The third area that I have a brief moment to flag up, as I know we are running out of time, is the idea of sustainability and ownership. I am a proud co-operator, and there must be a greater role for co-op and mutual models when it comes to child care. Many of the original Sure Start centres were run by boards of parents. I worked among them as my own older children were growing up and saw the empowerment that that gave many of those women. These community assets should not be at the command of Ministers of any party. They remain under threat if Ministers do not care about child care. Parents know best. I would like to see more co-operative ownership, including childminding co-ops, rather than the agencies that the Government are

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1147

promoting, which would cream off a profit and remove the parent relationship with their own childminder, which would be a great mistake.

In my final minute, I give way to the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom).

Andrea Leadsom: I just want to say that the hon. Lady is making a big mistake by turning child care into such a political issue. She knows as well as I do that Sure Start centres are doing brilliant work in our society. There is so much potential from the Sure Start movement. She should be proud that Labour introduced it and that this Government are building on it. Opposition Members should stop trying to frighten parents into thinking that it is all going pear-shaped.

Meg Hillier: But we know that services are being watered down. The great thing about Sure Start centres is that they were open to all and a range of services were provided. It was a one-stop shop. It will always be a challenge to decide what services should be provided when money is tight, but Sure Start was a great unifier, a great starting point, a great melting pot, a great mix. I am glad to hear from the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire that she is a champion of it on her Benches. It is a shame that the Government are not, and their funding cuts to local authorities are putting Sure Start under threat. I am not being partisan for the sake of it. Our record is strong, and parents and child carers in my constituency worry about their future under this Government.

4.3 pm

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) by agreeing with her about the cuts to Sure Start and the effect that that has had throughout the country. The Minister confirmed that the figures have fallen from 3,631 in 2010 to 3,053—a reduction of 578 in the number of Sure Start centres. That is the reality.

I take the Minister back to her evidence to the Education Committee in reply to a question from me on this subject. She did not deny that that was the situation. She claimed that, where the centres were still being used, they had moved to a hub and spoke model. We heard in evidence that sadly, far too often, instead of the delivery of the service, a part-time member of staff hands out leaflets, signposting parents to a service that may exist somewhere else. That is not the same thing as delivering the service that was there previously. That is what has happened with these closures. We have seen a drastic reduction in the quality of the service. When I asked about that in the Select Committee, the Minister ignored the point and moved on to something else. I have the transcript here if she wants to check what she said. She failed to give me an answer when I put that point to her. According to Government figures, 7,200 fewer staff work in Sure Start centres throughout the country. That has to mean a lower level and lower quality of service. I am sorry to say this, but that was the evidence given to the inquiry.

I am proud of our record on Sure Start. My son was three when he came to live with us, and we were fortunate in that the Sure Start centre where we used to live

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opened about a week before then. It was linked to a school, so there was a nursery, and he benefited from the brilliant staff working there. We as a family benefited from the support of Sure Start. Talking to other parents there and to parents who used other Sure Start facilities, it was clear that Sure Start transformed their lives and the lives of the children who benefited from those services. It made an enormous difference to their development and school readiness. That could be seen when looking at older children who had benefited from going through that system and the quality of child care and support for families that resulted from what the last Labour Government did. The Labour party is right to be proud of our record on Sure Start. I have confirmed that with the Sure Start centres in my constituency. Having children who are school ready makes all the difference. In the deprived areas that I serve in Crosby, children whose parents have benefited from Sure Start are school ready while others from the same estates are not. There is a marked difference in school readiness and the outcomes that schools can achieve for those children.

The Select Committee went to Denmark earlier this year and looked at the Danish experience. That is the quality of care to which we should aspire. We do not spend as much as they do in Denmark or in a number of other countries, particularly those in Scandinavia, and that explains the difference. The Minister shakes her head, but her Department has produced a report, which was evidenced in the Select Committee, in which a thorough analysis of the figures showed that spending levels here are not on a par with those in Denmark, and that explains the difference overall.

Meg Hillier: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is real muddle from the Government about exactly what they do spend? They come up with different figures depending which Minister is asked at which time of year or day. Do we not need some clarity on this in order to inform the debate?

Bill Esterson: Absolutely. The Government should look at their own officials’ reports, as I was just saying in relation to the OECD comparisons.

The Government quite rightly want more women in the work force as a long-term driver of growth. In Denmark, 84% of working-age women are in work, whereas in the UK the figure is only 67.1%—we are rated 16th in the OECD in that regard. Denmark has wraparound care from 8 am to 5 pm, and from six months all the way up to age 10, and the maximum contribution an individual can make is 25%. There are highly qualified and well-trained professionals, mostly educated to relevant degree level, working in its child care settings. It is that massive level of support from the public purse that enables so many more women to go to work. They have a choice, of course, but many of them choose to take that opportunity. As a result, the system is supported by parents, politicians and the Danish equivalent of the CBI, so business likes that system.

My hon. Friends on the Front Bench are right to propose moving in that direction in the motion on the Order Paper, with wraparound care from 8 am to 6 pm. We certainly need to increase the number of hours in nurseries, so 25 hours is a great step in the right direction. We certainly need to follow the Danish system, and I hope that Members will support the motion.

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4.11 pm

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to the many colleagues across the House, especially so many male colleagues, who have spoken in this important debate. This is my first outing at the Dispatch Box, and I am absolutely delighted to be winding up on an issue of such importance to so many families across the country.

Labour has a proud record on child care. It was the Labour Government who put child care on the political map and oversaw a revolution in child care provision. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) gave a passionate account of our record. Ensuring that we have good, affordable and flexible child care is critical not only for families facing a cost of living crisis, but for the economy as a whole, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) rightly said.

Unfortunately, things are going backwards under this Government. They are presiding over a child care crunch and failing to support families in work. Under this Government we have seen a child care triple whammy of rising costs, falling places and cuts in support to help parents. Since 2010 the number of child care places has fallen by over 35,000, including 2,423 fewer childminders on the Minister’s watch, all at a time when a rising birth rate is putting greater demand on the system. The failure to supply enough places is impacting on costs for families. The problem of insufficient child care supply is hurting the economy and making balancing work and family life a nightmare for parents.

Many Members have spoken about cuts to their local Sure Start centre. The Government’s own figures show that there are now 578 fewer centres than there were in 2010. That figure is calculated from the Government’s own publicly available records, and I must say that it resonates much more with what we hear is happening on the ground. Let us take the Prime Minister’s back yard as an example. Of the 44 centres in Oxfordshire, 37 are due to close. He once famously said that he would back Sure Start, but for many in his constituency that is yet another broken promise.

I agree with the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom)—I have a great deal of respect for her and for the work she has done on early intervention—that the issue is not just about the fabric of the buildings; it is also about capacity. I wonder whether Ministers can tell us what progress is being made in increasing the number of health visitors by 4,200 by 2015, which is critical in delivering the Sure Start model.

The crisis in places is leading to price hikes that are making it increasingly unsustainable for parents to make ends meet, as the very powerful account from my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) made clear.

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): Is the hon. Lady aware that Naomi Eisenstadt, who can be regarded as the mother of Sure Start, told the Education Committee that there were too many Sure Start centres and that phase 3 was spreading them far too thinly?

Lucy Powell: I was not aware of her comments, but I completely disagree. As hon. Members have said, this is a very popular service that people raise with us on the doorstep, unlike many other Government policies.

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1150

Andrea Leadsom rose

Lucy Powell: I will plough on and give way later.

Under this Government, average weekly part-time nursery costs have increased by 30%. Put another way, child care costs have risen five times faster than wages. In the past year alone, they have risen at more than double the rate of inflation. It is typical of the Government to pretend that things are going well when the reality is that many parents are finding it an incredible struggle to find and afford the child care they need. On top of the crisis in places and hikes in costs, parents have also seen their support fall. Families with two children have experienced a reduction of about £1,500 a year in tax credits, hitting low-income families the hardest. At the time of the 2010 spending review, the Office for Budget Responsibility warned the Government that cuts to child care support would have a negative impact, saying that they would

“affect the hours worked and participation in the labour market”.

Yet the Government have taken no notice and parents face an increasingly difficult child care crunch.

Mr Marcus Jones: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lucy Powell: I am going to make some progress.

Let me turn to the Government’s response. They may have deleted reference to it from their website, but the Prime Minister once promised that they would be

“the most family-friendly Government…ever”.

Yet they have wasted three years doing very little. The Minister’s flagship agenda on ratios has been abandoned; the nursery offer for disadvantaged two-year-olds is being met with delivery problems; and their tax break scheme is too little, too late and benefits the richest the most. On child care ratios, the Deputy Prime Minister agreed with us that changing ratios could even increase prices. He said that the evidence was “overwhelmingly against” changing the rules on ratios, and went on to say:

“I cannot ask parents to accept such a controversial change with no real guarantee it will save them money—in fact it could cost them more.”

While we welcome extra support for disadvantaged two-year-olds, one in three councils tell us that they do not have enough places to meet this policy.

Childminder agencies are up in the air, with no clarity about how they will work or what they will do. The Minister is running 20 pilots across the country. So far, we know that at least two of those pilots will charge, although we do not know who will bear the cost. Will Ministers give us a guarantee that childminder agencies will not push up prices for parents?

The Government’s tax-free child care policy is too little, too late for parents. The extra investment in child care the Government are promising is dwarfed by the £7 billion a year of cuts they have already made for families with children. The scheme does not start until 2015, and it excludes families with children over the age of five. It benefits families earning up to £300,000 a year, helping the richest the most while leaving low and middle-income families struggling to make work pay, particularly for second earners. This policy will do nothing about costs.

