The investment that we have brought forward in the Budget will enable us to go further and faster on that backlog, but as I said earlier, it is also important that we plan ahead. We need to make sure that the demographic bulge of people who have been in our primary schools and are moving through to our secondary schools have school places and classrooms to go to when they need them. That is why balanced investment was announced in the Budget, not just in refurbishing existing schools and school places, with a particular focus on those that need it the most, but in ensuring that we have the extra good school places that our country will need in the future.
I touched briefly on why lifelong learning and the investment in it in the Budget are so important. Lifelong learning needs to become the norm in our country, and I want to ensure that people have the tools to do it. The reality is that many of us will never study again after leaving school, yet we know that in the economy of the future, readapting to new skills and continuing to learn will be vital. That is why we are making available up to £40 million over the next two years to fund lifetime learning trials. That will help us to ensure that we know what works, where it is needed and how we can change our country so that we have a culture in which more adults seize opportunities to upskill and take control of their lives.
As I said earlier, we have the highest level of female employment on record, which is a fantastic achievement, and the gender pay gap is at a record low of 18.1%, but there is still a gap. The Government are implacable in our commitment to close that gap to zero within a generation, and we know that some women find it hard to return to work after taking time out to care for young children. Many feel that they come back to work at a lower level or have to expect less progression in their work and pay. That is not good enough, and our economy cannot afford to miss out on that talent. Some employers are already running schemes to help women return to work, and we want to learn from those businesses and work with them to support more women to be able to do so. We also want to apply the same lessons in the public sector, together with improving people’s ability to take up lifelong learning.
I want to see people coming back to work better skilled than when they left to take a career break, rather than somehow having to struggle to get their career back on track. That is why I have announced that my Department will work with business groups.