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Covid-19: Support for Women

Volume 689: debated on Wednesday 10 February 2021

What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of Government support for women during the covid-19 outbreak. (912135)

We have rolled out unprecedented levels of economic support to those who need it most, regardless of gender. That includes sectors that employ large numbers of women, such as retail and hospitality. The Government are continually reviewing the effectiveness of their support and Departments carefully consider the impact of their decisions on those sharing protected characteristics. That is in line with both their legal obligations, and the Government’s strong commitment to promoting fairness. Of course, men are impacted too. Indeed, latest figures show a higher redundancy rate for men. That is why we are committed to ensuring a fair recovery for all.

A recent High Court ruling found the universal credit childcare payment system to be unlawful and discriminatory against women, after a single mother was forced to pay childcare costs upfront and then claim back, forcing her into debt and causing psychological harm. Does the Minister agree that the universal credit childcare offer is inadequate for parents who rely on it, 80% of whom are women? Will she urge the Department of Work and Pensions to improve it?

I will speak to my colleagues in the DWP, but I know that the Government have been offering unprecedented levels of support to provide for all those people who require support in childcare. That includes the recent £20 uplift, which the Chancellor agreed to last year.

A recent TUC survey found that 71% of mothers asking to be furloughed as they could not juggle work with childcare have been refused by their employers. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that affordable childcare is available for all parents who need it, so that they are not forced out of work by this pandemic?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Government have provided significant support for those people who have been furloughed, and there is a childcare provision within universal credit. We recognise that parents across the country are having difficulties during the pandemic, and we have put several measures in place to ensure they have the support required.

The pandemic has made flexible working a necessity for many women, who have a disproportionate share of caring responsibilities, but under the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 an employee is eligible to request flexible working arrangements only after 26 consecutive weeks of work for their employer. What consideration has the Minister given to the recommendation in the new Women and Equalities Committee report to remove that 26-week threshold?

We have a manifesto commitment to further encourage flexible working, and we are going to be consulting on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to. We know that the Women and Equalities Committee has released a report, and we are carefully considering it and will provide our conclusions in due course. We appreciate the work of the Committee on these important issues and the contributions of those who gave evidence.