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1151

By contrast, Labour has a plan to tackle the child care crunch. Our policies will make a real difference to mums and dads, get our economy moving, and help parents to tackle the logistical nightmare they face. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) rightly pointed out, seven out of 10 mums said they would work were it not for the high costs of child care. Expensive child care is acting as a drag on our economy. If our employment rate for mothers moved up to the average of the world’s top five nations, 320,000 more women would have jobs and tax receipts would rise by £1.7 billion a year. The Government gloat about their record, but most of the jobs they have created for mothers returning to work are part-time, low-paid jobs. Over 1 million of those people want to return to full-time work, but the full-time jobs do not exist.

Labour Members take the child care crunch seriously; we are not as complacent as Government Members. We would expand free child care for three and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents. That is worth over £1,500 a year. This is a fully costed Labour commitment. We would pay for this policy by ensuring that the banks pay their fair share, increasing the bank levy to an extra £800 million a year.

For school-aged children, many parents increasingly struggle to find decent before and after-school child care. The Government abandoned our extended schools programme. We will set down in law a guarantee that parents can access wraparound child care through their local school if they want it. This will stimulate innovation and collaboration to meet the logistical nightmare described by Members today.

Child care is at the heart of the cost of living crisis for many families. While parents cry out for action from this Government, all we have seen is in-fighting and prevarication while costs have soared and provision fallen. Our offer of 25 hours free child care for working parents of three and four-year-olds will make a real difference to families struggling to make ends meet. I hope colleagues on both sides of the House will support our motion.

4.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): This has been a valuable debate that has brought into sharp focus the importance of the cost and availability of child care to so many parents across the country. I have listened with interest to the contributions made by Members on both sides of the House.

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) on the recent addition to his family. If he decides to expand it in the future, he will, of course, benefit from the provision for new flexible parental leave in our Children and Families Bill, which will come back before the House before too long. He spoke about the importance of high-quality, affordable child care, which is a baseline on which I think everyone who has taken part in the debate can form a consensus.

My parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), told us how her family had benefited from a range of choice and flexibility

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1152

with regard to child care, and about the importance of promoting strong family life and the role that childminder agencies could play in increasing both supply and choice.

The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) explained how child care can be a way out of poverty. I completely agree with him. That is why we have extended early-education funding to 260,000 two-year-olds from the lowest-income households. He may be pleased to hear that in Cumbria 805 children have already benefited directly from that policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) made an excellent contribution. She reminded us that more women are working than ever before in this country and said how improving flexible access to quality child care will help push that figure even higher.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) started by saying that she disagreed with almost everything my hon. Friend said. I listened carefully to the hon. Lady’s speech and I, in turn, disagreed with almost everything she said, save for her very thoughtful consideration of children who are on the edge of, or who have fallen into, care and how child care may help support them. I would be very happy to discuss that with the hon. Lady outside this debate.

The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) explained the wider benefits to society of good-quality, accessible child care, and the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) told us about the Danish model that was considered recently as part of the inquiry held by his Select Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who is a champion for Sure Start children centres, also made a good contribution. I have read the report produced by the all-party group of which she and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) are members. It is an excellent analysis of the current state of affairs and well worth reading, and I recommend it to the Opposition’s Front Benchers.

My hon. Friends the Members for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) and for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) also contributed to the debate.

There is not doubt that child care costs have been a real problem for many families for too long. To be frank, that should not surprise us when figures from the Family and Childcare Trust show that between 2002 and 2010, child care costs increased by just under 50%. That is why the Government have been quick to act and taken a number of significant steps to reduce parents’ child care bills and support those who want to work.

In September 2010, we increased the free entitlement for all three and four-year-olds to 15 hours per week—the equivalent of 570 hours per year—and 96% of children are now getting at least part of their free place. From September 2014, that will be extended to about 260,000 two-year-olds, many of them from the working households on low incomes for whom the costs of child care are such a burden.

As universal credit is introduced, parents working less than 16 hours per week will, for the first time, be able to get up to 70% of their child care costs paid. That will rise to 85% when both parents work enough to pay income tax, a point which was made by my hon. Friend

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1153

the Member for Congleton. From autumn 2015, we will begin to phase in tax-free child care, which will give 2.5 million working families up to £1,200 per year per child.

Taken together, that means that for three-year-olds in nursery for 40 hours a week, the state will pay for half of the hours for children whose parents claim tax-free child care, and more than 80% of the hours—four days out of five—for children whose parents claim universal credit. It also means that the Government spend on early education and child care will rise by more than £1 billion from less than £5 billion in 2010 to more than £6 billion by 2015-16.

We on the Government Benches know that simply providing ever-more funding will not, on its own, halt the long-term increase in child care costs, or provide the child care places that we need for the future. That can come only through growth in the market and improved competition.

Contrary to the view expressed by Opposition Front Benchers, there is no shortage of child care places. Some Opposition Members read from their brief a claim that the closure of Sure Start children’s centres means that child care places have been lost. However, as the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) made clear several times, the Opposition’s rumours about the demise of children’s centres are very premature.

In fact, those centres are thriving, with a record number of more than 1 million parents and children using their services. Although they continue to provide such valuable services, it is important to remember that they provide only 1% of child care, as opposed to schools, which provide about 30% of it. In fact, the total number of child care settings rose from 87,900 in 2010 to 90,000 in 2011, which is a 2.4% overall increase.

Bill Esterson: Will the Minister tell me whether we imagined or made up the evidence given to the Education Committee inquiry on Sure Start about many centres just being used by part-time staff to hand out leaflets, because that is what the record shows? Is that not what is happening? Is that not the reality in the country?

Mr Timpson: The hon. Gentleman had the benefit of listening to that evidence. It would be strange for me to suggest that he did not listen to evidence that I did not listen to, so he has asked a slightly bizarre question. The bottom line is simply this: are we ensuring that money, support, training and a quality work force are available to parents who require child care? We are providing £2.5 billion for early intervention, which is up from £2.3 billion, and we are making sure that the money we put in equates to 2 million early-years places, including the 800,000 in maintained schools—the Opposition forgot to mention them in their rushed-out press release earlier this week—which is a 5% increase on 2009.

Local authorities report that there are already 180,000 places for two-year-olds across the country, which is more than sufficient for all eligible two-year-olds whose parents want to take up the offer. Just one month into the new entitlement, 92,000 disadvantaged two-year-olds are already receiving their 15 hours a week of early education, which is more than four times the number receiving funded places in 2010. I hope that hon. Members

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1154

on all sides recognise that that is a significant achievement not for us in this House, but for the children on whose lives there will be a positive impact.

We should, however, be acutely aware that more high-quality places are needed. Demographic changes, the expansion of the two-year-old entitlement, continued economic recovery and welfare reform will all increase demand for child care. That is why we are acting to create the right conditions for that to happen in every part of the market.

The evidence is clear that the quality of settings is determined above all by the quality of the work force. In “More Great Childcare”, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary signalled our intention to create a step change in the quality of recruits coming into early-years education, and many of the report’s proposals are already in place.

The signs are promising both in relation to the cost of provision and maternal employment. One authoritative industry report published in September found that 2012-13 was the second successive year in which the price of full-day care in nurseries had been flat in real terms.

There are positive indications that the package of reforms that this Government have put into place, and which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has done so much to champion, are starting to have the desired impact of encouraging growth in every part of the child care market; placing a better trained and higher quality work force at the heart of child care provision; creating genuine choice for parents; and ensuring that, for hard-pressed parents, work really does pay. I encourage Members to vote against the motion.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 231, Noes 291.

Division No. 128]


4.30 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Susan Elan

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Lucas, Caroline

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Pearce, Teresa

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Tom Blenkinsop


Seema Malhotra


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, rh Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Colvile, Oliver

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Luff, Peter

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Gavin Barwell


Jenny Willott

Question accordingly negatived.

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Women and the Cost of Living

4.45 pm

Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House believes that the Government is failing to deliver a recovery for women and is making women pay three times more than men to bring down the deficit, according to research by the House of Commons Library; notes that under this Government, women’s unemployment has reached its highest levels for a generation; further notes that wages are stagnating in jobs where women are predominant; and calls on the Government to support more women into decent work by extending free nursery places for 3 and 4 year olds from 15 to 25 hours a week for parents at work, provide a legal guarantee for 8am-6pm breakfast and afterschool club childcare, and bring in Make Work Pay contracts to provide a 12 months tax rebate for firms which sign up to pay the living wage.

The test of a successful economy is whether it improves the living standards of ordinary people: families and businesses who want to work hard and to get on. Today, official figures say that working people are on average £1,600 per year worse off than they were at the election. On this Government’s watch, we have seen the biggest fall in workers’ incomes in any G7 country. Families across the country are hurting and it is women who are on the front line of this cost of living crisis. More often than not, it is women who are left trying to make the family budget stretch that little bit further: when the weekly shop costs more each month, but the amount in the purse stays the same; when in the past three years the cost of keeping the kids in nursery has risen five times faster than wages; and when heating bills are 10% more expensive than they were last year. Women understand what it means for prices to rise faster than wages for 40 out of the past 41 months.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Does the hon. Lady welcome the fact that there are more women in work than ever before?

Gloria De Piero: There have never been more women saying that they are working part time and cannot get the hours to work full time. The female employment rate is lower than it was under Labour before the crash.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that there are more women than ever before on low wages, more women than ever before who cannot get jobs, and more women than ever before who have to deal with the high cost of living?

Gloria De Piero: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will discuss some of the measures that a Labour Government would introduce.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend refers to the challenges that women face when budgeting. Does she share my concern that the comments made by the Education Secretary just a few weeks ago—that people who had to go to a food bank were not managing their finances—were an affront to many women?

Gloria De Piero: Those comments were absolutely offensive. I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting them, and for asking the question that exposed the reality of the Government’s position.

