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Levelling Up

Volume 715: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2022

Our levelling up White Paper calls time on the postcode lottery and sets out far-reaching action to break the link between geography and destiny. To support that, we are delivering the equality data programme, which is our biggest and best analysis of the barriers that people face.

One of the biggest problems in rural communities such as Broadland is low expectations, both academically and economically. Can my right hon. Friend explain what she is doing to take on that soft bigotry and ensure that people have an equal opportunity to succeed wherever they live, particularly in rural communities?

We have appointed Katharine Birbalsingh as chair of the Social Mobility Commission. She has taken on the soft bigotry of low expectations at her fantastic school, the Michaela Community School in Brent. We want her to help the whole country, including rural areas and places such as Broadland. Tomorrow, she will lay out her vision in a speech at Policy Exchange entitled “Bucking the trend: a fresh approach to social mobility”.

Does the Minister agree that her Government have levelled women down, with women’s real wages now £226 less per year than when Labour left office?

I do not agree with that at all. We are entirely focused on tackling the causes of the gender pay gap by making it easier for people to afford childcare, normalising flexible working and helping women to get into the top jobs, particularly in areas such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics where they can earn more money.

The Women’s Budget Group has pointed out that women are being hit the hardest by this Tory cost of living crisis, and research from the Resolution Foundation has highlighted that the UK Government’s welfare reforms will push 500,000 children into poverty. The reality is that the UK Government are pushing communities down, not levelling them up. Will the Minister ask the Chancellor to follow the example of the Scottish Government and provide families with the support they need to get through the Tory cost of living crisis?

What we are doing is helping more women to get into higher-paid jobs and set up enterprises. We have just set up the taskforce on women-led high-growth enterprises, led by Anne Boden, the chief executive of Starling Bank. We want to help women by giving them opportunities, including to set up new businesses.