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This year’s Budget coincided with International Women’s Day, whose theme was “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”. It is nearly 100 years since women were first granted the right to vote in the UK, but there is still much to do to achieve gender equality, both here and around the world.
The last Labour Government achieved so much for women. We introduced the minimum wage, created tax credits, increased maternity and paternity leave and pay, introduced pension credits, expanded childcare, and introduced the Equality Act 2010. That all made a massive difference to women in this country.
Gender equality means delivering long-term, tangible change for women, including securing women’s economic freedom, providing secure work and promoting women’s access to innovative technologies. The Budget could have taken greater steps to achieve some of those aims. Instead, the Tory Government, in their seventh year, have failed to redress the disproportionate impacts experienced by women as a result of tax and benefit changes and public spending cuts since 2010. From tax credit cuts to the crisis in social care, it is women who have consistently been hit hardest by the Tories’ policies.
Yet again, this Government have made no assessment of how their policies impact on women in the UK. As of the 2017 spring Budget, £80 billion—more than three quarters of all savings—have come from women, with a disproportionate impact on women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Even the lauded £5 million for returning-to-work mums works out at a pretty useless £10 a mum. What exactly will that buy?
That is why I support the recent announcement by my hon. Friend Sarah Champion, the shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, that she will seek to introduce an economic equality Bill, which will eliminate obstacles that prevent women from reaching their economic potential. Part of that will be the need to provide more secure work. The number of those working without guaranteed hours or baseline employment rights has shot up by more than 660,000 over the past five years. How is a working parent —a working mother—supposed to plan childcare when they do not know the hours they will be working? Never mind the fact that, under this Government, only a third of local authorities actually believe there will be enough childcare available in their area for eligible families.
The reality is that women still make up the majority of part-time, non-permanent full-time and zero-hours contracts. Of the 900,000 workers—nearly 1 million—on zero-hours contracts, 55% are women. That should come as no surprise because, in almost any labour market in the world, social care work is performed by an insecure and largely female workforce. In the UK care sector, companies delivering social care for cash-strapped councils are, in a bid to remain viable, offering more zero-hours contracts than ever, which means even less protection for these workers.
Equality must take more of a priority than this Government are currently affording it. One way to do that would be for the Government to provide a clear commitment to play a much more active role by promoting women’s access to innovative technologies to help them to be successful entrepreneurs and leaders in innovation; encouraging women to enter and thrive in the tech industry; creating the conditions necessary for change at all levels; and encouraging women to enter typically male-dominated sectors, such as the energy and renewables sector. That is happening in my constituency, where the likes of DONG Energy and E.ON are providing excellent apprenticeships for young women. The Government used to talk about that, but they have now gone suspiciously quiet.
We should do much more than the Government’s Innovate UK initiative, which is seeking to invest £200,000 to help more women to be successful entrepreneurs and leaders in innovation, as this one-off initiative essentially offers just 12 women a tailored package of support, of whom just four will actually receive a financial package worth up to £50,000. That is not a ringing endorsement of women by this Government.