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Women feel it when their Sure Start centres are cut and the cost of child care continues to rise. They understand that the Government are not doing enough to help them, and they could teach David Cameron a thing or two about tough decisions. The other week I met a different Chipping Norton set: Lisa, Amanda, Toni and Laetitia. Lisa told me that, as a new mum caring for a young child and a husband with cancer, the children’s centre in the Prime Minister’s constituency saved her from having a breakdown. That Sure Start centre is now threatened with closure. Sheila, in my constituency, is in her 80s. She is a widow living alone in Sutton-in-Ashfield, and is worried about how she is going to keep warm this winter. To do so, she has to spend the day at her son’s house. Half of mums surveyed by Netmums said that to save money they turn off the heating when their children are out. This is their Britain.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): The hon. Lady is making a compelling case about how the Government’s misguided austerity programme is leading to social devastation and is economically illiterate. Does she agree that cutting public services hits women with a triple whammy—as the group most dependent on public services, as employees of public service and as the ones who have to fill the gap when public services go?

Gloria De Piero: It is absolutely right that women are hit three times as hard, and I will explain later how that has happened.

Half of mums surveyed by Netmums said that to save money they turned off the heating when their children were out. The Government talk about recovery, but these women know it is definitely not a recovery for women. Under this Government, unemployment among women has reached its highest levels in a generation, long-term female unemployment has increased eight times as fast as for men, the number of older women unemployed has increased by more than a third, and black and minority ethnic women are twice as likely to be unemployed as the national average.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the 242% increase in unemployment among women over 25 in Oldham over the past couple of years is a real indictment of the Government and their policies?

Gloria De Piero: That is absolutely right. That is why it is important to tackle long-term unemployment, and that is exactly what a Labour Government would do.

When women do manage to find work, more often than not it is part time, low-wage or temporary. The number of women working in temporary jobs increased twice as fast as the number of men. Three times more young women are in low-wage jobs than 20 years ago, and the number of women in part-time work is at its highest level ever.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that for women working in jobs not equal to their capabilities and not getting the hours and experience they need and deserve, it will have a longer-term impact on their prospects in the workplace and their income over their lifetime?

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Gloria De Piero: I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I vividly remember one lady—a mum in her 40s—coming into my office just before a Morrisons opened in my constituency. She was in tears because when Morrisons announced it was recruiting, she kept calling but the number was constantly engaged.

The Fawcett Society has done some important work warning that women are in danger of losing their precarious footing in the work force.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): My hon. Friend has already mentioned the problems for women over 50. Does she appreciate that for all women, but especially those over 50, unemployment has a huge impact on their capacity to retire and save for retirement? We are not just saying to women, “You’re not going to earn now”; we are blighting their lives with poverty into old age and with the need to apply for benefits in old age. If they were working now, they could save for their old age.

Gloria De Piero: My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point.

What is the Government’s response? It is to hit women harder. Of the £14.4 billion George Osborne has raised through direct taxation and benefit changes, about £11.4 billion—79%—is coming from women. David Cameron is asking women to pay more than three times as much as men to bring down the deficit, despite the fact that women still earn and own less than men. Scratch the surface, and we see that some of the most vulnerable women are being hit.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Before the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) progresses, I gently remind her that one does not refer to Members of the House by their names. The Prime Minister is “the Prime Minister” and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is “the Chancellor of the Exchequer”.

Gloria De Piero: I give way to my hon. Friend.

Lisa Nandy: Will my hon. Friend also highlight the impact of the cuts on the voluntary sector and therefore on women who use those services? The charity Women’s Aid said yesterday that domestic violence refuges had had to turn away 180 women a day, many of whom were going back to violent relationships. The impact on those women and their children will surely be immense.

Gloria De Piero: That is an extremely powerful point. If as much has been cut from local government finance as this Government have cut, it shows the reality of what we see. If we scratch the surface, we see that some of the most vulnerable women have been the hardest hit. Low-paid new mums lost nearly £3,000-worth of support during pregnancy and in their baby’s first year. Couples with children lost 9.7% of their disposable income and single mothers lost the most—15.6%. The Prime Minister just does not get it. Why would he, when only four out of the 22 in his Cabinet are women? When it comes to women, it is out of sight and out of mind from this out-of-touch Prime Minister.

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Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): Is the hon. Lady as delighted as I am that this Government have introduced shared parental leave and time off for dads to support their wives? Does she agree with me that what this Government are doing to support the early years is absolutely commendable and that all parties should get behind it?

Gloria De Piero: We in government extended maternity leave and introduced paternity leave.

The Government are turning back the clock on women’s equality. Progress on the wage gap has stalled, and women’s financial independence is being undermined. Let us look at the Government’s proposal for a married couple’s tax allowance. It is less than £4 and it will not benefit most married couples. For five out of six couples, it will represent a transfer from the purse to the wallet. It is money to the married man on his third wife, while the single mum, left behind to bring up the kids, will not get anything at all. This Government are taking a lot away from the purse to put a little bit back in the wallet.

This matters not simply for women’s lives and women’s equality, given that increasing women’s employment helped the last Labour Government to lift more than a million children out of poverty. All this progress is now at risk, and progress on child poverty has stalled. I look at my own constituency and see that use of food banks has gone through the roof.

Andrea Leadsom: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Gloria De Piero: I would like to make some progress, if I may.

One food bank, provided by the Eastwood volunteer bureau, is reporting a 400% increase in use, but it is not only former coalmining areas such as mine that are struggling; this is happening up and down the country. Only yesterday, in reading the Witney Gazette, I learned that another food bank was opening in the town of Carterton, just a few miles from where the Prime Minister lives. The Tory mayor of Carterton recognised the problem straight away—utility bills had gone up and the cost of food had continued to rise.

Mrs Moon: I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend’s powerful speech again. On Friday evening, a lady who works in a food bank in my constituency told me that people were turning down rice and pasta on the grounds that they could not afford the amount of fuel needed to cook it. Are we not in a dreadful position when people are turning away food that they cannot even afford to cook?

Gloria De Piero: That provides extraordinary evidence of why freezing energy bills is so important.

Netmums found that one in five mums are regularly missing meals so that their kids can eat. One mum said:

“If it’s a choice between me or the kids eating, I will feed them. I have lost so much weight my clothes don’t fit but I can’t afford to buy any more.”

This is Tory Britain.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech, and we should all be concerned about the issues she raises, but will she reflect on the fact that it was the last Labour Government who piled the green levies on our energy bills, which are now hitting women harder than men?

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Gloria De Piero: Energy bills have gone up and continue to go up dramatically—not because of green levies, but because of over-charging by the energy companies. That is why we will get tough on those energy companies, introduce a regulator with teeth and freeze energy bills until we sort the market out for good.

The cost of child care has risen by 30% since the election —five times faster than pay. A mum working part time on an average wage has to work from Monday to Thursday before she has paid off the weekly child care bill.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Does not the impact on women come from the cost of having to look after not only young children, but their elderly parents? Is my hon. Friend aware of the Scottish Widows survey showing that, as a result, nearly 40% of women are not making provision for their retirement?

Gloria De Piero: I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that survey. I shall make sure that I look into its findings.

Many families must decide not when mum will go back to work after maternity leave, but whether it makes financial sense for her to do so at all. According to a survey by Asda, 70% of stay-at-home mums said that in the current climate they would be worse off if they worked, because of the cost of child care. The Government’s response has been to take £7 billion away from families with children, and to remove the ring fence from Sure Start, breakfast clubs and after-school clubs.

The day before the election, the Prime Minister looked down the barrel of a camera and told women throughout the country that he backed Sure Start. Let me repeat his words in full.

“Yes, we back Sure Start. It’s a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this. He’s the Prime Minister of this country but he’s been scaring people about something that really matters.”

What about the Deputy Prime Minister? What did he say on the day before the election?

“Sure Start is one of the best things the last government has done and I want all these centres to stay open.”

Andrea Leadsom: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Gloria De Piero: The hon. Lady has already intervened, and I want to allow others to speak.

Since the election there are 578 fewer Sure Start centres and 35,000 fewer child care places, and the number of breakfast and after-school clubs has been cut in more than a third of local authority areas. As for the women who have found work, it is the sort of work that leaves many families struggling to pay the bills. A record number of women are in part-time, temporary and low-wage jobs. One in four earns less than the living wage, as opposed to one in six men. The Government are wasting women’s talent, and costing the economy too. Where is their commitment to make work pay? On our first day in office, the next Labour Government will offer employers throughout Britain a “make work pay” contract to help them to pay the living wage.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the number of women in the care sector who are on zero-hours contracts?

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The Government have told me that it is 300,000. Is my hon. Friend concerned about all those women with insecure levels of income?

Gloria De Piero: Absolutely. That is why we have pledged to tackle the abuse of zero-hours contracts. Flouting of the minimum wage is also a particular problem in the care sector.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, and I congratulate her on it.

A high proportion of children who live in poverty in my constituency have unemployed parents, and a high proportion have only one parent. The cheapest full-time nursery place costs more than £160 a week; it takes the vast majority of a weekly minimum wage to pay for that alone, before paying rent. This is the Britain that the Government have given us.

Gloria De Piero: I have nothing to add to what my hon. Friend has said. She has put it perfectly.

The next Labour Government will offer a simple deal to employers: 32p off tax on every pound that they spend on paying workers the living wage during our first year in office. Tackling the cost-of-living crisis means taking action to increase wages and keep the benefit bill down.

George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Gloria De Piero: I am nearing the end of my speech, so I will continue.

Something is broken when women are being forced to take two or three jobs in order to afford the basics for their families, and are being forced to take out payday loans just to make ends meet until the end of the month. We know that payday lenders target young women with their advertisements, and that the number of women declared insolvent is expected to overtake the number of men in that position for the first time. We need tough action to end the misery of so many women who are facing insurmountable debt. The next Labour Government will cap the total cost of credit. We will place a levy on the profits of payday lenders to double the public money available for low-cost alternatives for families, such as credit unions, and we will ban them from targeting kids with their advertisements.

