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Cost of Living: Women in the Workplace

Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2022

2. What recent steps the Government are taking to help support women in the workplace during the cost of living crisis. (901839)

The Department for Work and Pensions new progression offer will help claimants on universal credit to identify opportunities in their current role or a new role. We have also increased the national living wage, reduced the universal credit taper rate and increased the work allowance to ensure that work pays.

The current Prime Minister famously insulted millions of mums across the UK during the pandemic when he showed a total lack of understanding of the pressure they were under and the discrimination they faced in the workplace. It is probably lost on a billionaire PM, but his Tory Government have overseen the second most expensive childcare in the developed world. According to Pregnant Then Screwed, 62% of parents pay the same or more for childcare as their rent or mortgage. The cost of living crisis will only worsen that. What real actions will the Minister and the new Prime Minister take? Will she and he be in post long enough to actually do anything?

Childcare is an important issue. Since 2010, we have doubled childcare to 30 hours for working parents, with a universal offer of 15 hours, and covering 85% of childcare costs under universal credit. We have also had much discussion in recent weeks about childcare ratios. I will ensure that the relevant Minister writes to the hon. Lady with more detail.

One workplace where women need support is the other place, where an eighth of the seats are reserved for men only. Will the Minister support my Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill and get that anomaly changed?

I thank my hon. Friend for her impressive campaigning on this issue. I was privileged to be in the Chamber when she made some of her speeches about it this year. I will look into the matter and ensure that I write to her about it.

Last month, the new Minister for Women and Equalities told investors in New York that the Government were going for growth in a big way. She said of that economic strategy:

“We know it is bold. We know it comes with risk. But in these volatile times, every option, even the status quo is risky.”

One month on from the catastrophic mini-Budget, will the Minister explain what impact going for growth had on women’s finances?

We have provided lots of cost of living support for families and particularly for women. We will write to the hon. Lady further about the issue.

I am disappointed by that brief response, because today we have found from the latest statistics that women need more than 12 times the average annual salary to buy a home. Our average real-terms wages have plummeted by almost £600 a year since 2010. The Government have simply removed the possibility of home ownership for millions of women. In her speech last month, the Minister for Women and Equalities described the UK as “Europe’s unicorn factory”. Are not her Government Britain’s chaos factory, with working women paying the price through lower wages and lost mortgages?

I completely dispute that characterisation of the Government. We have not only taken comprehensive steps to support people financially this year, targeting support at vulnerable households and families and putting in place an energy price cap, but increased the national living wage and changed the universal credit taper rate. We have taken a number of steps to help people with their finances and we will continue to do so.

This Tory Government have committed to introducing an employment Bill at least 20 times, but it is nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, labour market inequalities become all the more acute, especially in the cost of living crisis. The Minister could tell us that she will fix the sick pay system, introduce the day one right to flexible working, improve parental leave and pay and strengthen protections against pregnancy and maternity discrimination, but her Government are making a choice not to do those things. That is a real contrast with the Scottish Government’s recent “Building a New Scotland” paper, which sets out how an independent Scotland would deliver fair working practices. Why do this Tory Government support inequality in the workplace?

The changes in flexible working that we saw during the pandemic have been helpful to women. The Government have taken action in consulting on flexible working. It is a matter for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, so I will ensure that the relevant Minister writes to her about that issue.