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Covid-19: Women Leaving the Workforce

Volume 682: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2020

What steps she is taking to support women at risk of leaving the workforce due to the economic effect of the covid-19 outbreak. (907852)

What steps she is taking to support women at risk of leaving the workforce due to the economic effect of the covid-19 outbreak. (907862)

The Government have taken significant steps to protect jobs for women with the coronavirus job retention scheme supporting 4.5 million jobs done by women. We continue to support women in the labour market through our job support and bonus schemes. We have also committed to extending redundancy protections for new mothers returning to work and to make flexible working the default.

Working mums have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies finding that they are more likely to quit or lose their jobs and typically perform a larger share of childcare and household duties than men. One of my constituents spent lockdown home schooling her two children as well as caring for her elderly shielding mother. Excluded from most of the financial support packages, she now faces winding up the company she set up. I have heard what the Minister had to say, but it does not go far enough. What additional urgent measures will he take to ensure that progress in female employment is not set back by decades?

There are 1.8 million more women in work than in 2010, and it is important that we capture that. As I have said, on childcare responsibilities, which are so important, we have introduced 30 hours of free childcare, we have ensured that wraparound childcare remains available in each of the tiers and we will continue to invest to help create more high-quality, wraparound and holiday childcare places so that mothers are not disadvantaged.

The Women’s Budget Group last week highlighted that working-class women specifically face the biggest cuts to working hours since the beginning of the pandemic, with 43% reporting having had their hours cut to zero since April. Could the Minister set out what specific support he is putting in place to stop these women falling into poverty, because clearly it cannot be right that working-class women are so adversely affected by the pandemic?

This is important, and we know that certain sectors are the worst affected. It is important that we actually do everything we can with “Hands, face, space” to make sure that our economy can start to open again and create opportunities, but we have also put in support with universal credit, the coronavirus job retention scheme, the self-employed income support scheme and the wider winter economy to help everybody, but especially the disadvantaged women that the hon. Gentleman describes.

Women make up a significant proportion of those employed in the fitness, leisure and wellbeing industry. Can my hon. Friend tell me what work he is doing with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to recognise that physical, mental and financial wellbeing go hand in hand? The sector is now having to manage variable lockdowns, and there will be a knock-on impact if businesses cannot recover financially and resume their role of contributing more than £2 billion annually to the nation’s economy.

We know that physical activity is absolutely crucial to the wellbeing of our nation as well as to our economy. We have been working closely with the national sports council, Sport England, to continue promoting health and fitness during lockdown. This includes the Join the Movement campaign that it has launched, which provides tips, advice and guidance to tell people how they can keep or get active in and around the home. As I have said, it is so important that we keep as many gyms open as possible, where possible, but ultimately, this is about getting the economy up and running again. Lives are first in our priorities, but the economy and livelihoods must be absolutely up there.

The Work Foundation has reported that 58% of workers in the retail sector are women and these are some of our lowest-paid workers, but due to most of them working on part-time or temporary contracts, hundreds of thousands of women working in retail will not even be eligible for redundancy pay. What plans does the Minister have in mind to mitigate the likelihood of disproportionate numbers of women being made redundant with no financial support available to them?

As I say, it is so important that we get the economy up and running again, and we can do that only by people joining us and working with us on hands, face, space, to ensure that we reduce the transmission rate and save as many jobs as possible. We have launched a job support scheme, and that, plus universal credit, means that the lowest paid employees can have around 80% of their salary covered between those two schemes.