All that we get from this Tory-led Government is complacency, and sometimes contempt, as I discovered this morning when I read in the newspapers that 42 Conservative Members of Parliament are members of the Free Enterprise Group, which advocates VAT on children’s clothes and on food. Was this some fringe group, I wondered? No. A Treasury Minister is a member, as is the child care Minister, the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss). This is a group that recommends putting VAT on children’s clothes and shoes, baby food, car seats and prescriptions, raising the weekly shop by over £8.

We need a Government who will take on the vested interests, who will stand up to the big six energy companies, reforming the market and freezing prices until 2017; a Government who are prepared to take on the payday lenders, and who will cut taxes for 24 million working

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people with a lower 10p starting rate of tax; a Government who will cut business rates for small firms; a Government who will provide 25 hours of free child care for working parents of three and four-year-olds and a legal guarantee for every primary school in the country to provide breakfast clubs and after-school clubs, and introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee to bring down the number of women in long-term unemployment: a one nation Britain that values women’s talents, that supports mums back to work, that tackles the pay gap—a Britain where women play their full part. That is Labour’s Britain.

5.5 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Nicky Morgan): It is a privilege to speak in this debate. My favourite quote is from the UK’s first female Prime Minister:

“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

I am not sure whether today’s debate is a landmark because all the opening and closing speeches will be made by women Ministers and shadow Ministers, but I would hope that we could make it a bit different by having a proper discussion rather than just talking at each other.

The Government recognise that both women and men up and down the country have been through a difficult economic period because our economy has been through, and is now recovering from, the most damaging financial crisis in a generation.

Seema Malhotra: Does the hon. Lady agree, however, that women have been hit three times as much as men by the Government’s deficit reduction steps?

Nicky Morgan: I am afraid that I cannot agree with the hon. Lady. I will come on to talk a little bit more about this, but the difficulty with the Opposition’s figures is that they assume that income is not shared throughout a household but that it is held on to by one parent in a two-parent household. The Labour figures also do not take into account self-employment, the correct inflation figures and any benefits or tax cuts. Therefore, the figure that was stated of £1,600 does not actually stack up at all.

Seema Malhotra rose

Nicky Morgan: I am going to carry on for now.

As I said, we are now recovering from the most damaging financial crisis in a generation. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) did not mention that financial crisis at all, but it was overseen by the Labour party—although I appreciate that she was not a Member of this House at that time. It was overseen by the last Government, who built a decade of growth on unsustainable debt. When our country is trying to overturn the largest deficit since the second world war at the same time as our largest trading partner, the EU, has been in recession, it is unfortunately highly likely that women and men will feel the pinch.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that in her view of the world the last Labour Government must have had tremendous power as they apparently brought about a financial crash not just in Britain but across the world? The situation

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would not have been any different whichever party was in government—and we must remember that the current Government do not want to regulate anything any more and said we regulated too much.

Nicky Morgan: That intervention shows the extent of the collective amnesia on the Opposition Benches. First, on the banking crisis the point is that the necessary reserves to deal with the unforeseen consequences were not set aside. Secondly, the last Government systematically over many years spent more than they were raising in taxes, so there were not the reserves to deal with this.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm two facts: first, that SME investment in Britain has fallen by £30 billion since 2011, and, secondly, that the Government are accruing more debt in the five years from 2010 to 2015 than the Labour Government did in 13 years?

Nicky Morgan: I do not agree on either point. The point about the borrowing is that it is called the automatic stabiliser, and it works. When the economy is in the situation it is in, it is helping out the very families the hon. Member for Ashfield was talking about.

George Hollingbery: The shadow Minister was intent on not taking an intervention from me earlier. Would my hon. Friend the Minister acknowledge that the Government have looked at how households work, and at how income comes into them, and recognised that there is a real cliff edge at 16 hours of work? That means that incomes drop away at that point, and that for every pound earned, 95p is taken away in reduced benefits. We are introducing a fundamental change that will alter the position of women and allow them to take on full-time work. That is something that Labour failed to deal with in the entire 13 years it was in government.

Nicky Morgan: I could not believe that the hon. Member for Ashfield did not want to hear from my hon. Friend, but, having heard his excellent intervention, I now understand why she did not do so.

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it was unfortunate that the shadow Minister did not mention council tax? It is a major contributor to the cost of living but, due to the actions of this Government, it has fallen by 9.5% since 2010, having doubled during the time her party was in office.

Nicky Morgan: The shadow Minister also failed to mention fuel duty and the cut in income tax but, strangely enough, I am going to talk about those things in my speech.

This Government know full well that the best way for us to raise the living standards of both women and men in this country, and the best way to put money back into the pockets of hard-working people, is to create an environment in which our economy can grow and in which everyone can feel the benefit. That is exactly what we have spent the past three years doing: reducing the deficit, improving our tax system, investing in our skills and infrastructure and ensuring that all schools are good schools.

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Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister brushed aside the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) about the impact of the Government’s changes on women’s pockets and purses, offering instead a presumption that households share their incomes equally. Has she actually read the research into domestic violence and financial control? Does she really think that a simple transfer is made between men and women in every household in this country? Does she think that our concerns about the direct impact of Government policy on women’s purses are not well founded?

Nicky Morgan: I would never want to downplay the effects of domestic violence. Sadly, I see cases in my constituency surgery on a regular basis, as we all do. The point is, however, that that is not happening in every household. Similarly, not every household is made up of two parents or just one parent; there are all sorts of different families. That is what this Government recognise: the situation is not uniform.

Thanks to the changes that we have made, and thanks, most importantly, to the hard work of women and men across the UK, our economy is turning a corner. The UK is now on the path to prosperity. The deficit is down by a third, gross domestic product is rising, and more people—including women—are in work than ever before. The more men and women who are taking home wages at the end of the month—especially when 25 million people’s wages are being boosted by our increase in the tax-free personal allowance—the higher will be the standard of living that we can expect to see in households across the country.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Chartered Management Institute confirmed today that the bonuses paid to men are double the size of those paid to women doing the same job. Would the Minister consider closing the loophole in the law to ensure that ladies get the same pay and bonuses as men when they are doing the same job equally well?

Nicky Morgan: Actually, we have had equal pay for 40 years. I shall talk in a moment about the pay gap having narrowed. Men and women should of course be paid the same amount for doing the same job. The Government have introduced a provision that, if a successful pay claim is brought, an automatic audit is triggered of the pay structure of the employer who has been caught falling foul of the law. That is something that the hon. Gentleman should welcome.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Nicky Morgan: I want to make a little progress, but I will give way to the hon. Lady in a bit.

The Opposition have thrown a barrage of statistics on female employment at us across the Dispatch Box this afternoon. I should like your permission to throw just one back, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I have said, there are now more women in work than ever before. If I am allowed one more, I shall tell the House that there are nearly 450,000 more women in employment since the Government came to power, and nearly 300,000 fewer economically inactive women. We should be

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celebrating the fact that there are now so many women in the labour market. Not only are there more women in the workplace, but the pay gap is shrinking, having fallen by nearly 1% last year. It now sits at just 9.6%.

Alison McGovern: Will the Minister answer a question that the Prime Minister could not answer last week? She has said that more women are in work now than ever before, but how many of them are on zero-hours contracts?

Nicky Morgan: I recall that the Prime Minister is going to write to the hon. Lady with that information, so I shall have to wait to see the letter. On the point about zero-hours contracts, first, the Government have announced that they are launching a review on the issue, and secondly, she ought to be looking at the number of Labour councils that employ people on those contracts first.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): My hon. Friend will appreciate, as a Treasury Minister, that the fact that more women are in work than ever before will also help the Exchequer’s revenues. In the last full tax year, men paid more than £90 billion in income tax whereas women paid only £36 billion, so she can see how helping more women work up the income scale really helps the revenues.

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is, of course, right, but we also need to consider the wider argument: it is good for women to have the choice about whether working is the right thing for them to do given their family circumstances and any other responsibilities they may have. We want to make it as easy as possible for women to work, and I will come on to discuss child care.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): I am sure that the Minister will agree that half the population are women and the vast majority of them are successful and contributing, not victims, as the Labour party would have us believe. Does she agree that local businesses employing only a small number of people will benefit from more deregulation, which would enable them to offer jobs to even more women, which they can fit in with having children at school?

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend rightly says that 50% of the population are female—it would be nice if we saw a few more women in the House of Commons to represent that, but all parties are working on it. She is also right about deregulation. I am sure that she welcomes, as I do, the National Insurance Contributions Bill, which the Exchequer Secretary is taking through the Public Bill Committee at the moment. It will give all small businesses a £2,000 employment allowance so that they can recruit more people.

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): Is it not concerning that more and more women are being sacked while they are pregnant because they are pregnant, yet this Government are making it harder for those women to challenge rogue employers and to take cases to employment tribunals?

Nicky Morgan: I, like all other hon. Members, would be concerned if any constituent came to me to say that they had been sacked as a result of being pregnant. I would support someone in that position. The research

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that we have is from 2005. The hon. Lady may have more up-to-date figures, and we are launching a new consultation to look into the rate and scale of the things she has mentioned.

Lilian Greenwood: How many women who potentially face maternity discrimination at work will not be able to take their claim to a tribunal because they are being asked to pay £1,200 just to launch a claim for maternity discrimination?

Nicky Morgan: I am sorry that the hon. Lady, whom I regard as a good neighbourly MP in so many ways, is scaremongering. People have to pay the fee only if they actually go to a tribunal, and there are many stages before that in an employment claim.

