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Financial Support Schemes: Equitable Access

Volume 688: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2021

If he will ensure that people who are unable to participate in work as a result of (a) home schooling and (b) following other Government covid-19 guidance have equitable access to financial support schemes. (911350)

Since their introduction, the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme have been available to those unable to go to work because of caring responsibilities arising from covid-19, such as caring for a home schooling child or caring for a vulnerable individual. Those who are unable to work from home and have been told to shield have also been eligible for these support schemes, as well as for statutory sick pay and employment and support allowance.

The Chancellor has let the financial burden of covid-19 fall on women. They have undertaken twice as much home schooling as men. One in five have had to cut their hours. Some 78% of working mothers have not been offered furlough and 71% of those who asked for it have been refused. Will the Chancellor recognise that once again women have disproportionately paid the price of the inequality in his policies? Will he undertake an immediate equality impact assessment and set out in his Budget how he will offer redress for these widening gendered inequalities?

The truth is that this pandemic has had a desperately difficult effect for the whole of the UK economy, and for families and people across our country and regions. It is appropriate to recognise the totality of the difficulty we find ourselves in. It is true that many women have found themselves in the position of either caring for home schooling or vulnerable individuals. They are supported and protected through the schemes we have put in place. Of course, over and above those schemes, we have also put in place significant amounts of support for remote education, laptops and councils to help vulnerable individuals.

Earlier this month, the shadow Chancellor successfully called on the Chancellor to make it clear that working parents and others can be furloughed owing to childcare responsibilities. Most employers will want to do the right thing, but where an employer is refusing to follow the guidance and offer a parent furlough for childcare reasons, can the Minister tell me who the parent should report that to and what action will be taken?

As the hon. Member will know, furlough is an arrangement reached between companies and their employees. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Government do not have direct involvement in that. What they say is that where an agreement can be reached between the two sides we will support them, as laid out in one of the most generous schemes available in any country around the world. As I said, that is just one part of a much wider panoply of support for people at risk through the pandemic.