Let me talk about women and the workplace. As I said, we want to see not only more women in the workplace, but more women rising to the top of their workplaces. I am delighted that the Minister for Women and Equalities is on the Benches today, as she has been doing so much work to promote women in the workplace. I was also delighted to see Fiona Woolf, the second ever female Lord Mayor of London, coming into post earlier this month. I am sure that she will be an excellent role model for women in the City of London. But we need to do what we can to help more women to reach these senior positions and play an even more prominent role in our recovery. As many hon. Members will know, last month we published a Government action plan specifically designed to help women start out, get on and stay on in our workplaces by taking steps on things such as training, skills and flexible working.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): There is no doubt that we have been through a very difficult time, and that will have affected both sexes—men and women alike. Is not growth the best way out of a lot of these problems? Is it not irresponsible of a Government not to tackle the problems they are presented with, leaving them to be tackled by our children and our grandchildren?

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is, of course, right about that. The best way to address living standards is by dealing with the economic crisis, so that families can find work in a growing economy. He is absolutely right to say that it is not fair to burden future generations with debt, which is why this Government have taken the tough actions they have.

I shall now discuss child care. For any mothers and fathers to succeed in the workplace, we need to have the right policy in place to support them. The Labour party is right to draw attention to the importance of parental leave and child care, but let me remind the Opposition that we were the Government who recognised the current system of leave and pay for parents as being not only old-fashioned and inflexible, but as playing a role in reinforcing the idea that women are the primary carers of children. Our new system will give real choice to families, and, from 2015, will allow working parents to share leave once the mother feels ready to end her maternity leave.

I remind the Opposition that we were the party that made sweeping changes on flexible leave and that they were the party that presided over child-care costs rising

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to the second highest level in the developed world. We are working hard to address that and to make child care more affordable for parents across the United Kingdom. A recent survey showed that 2012-13 was the second successive year in which the price of full day care and nurseries stayed flat in real terms

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): The Minister is right to draw attention to concerns about the cost of child care. Will she look carefully at what a group of organisations have recommended, which is that instead of giving a tax break to better off parents to pay for their child care, the proportion of child care costs that is covered by tax credits should be raised from 70% to 80%? That would have a significantly more beneficial effect for low-earning mothers.

Nicky Morgan: I am always happy to receive submissions on this issue from Members from across the House. We have already committed an extra £200 million for people on universal credit so that coverage of their care costs will go up from 70% to 85%.

Let me remind the House that we are increasing free early education places for three and four-year-olds to 15 hours a week. We are enabling low-income families to recover their child care costs and providing all families with support for 20% of their child care costs from autumn 2015.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): It is also worth noting that it is this Government who have taken 2.5 million people out of tax entirely, including many women.

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The increase in the personal tax threshold meant that 57% of those who benefited and who were taken out of tax were women. That is 145,000 women who are no longer paying income tax. That money is staying in their households and they are able to spend it on themselves and their families, which should be welcomed.

Lilian Greenwood rose

Nicky Morgan: I will make some progress. There will be an additional 100,000 families who will eligible for child care support under universal credit. We have also ensured that our changes help the record number of women who have entered self-employment under this Government. That is a critical step. If women started businesses at the same rate as men, we could have an extra 1 million female entrepreneurs and a million more entrepreneurs, which would mean a million more people creating wealth, jobs and growth for our economy.

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): Does the Minister agree that things are very positive in my constituency of Stevenage? More than 30% of local start-ups are by women, which is something that we need to encourage further.

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is a critical point. The tax-free child care policy that we have announced will, for the first time, benefit self-employed women, and that is something that the current voucher system does not do.

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In conclusion, it is clear that, despite some of the claims put forward by the Opposition, the Government’s plan for recovery is the only plan that will create sustainable long-term growth for our country. It is the only plan that will support employment. It is also the only plan that not only puts faith in the abilities of the women and men of this country to help us work our way back into prosperity, but puts money, through our rise in the personal allowance, back into their pockets. I, like the hon. Member for Ashfield, want to see even more women working, setting up businesses and rising to the top of businesses. The Government want to make that happen, so I ask the House to reject the motion before us.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Before I call the next Member to speak, I must tell the House that, as there has been a large amount of interest in this debate and there is only a limited time available, I have had to impose a seven-minute limit on speeches from the Back Benches.

5.24 pm

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate under your chairship, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to say a brief word about three groups of women. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) has already done a sterling job of opening the debate and it is important that we pay attention to those groups of women who are often not spoken up for sufficiently in this Chamber: single mums, care workers and older women.

It is something about being a woman in politics, I suppose, but because we are a slightly rare breed, women in my constituency often approach me relatively quietly and say wonderful things such as, “I have told my daughter about you.” I hope that that is for good reasons. With that comes a duty to speak up for those women whose voice is not always loudest, and it is not always loudest because, to be honest, those women are quite busy. On this point, I must disagree with the Minister. She quoted the first female Prime Minister, who apparently said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” The women I know in Wirral are quite good at talking. I think that if you want something said, ask a woman; if you want something done, ask a woman.

Single mums, in particular, are incredibly busy and deserve all the support we can muster. Frankly, they do a brilliant job bringing up children and young people. That is why it is incredibly distressing to me that research on the impact of Government policies up to 2015-16 produced in September by the Women’s Budget Group found that women living on their own would lose the most from the combined impact of changes to taxes and cuts to social security benefits and public services. To me, it is horrendous that the Government’s economic policies will hit women living on their own the hardest. I know many such women in my constituency, and they work incredibly hard, do a good job bringing up children or looking after older loved ones, and they deserve our support and backing. They should not bear the brunt of this Government’s economic policy.

I must say a word about the marriage tax allowance.

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Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): What would the hon. Lady have said to the young woman who came to my surgery to say that she had a choice between putting petrol in the car and putting food on the table for her children? That was a single mother in my constituency in 2008.

Alison McGovern: I would have listened hard to what that lady had to say and would have asked her some more questions about her circumstances—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that that was under my Government, but I would point to the success of the previous Labour Government on women’s employment. I remember only too well my mum’s experience of being a childminder and setting up a pre-school in Wirral, in my constituency. I remember the absence of support under the previous Tory Government. I will take no lessons whatsoever from what the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position.

Mr Newmark: I know that the hon. Lady does not like to hear facts, but the fact is that today this Government have delivered more jobs for women than ever before in history and certainly more than under 13 years of Labour. More women are in work today than ever before.

Alison McGovern: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman intervened to patronise me and say that I do not like to hear facts—[Interruption.] I am glad that he intervened to patronise me in that way, because—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Gentlemen, the hon. Lady must be heard.

Alison McGovern: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) tells me that I do not like to hear facts, and then he confuses the population of women in employment with the unemployment rate. I am sorry—[Interruption.] Madam Deputy Speaker, it is incredibly frustrating in this House when people shout things like, “More women in work than ever before,” when we all know that the rate of unemployment is what matters. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman acquaints himself with some of the facts. If the population increases, that will increase the population in work. It is the unemployment rate that matters, most importantly the long-term unemployment rate. That is the most damaging thing, as I know from communities such as mine. Long-term unemployment has increased eight times as fast for women as it has for men, so I would instruct the hon. Gentleman to acquaint himself with the facts rather than coming to this House to patronise me.

Seema Malhotra: Does my hon. Friend share my surprise at the fact that under this Government 63% of the jobs that have been created have gone to men and 37% to women?

Alison McGovern: Unfortunately, I am not surprised by that fact. I am only too aware of it. I suggest that the hon. Member for Braintree acquaints himself with the facts before he intervenes again.

I intervened to mention care workers and zero-hours contracts. I see this a great deal in my constituency, so I make no apology for raising the issue in the House

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again. The Government estimate that 1,750 people are working in the care sector in Wirral. It is my assumption from experience, although we do not know, that many of those are women. It is my guess that many of them are older women. I hope the Ministers on the Treasury Bench might at some point go and talk to women working in the care sector. I am sure they will do so in their constituencies. They will hear about the heartbreaking experience of women who face local government cuts, which creates low wages in the sector and means that there is not always good training.

Local government cuts have had a severe impact on care, which has affected not only those who receive that care and support, but those working in the sector and their ability to make ends meet while they do an incredibly stressful job, sometimes caring for older people at the end of their life, which I know Ministers will agree is a terribly important job. I am sure they will look at that issue with great care and attention.

Finally, I want to say a couple of words about older women. I believe that my generation stands on the shoulders of the generation that was born in the 1950s. That group of women saw none of the benefits of the legal and social change that they fought for, but they fought for it none the less. They are now being punished by this Government because of pension changes that have gone through too quickly. They are also a generation of women who, as I mentioned in response to the intervention from the hon. Member for Braintree, have seen much greater unemployment by proportion compared with men. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) has pointed out so eloquently, they are a generation of women who always seem in danger of being counted out.

Let us not do that economically. That generation of women fought for the rights that have enabled people like me to see any success in my life. Let us make sure that we back them up, not just in terms of pensions, but in terms of their living costs now, and make sure that they do not face the severe and significant unemployment that hurts their chances now and as they move into later life.

5.33 pm

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): It is regrettable that Labour likes to portray women as always victims. It is important that this Government see women for what they are—people with all sorts of different ambitions, different needs, different aspirations and so on. It is impossible to define what women want, other than to say that they want to be able to choose and not to be punished for their own choices. Choosing to stay at home and raise children; to work part time and use informal child care; to use nurseries or childminders; to have a stunning career running a FTSE 100 company, or as a pop star or a brain surgeon; to retire early or volunteer for a charity; to care for elderly relatives or disabled children; to be a teacher or, yes, even a politician—what women want is utterly varied, and I am proud of the way that this Government have made efforts to create choice and opportunity for women.

We all know that times have never been tougher economically. Austerity has limited our ability just to keep spending, but it has not stopped the Government’s desire to reform, and to support women in their own

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choices. There is no escape from the appalling mess that Britain was in in 2010, but the Government have been committed to raising the tax-free allowance for the lowest paid to £10,000 per annum by 2014. In spite of being almost half the work force, women are by far the lowest earners, so keeping more of their income is vital for them. Freezing fuel duty and council tax has helped all families through these tough times. But above all, dealing with the deficit has been and should be the key goal.

Stephen Metcalfe: My hon. Friend talks about the deficit. Does she think it is responsible for a Government not to tackle that and to pass it on to our children and grandchildren so that they have to deal with the problem?

Andrea Leadsom: My hon. Friend is quite right, and I was coming on to say that our deficit is not some airy-fairy statistic; it is the debt that is growing from it that is the biggest threat to our children and grandchildren. If we do not sort it out in our lifetime, it will wreck their future. That matters not just to loving mums, but to loving dads and loving grandparents. The Opposition must stop making light of it. It is real; it is there; it has to be dealt with.

Unemployment rose by 29% for women under Labour. Now there are more women in employment than ever before. The unemployment rate for women has fallen to 7%. At all levels we are helping women to build and develop successful businesses. The Women’s Business Council, set up in 2012, is taking many different actions, including providing business grants and mentors to female entrepreneurs. We are promoting business to girls in school and providing student enterprise loans. In the boardroom, under this Government female representation has risen from 12.2% to 17.3% in three years. We have a long way to go, but it is real progress in what women want.

Women and men are working parents. We have just had a debate on child care, and our policies to support the cost of child care through tax breaks, as well as a raft of measures to encourage new childminders to professionalise the nursery work force and to give parents the confidence that they are getting quality child care as well as helping with the cost of it, are vital.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): Is the hon. Lady aware that the Education Committee’s recent report found that since 2010 more than 30% of child care centres in this country no longer have children in them?

Andrea Leadsom: I was not in the Education Committee, but I am absolutely passionate about child care for the very young and the support that we provide to them. As chair of the all-party group on Sure Start children centres, I can tell the hon. Lady that in our year-long inquiry into best practice in Sure Start centres, there was no evidence of wholesale closures. In fact, there is a real focus on improving the outcomes for families and children. I assure her of that. I urge her to read our report.

I also urge all parties to get behind the 1001 critical days manifesto, which looks at what more we can do to support the earliest relationships in families. It is through creating those secure early bonds that we go on to help families to build and develop the emotional resilience

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that they need to be secure and happy adults. That does not affect only women, but with one in 10 women suffering post-natal depression, and with so much family breakdown as a result of poor early relationships, I urge all colleagues to get behind our manifesto, which was launched by me, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow). It is a truly cross-party manifesto, and I urge all hon. Members to look at it. We should all call for support in the earliest years. That would really support women.

However, women are not just parents and they are not just in business; they are also carers pretty much all the time. Most of the caring in this country falls to women. Women look after the elderly, the young and the disabled. They are also very often the volunteers. They do the brilliant work in food banks and in all the charities. I chair the charities PIP UK, the Parent Infant Partnerships UK; NorPIP, the Northamptonshire Parent Infant Partnership; and OxPIP, the Oxford Parent Infant Project. They provide help for post-natally depressed women, and in those charities it is largely women who volunteer. So many women come to my surgeries to talk about their caring responsibilities. Our policy to combine health and social care for the elderly is incredibly welcome to many as it means that their elderly relatives will have a greater chance of longer independent living, and our policy to introduce personal independence payments for disabled adults and children is welcome to many families who recognise the independence it gives them in making those choices.

Above all, our education reforms will give children a real chance in life. Between 2000 and 2009, under Labour, England fell from seventh place to 25th in international school performance in reading, from eighth to 28th in maths and from fourth to 16th in science. Those things—the future of our children—matter desperately to women and men, but very much to women. It is a priority for our Government, as are our 250,000 new apprenticeships and our superb new university technical colleges, ensuring that children are supported in their future choices.

Then, of course, there are women as pensioners. Our pensions system is complicated and serves women badly. On average, women get £40 less in state pension than men and are much more likely to live in poverty, so they welcome our new single-tier pension. It will disproportionately benefit women, ensuring that those who took time out to raise a family do not suffer in their retirement as a result.

In conclusion, women have so much to offer and so many needs. I want to highlight a few other things the Government are doing for women, such as our determination to tackle female genital mutilation, to build and support rape crisis centres, to support refuges for victims of domestic violence and to tackle human trafficking. All these, and many more, deeply held aspirations and needs of women are being addressed and sorted by this Government. I am incredibly proud of our focus on being the future for women in our society. I hope that the Opposition will come to recognise that it is this Government who are helping women to achieve their dreams and that, in order to achieve the equality we are all striving for, they have to stop seeing women as victims.

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5.41 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): A few weeks ago I was listening to “The Morning Show” on Radio Nottingham. They were discussing whether people felt better off now that the economy is growing again. A mum rang in. She was working but finding it a real struggle to make ends meet. She admitted that sometimes, in order to get by, she had to ask her son if she could borrow some money from his piggy bank. That is just one story—an anecdote—but I think that it says a lot about life under this Government. Government Members talk about intergenerational fairness. What is fair about a mum having to borrow money from her child to manage until her next payday?

Of course, it is not just one mother who is struggling to get by; millions of women are, and not just in Nottingham, but up and down the country. It is not just women who are struggling, because families up and down the country are facing a cost of living crisis, but it is women who are being hit hardest of all, through cuts in public services, cut in public sector jobs, cuts in the real value of their wages and cuts in the social security benefits they rely on. It is women who are unable to access or afford care for their children or disabled or frail relatives, who are being denied adequate support when they experience domestic abuse, who are losing good jobs in the public services and who are unable to cope with longer waits for the social security benefits they have earned.

Stephen Metcalfe: The hon. Lady talks about responsibility. Does she think that it was responsible for the previous Government to borrow £1 of every £4 they spent? Is that not one reason for the problems we now face?

Lilian Greenwood: I am not going to take any lectures from Government Members who have doubled the amount of debt in this country.

Of the £14 billion the Government are taking from people’s pockets to pay down the deficit through changes in tax, benefits, pay and pensions since the general election, £11 billion is from women, even though they still earn less and own less than men. More than 40 years after Labour’s Equal Pay Act 1970 outlawed paying women less than men for the same work, women still face a lifetime of earning less. For every £1 a man takes home, a women takes home just 85p.

Under this Government, the situation is likely to get worse. The cuts mean that women are losing employment in the public sector, but they are not getting comparable jobs in the private sector. The Women’s Budget Group analysis shows the following: although unemployment across the whole UK has fallen by 0.6% for men, it has increased by 0.8% for women; the number of women who are unemployed has increased by nearly 15% to over 1 million, the highest level for a generation; and long-term unemployment has increased eight times faster for women than for men. For older women aged over 50, the situation is even worse: unemployment is up by 42,000—more than a third—since the general election, while for older men it has fallen. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) said, unemployment rates are particularly high among black and ethnic minority women.

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Some jobs have been created in the private sector, but overall 63% of them went to men and only 37% to women. For women who are still working in the public sector, while wages have been frozen, at least progress was being made year on year to close the gender pay gap, with the difference between the hourly pay rates for men and women narrowing from 18.2% to 14.2% in recent years. There has been no comparable reduction in the private sector, where women earn, on average, 25.1% less per hour than men. As the Fawcett Society warns:

“Unless the government takes urgent action, women will lose their precarious footing in the workforce. We face a labour market characterised by persistent and rising levels of women’s unemployment, shrinking pay levels for women and a widening of the gender pay gap.”

Even the recent return to growth will not necessarily help if the Government do not act. Professor Diane Elson of the Women’s Budget Group says:

“Our big concern is that…women are going to be so far behind they will not be able to catch up.”

Is there any reason to hope the Government are listening and will act? Not if recent announcements are anything to go by. The Tories’ Free Enterprise Group wants to extend VAT—a deeply regressive tax that hits the poorest hardest—to essentials such as food, children’s clothes and bus fares. The Lib Dems tell us that the answer is to increase the income tax threshold. The Deputy Prime Minister claims that that will help those on low incomes, but any gain will be far outweighed by the Government’s tax rises and unfair changes to tax credits—and of course the very poorest will not benefit at all.

Mr Newmark: As a member of the Free Enterprise Group, I want to put it on record that I oppose the suggestion that was made by one individual in that group. We should not impose VAT on children’s clothing and food, in particular, as that would be regressive and punitive. It was not said by the Free Enterprise Group but by one individual in that group, and I certainly oppose it.

Lilian Greenwood: I am sure we have all read about the proposed changes and know who to believe.

The Government’s own impact assessment on the tax threshold rise to £10,000 shows that 57% of those gaining from the measure are men and only 43% are women. The Women’s Budget Group notes that three quarters of the gain will go to the better-off half of all households. On average, households in the poorest 10% of the distribution gain just £6 per year; in contrast, the richest 10% of households gain an average of £87 per year. What has the Government’s priority been? It has been a tax cut for those earning over £150,000 a year and a massive giveaway to millionaires, while child benefit—a lifeline for many mums—has been frozen not once but for three years in a row. Tax credits and other benefits that many low-paid women rely on will rise by just 1%, condemning families to falling living standards and increasing the pressure on women, who are most often responsible for making ends meet. It is not a record to be proud of.

These changes threaten women’s economic autonomy. Women who live on their own lose most from the combined impact of changes to taxes and cuts to benefits and services.

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Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?

Lilian Greenwood: No, I am not going to take another intervention.

Single mothers lose out the most, losing 15.6% of their disposable income compared with single fathers, who lose 11.7% and couples with children who lose 9.7.%. Among pensioners, single women lose 12.5% compared with single male pensioners losing 9.5% and pensioner couples losing 8.6%. Even among working-age families with no children, single women find that their spending power is cut the most. No wonder Mumsnet found that women of all ages and all backgrounds are fed up with this Government.

It does not have to be this way. Governments can act, even in tough times, to support women rather than making life harder. They could support more women to get into work or stay at work when they start a family by extending free nursery places for three and four-year-olds from 15 hours to 25 hours a week. I remember what a difference it made to me and my friends when our children started at nursery, and that was in better economic times. Now, under this Tory-Lib Dem Government, the cost of nursery places has risen five times faster than pay, with Sure Start centres closing at a rate of three per week and child care places falling by more than 35,000. The Government could support the parents of school-aged children by providing a legal guarantee for breakfast and after-school club care. Instead, they have scrapped Labour’s extended schools programme.

In Nottingham, a rise in pupil numbers has left an increasing number of parents and children without access to the care they need. An e-mail from a mum in my constituency, who wrote to me on behalf of a group of parents at her children’s school, says it all:

“The problem is that we need after school childcare provision for our children and are running out of options—the likelihood is that some of us will have to give up jobs or take career breaks to fit in around available childcare provision”.

This Government could provide real incentives to reward firms that sign up to be living wage employers. Earlier this month, I was proud to join Nottingham Citizens and Nottinghamshire living wage employers to launch the new national living wage for the country. At that launch, Jhudari Scholar, who is 18 and head boy at his school, explained how hard it was for his mum, a cleaner working three jobs on below living wage rates. It is just shocking. KPMG reported recently that the number of people earning less than a living wage has risen by more than 400,000 in the past year to 5.2 million, and it is women who are disproportionately stuck on those wages.

Women in my constituency deserve better. They deserve better than a Government who stand by as their living standards are eroded. They deserve a Government who are on their side. I just wish they did not have to wait another 534 days to get one.

5.51 pm

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): The Liberal Democrats are doing what they can to build a stronger economy and a fairer society. We recognise that households are under pressure, which is why we have taken action to try to support women with the cost of living.

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The Lib Dems want to help women on low and medium incomes by letting them keep more of the salaries they earn. By April 2014, 1.5 million women—60% of the overall figure of 2.7 million people—will have been taken out of paying tax altogether by the rise in the tax threshold to £10,000. We are also giving a tax cut of more than £700 a year to more than 20 million lower and middle earners, the majority of whom are women. The Deputy Prime Minister is planning to put a further £100 back into people’s pockets through the workers’ bonus, which could increase the tax allowance to £10,500 by the next election.

Sheila Gilmore: The problem with the hon. Lady’s presentation of the issue is that it is very one-sided, because in order to pay for that tax cut there have been cuts to tax credits and other benefits, so on balance the lowest earners have lost, not gained.

Tessa Munt: I could not disagree more. The most important thing is that we raise the tax threshold so that those women who are working get the benefit of keeping the money they earn.

Lilian Greenwood: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Tessa Munt: I am going to continue.

We are creating more jobs for women, which is the best way of helping them with the cost of living. There are 427,000 more women in employment and almost 100,000 more women in self-employment since 2010.

We have helped create more than 1 million apprenticeships, of which more than half have been taken by women. We are taking steps to narrow inequality in the labour market. The proportion of female FTSE 100 directorships has increased by 50% since February 2011, and the gender pay gap has fallen from 20.2% in 2011 to 19.7% in 2012. That is small but undeniable progress.

The Liberal Democrat pensions Minister has helped women by introducing a new single-tier pension. Under the existing system, many women have lost out because the years they spent raising children were not properly counted towards their national insurance contributions. Under our scheme, those years will now count in full. That is so much fairer for women, who currently receive, on average, £40 less than men from their state pension.

We have helped drivers and consumers by freezing Labour’s fuel duty escalator for 41 months. At present, this is saving the average motorist about £7 every time she fills her tank, and it is likely to save her £10 a time by 2015. In my area, where there is little or no public transport, and in most rural areas in general, that, of course, directly affects women who spend a lot of their time needing to use a car, particularly to transport elderly parents or younger children around.

The Lib Dem policy of free child care has started to assist families of about 130,000 two-year-olds to become eligible for an early education place. As well as helping to improve living standards, our scheme will transform children’s life chances. The Deputy Prime Minister has announced that the scheme will double in size from September 2014. We recognise that looking at child care can be key to building a stronger economy.

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Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Perhaps the Minister will give the hon. Lady a glass a water to help her throat. May I just ask about pensions for young people today, and what will happen to them in the future? Child care today does not mean that those young people will get a pension tomorrow—in fact, quite the reverse.

Tessa Munt: I thank the hon. Gentleman for intervening. At least we are making sure that young people have a better chance to access a better education early on. Everybody knows that the money put into education early on can transform children’s life chances so much more dramatically. Those children will be the ones paying my pension and his, so it is important to concentrate on education.

For parents who wish to return to work and, through the Lib Dems, are given recognition and respect for choosing to do so—just as we respect parents who wish to stay at home and look after their children—the importance of good-quality child care is paramount. We know that child care is very expensive and is a problem for families. It was a problem for many years under Labour, and when I was bringing up my children under the preceding Conservative Government.

We are helping mothers with the cost of child care. We are providing 15 hours of free early education for all three and four-year-olds, which we will extend to 260,000 two-year-olds from next year. We are planning to introduce tax-free child care that, when fully implemented, will save a typical working family with two children under 12 up to £2,400 per year. In total, the coalition Government are investing about £1 billion a year in additional support for child care by 2016-17, including £750 million for the new tax-free child care scheme and £200 million in expanded support through universal credit.

The Lib Dems are wholeheartedly committed to shared parental leave, which creates more flexibility for parents, locks female talent into the labour market and will ultimately achieve a fairer balance for both men and women at home and in the work place. That Lib Dem priority for Government is one that we have delivered. Flexible working and shared parental leave is important in helping to create a fairer society, and the coalition Government have already implemented their commitment to extending flexible working to all parents with children under the age of 18. We now intend to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.

The Lib Dems welcome the fact that in many modern families, child care is no longer the sole responsibility of the mother. Fathers and male partners play an increasingly vital role in raising children, and it is important that the Government should accommodate that by providing for shared parental leave. The system of maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay that we inherited from the previous Government was inflexible and outdated. The coalition’s reforms will ensure that, for the first time, mothers can go on maternity leave or shared parental leave at the same time—during the first weeks after a birth—as fathers.

We are working hard to help improve living standards, but we cannot get away from the fact that they started to decline under the previous Government. It was a painful symptom of their disastrous economic record, and the fact is that they left us with an annual deficit of £160 billion.

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To conclude, the Lib Dems are on record as saying that economic sustainability is important and that we want

“an economic system where the current generation can enjoy the fruits of its endeavours without relying for its living standards on a legacy of debt left to the next generation.”

That means that we have to deal with the huge financial crisis with which we are faced. That is why we are committed to the changes that we are making. The Deputy Prime Minister was campaigning on the effect of the current situation on women more than a year ago, before the Labour party focused on it. He said that

“despite rising since the 1960s, female employment has stalled over the last decade. It is, however, a problem we can no longer afford. Just as working women drove up living standards in the latter half of the 20th century, all the evidence suggests that living standards in the first half of the 21st century will need to be driven by working women once again and this absence of women from our economy is costing us dearly.”

Several motions on this issue have been passed at Liberal Democrat party conferences and we are committed to improving child care and extending free child care. We will face the next election with that commitment in our manifesto.

6 pm

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The Government’s response to all questions about falling living standards and rising costs is to talk about the raising of the income tax threshold. At least one part of the coalition is promising even more of the same and saying that that is how we help the lowest earners, many of whom are women. However, if the main aim is to assist the lowest earners, it is an extremely poorly targeted policy. It is an expensive tax cut. Three quarters of the billions of pounds that have been spent on raising the tax threshold have gone to the top half of earners in our country.

Harriett Baldwin: Is the hon. Lady arguing that the income tax threshold ought to be brought back to £6,475, as it was under her Government?

Sheila Gilmore: I will continue with what I was saying, because it is important to realise the cost of this policy to many women.

This generous gesture, which has advantaged more people on upper earnings, has been balanced by taxes and cuts elsewhere, such as the raising of VAT. Many of the cuts have affected women in particular. The cuts in tax credits have more than cancelled out the rise in the tax threshold for the lower-paid. People who have been affected by that will not be saying, “It was great that the tax threshold was raised.” They would probably rather have stayed in exactly the same position as they were in before.

Mr Donohoe: Surely a consequence of that is that fewer women are able to put their children in day care and get back to work.

Sheila Gilmore: Indeed; the work incentives that were provided by tax thresholds, particularly to single parents, cannot be underestimated.

The hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) brushed aside my intervention in which I said that the gains from raising the tax threshold had been more than

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cancelled out for the lowest-paid, but they have been. The argument is made that raising the tax threshold allows people to keep more of their earnings, instead of tax being taken away with one hand and paid back with the other. The problem is that the policy has not been even-handed. Some people have ended up worse off as a result of it. Those who used to benefit and have lost out are predominantly women.

Tessa Munt: Is the hon. Lady saying that she would return the tax situation to the way it was before or is she saying that this policy has no effect whatsoever?

Sheila Gilmore: The hon. Lady has told the House that the path onwards involves more raising of tax thresholds, regardless of who will or will not benefit from that. A further rise in tax thresholds, however, will do absolutely nothing for many who already earn below that level, particularly women who are part-time workers. How will that further generosity—which, as I have said, benefits more those whose earnings are in the upper brackets—be paid for? On the basis of the past three and a half years, presumably it will be paid for by yet more cuts to benefits and services that help a lot of women.

Stephen Metcalfe: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Sheila Gilmore: I will not give way again.

In future—assuming, of course, that universal credit ever materialises, which is far from certain at the moment—low-paid people will benefit even less as the tax threshold increases. Universal credit will be calculated on net, rather than gross earnings. Therefore, if a taxpayer who claims universal credit receives a tax cut of £100, they will automatically lose £65 of benefits. The lowest paid taxpayers are going to suffer more, and a solution would be to commit to increase the amount someone can earn before universal credit payments are reduced every time tax thresholds go up. Those who advocate the solution for low-paid workers have told us time and again that the reason for raising tax thresholds is not to benefit everyone but to benefit low-paid workers. However, it will not benefit those workers to anything like that extent—indeed, for many of them probably not at all.

We are constantly being told that we have to make tough choices—the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), who wanted to intervene, has constantly risen to speak about the need to deal with the deficit. Choices are being made in the way the Government are proceeding, including the choice to give those generous tax cuts and wanting to continue to do so, but that does not sound like a terribly tough choice for some people to make.

There are other uses for the money if it is available. We could give a tax break to businesses that agree to pay the living wage, which would benefit women in particular. We could increase help with child care costs now. Child care tax credits were cut from 80% to 70% by the coalition. I know the Government say that they will restore that for recipients of universal credit when—if—it comes in, and the new child care tax relief starts in 2015. Why not now, however, especially with universal credit receding somewhere over the horizon? Further to that, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission suggests that the Government should reallocate the

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2013 Budget funding for child care tax relief from higher rate tax payers to those on universal credit. That would be over and above existing plans—this is a recent report from the commission—to help those who want to work and need help with child care.

Gingerbread, which will obviously advocate on behalf of families with one parent, 90% of whom are women, has made proposals for improving universal credit that would make work pay and encourage the progression through employment that is desired by us all. The old 16-hour rule that Government parties tend to dismiss was to ensure that going back to work really improved people’s situation, rather than the mini-jobs that, frankly, leave people poor.

Gingerbread has suggested that we increase the amount a claimant can earn before universal credit starts to be withdrawn, and reduce the rate at which benefits are reduced—the taper rate. Those proposals cost money, but if money is available—clearly it is for those who advocate another increase in the basic tax threshold—I urge the Government to consider measures such as those advocated by Gingerbread genuinely to help the lowest earners improve their position.

One point I completely refute is the suggestion that if we say that life under this Government is hard for many women, we are calling women victims. Far from being victims, women are struggling to bring up their children despite the difficulties that they face. It is completely wrong to suggest that we are therefore painting them as victims—far from it.

6.10 pm

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), a former colleague on the Work and Pensions Committee, who is one of the most diligent attendees in the Chamber. However, I shall disagree vehemently with her and demolish a number of the arguments that are inherent in today’s motion. I urge all hon. Members to vote against it at 7 o’clock.

I shall start with some of the macroeconomic arguments and make the case that the way to destroy a country’s wealth, and to plunge people into many years of poverty, is to do what the previous Government did to the economy—create the largest recession for 60 years and the most significant banking crisis ever. I shall also outline the course of policy to follow for economic prosperity.

The secret of economic prosperity is not hard to find, but it is hard to achieve. The first ingredient is obviously a strong central bank maintaining sound monetary policy and a prudent Chancellor who maintains sound public finances. That is the framework that provides the environment in which businesses can invest, grow, export and create jobs. It is not politicians who create that wealth and those jobs, but we can damage the cost of living and the growth of businesses with bad monetary policies, high taxes, irresponsible borrowing, excessive regulation and the high interest rates that we saw under the previous Government.

The decision to make the Bank of England independent in 1997 was just about the only decision made by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

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(Mr Brown) with which I agreed. The mandate to keep inflation at 2% has meant some predictability and stability from the inflationary ravages that we all remember from the Labour Governments of the 1970s. It is essential that the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, is able to unwind the current additional monetary stimulus that has been needed since the crash of 2008 without allowing any major deviation from that 2% target. Sound money will mean that the pound stays strong. Given the UK’s dependence on imported goods and fuel, a strong pound keeps our cost of living down.

The Government also need to play a part. The Chancellor has taken the tough and necessary steps to bring the public finances back into structural balance.

Stephen Metcalfe: My hon. Friend talks about the Chancellor making tough decisions. Do you think it would be right to abandon the programme that we have adopted and to increase the amount of borrowing? Do you think that would be the right way for the country to move forward?

Harriett Baldwin rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I do not think anything about these matters, although I am sure that the hon. Lady does.

Stephen Metcalfe: I apologise, Mr Speaker.

Harriett Baldwin: Some Opposition Members think that the Chancellor has tightened too fast, but others might argue that he could have tightened faster. I say that he has been a Goldilocks Chancellor, and this has been a tightening at the pace at which job creation has been allowed to flourish. I also want to put on record that there has been no recession in this country since 2009. At all points in this fiscal responsibility, the Chancellor has looked for measures that have helped hard-working families keep their cost of living under control. He has helped councils freeze their council tax, he has raised the tax-free threshold for working people and he has avoided the 13p fuel duty increase that Labour had planned—

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Today we have been talking about health care assistants, and there are 1.3 million women—it is an almost entirely female work force—doing that incredibly important job. All of them are likely to benefit from a rise in tax thresholds and very many of them from extra assistance with child care.

Harriett Baldwin: The previous Government, as we heard from the hon. Member for Edinburgh East, thought it was appropriate to tax people earning only £6,500 per year, and to give them their own money back in the form of tax credits. I believe it is more important that we do not take that money in the first place.

I want to demolish what the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) said on disposable incomes. Since the start of the economic downturn, the average equivalised household income has fallen by about £1,200 since 2007-08. The Opposition talked about the average fall, but the richest fifth of households have seen largest fall. In contrast, after accounting for inflation and household

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composition, the average income for the poorest fifth of households has grown in the same period by 6.9%—a statistic from the Office for National Statistics. I refute the argument inherent in the motion that we have had a particularly serious impact on the cost of living for women.

I would also like to demolish the claim in the motion that the Chancellor has made

“women pay three times more than men to bring down the deficit”.

I have taken the trouble to look at the Full Fact website, which I recommend to Opposition Members. It makes a line-by-line demolition of their claims. For example, women such as me, who earn more than £60,000, no longer receive child benefit. That is counted as a negative, but I would argue that that is a sensible way to reallocate scarce resources. The Opposition count it as a negative that the income tax cut does not help women as much as men, whereas I think it is a good thing that women are given a tax break.

The third point I would like to demolish is that it is a problem for more women than ever before to be in work. I welcome it. One reason this has been a successful area of welfare reform is that the number of lone parents out of work—I accept that the number of lone parents out of work declined under the previous Government—has declined sharply since 2010, falling by 26% to just under 500,000. I agree that that is still too high and we have more to do, but we are doing an enormous amount—providing free child care and helping lone parents into work—to help them to lift their own families out of poverty. There are other positive aspects of welfare reform for women in the workplace. Although well intentioned, a terrible consequence of Labour’s approach to welfare is that it trapped many women in 16-hour-a-week jobs. I have met many women in my constituency who have said, “I have been offered more hours, but it does not make economic sense for me to take them.”

Sheila Gilmore: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Harriett Baldwin: I do not have enough time, I am afraid.

In fact, we were paying a lot of women to maintain 16-hour-a-week jobs. That may be ideal for some people’s family situation, but it sends a poor message, through the welfare system, that we need to tackle. We need to allow women to progress up the income scale in the same way as men so that—I do not often argue for higher taxes—men and women pay the same amount of income tax. At the moment, women pay approximately 60% less income tax and I would like to see progress on that.

The motion is full of holes. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to vote against it.

6.19 pm

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I agree with the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) that the Chancellor is a Goldilocks Chancellor—he goes around people’s houses nicking all their porridge. He and his colleague the Prime Minister are very much the brothers Grimm of Parliament at the moment.

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I want to talk about the unquestionably disproportionate impact many of the Government’s policies are having on women. The north-east region, which includes my constituency, is particularly hard hit. I hope that Ministers take our points onboard and take the necessary steps to rectify the many issues in the region. I will focus on three areas: first, the unemployment rate among women, particularly the rate of long-term unemployment—those claiming for more than 12 months; secondly, pay equality; and lastly, the broader issue of the cost of living crisis currently facing women.

In May 2010, there were 20,657 female unemployed benefit claimants in the north-east. Last month, that figure was 25,973. That is a 25.7% increase. In my constituency, long-term unemployment among women has increased by 144% since the general election in May 2010. That is a shockingly huge amount and one that I am sure my colleagues would agree is completely disgraceful. The picture across neighbouring Teesside seats is no better. In Redcar, the figure is almost 157% worse, but worse still, in Stockton South, the increase has been a mammoth 205%. That is the increase in long-term female unemployment between May 2010 and October 2013.

While the Government might be able to present figures that show a small increase in employment, the jobs have tended to be in the south-east and clearly are not helping those unfortunately in long-term unemployment. More broadly, historically, the north-east economy has been built largely on male-dominated heavy industry, and while the more traditional industries, such as chemicals and steel, have had tough times recently, under the previous Labour Government, the area saw an increase in smaller scale, but highly-skilled industries and a diversification into other industries.

Jim Shannon: Is it not time perhaps that big industry, particularly the STEM industries—science, technology, engineering and maths—offered more job opportunities to ladies rather than men to make it equal?

Tom Blenkinsop: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I will come to that later.

Women, particularly young women, are more likely to find themselves in low-paid work, such as customer services, retail, care work and the leisure industry—sectors offering fewer progression opportunities and lower pay.

Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but he has already admitted that there are considerable differences in the UK—in my constituency, the situation is very much brighter—which suggests a structural imbalance. Would he agree that the last Government did nothing, in any real terms, to address that structural balance, which is one of the reasons for the situation he is describing?