The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:29 pm on 8th July 2020.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 5:29 pm, 8th July 2020

It is a pleasure to contribute to this afternoon’s debate. I pay tribute to the measures that the Chancellor announced. My right hon. Friend has worked incredibly hard to ensure that we get the economy moving again. I do not see an economy that is stalling; I see some real efforts to put drive behind it and make sure that we can come out of the pandemic in good shape.

However, we do need to build the economy for women as well as men; for young, as well as old; for those from all parts of the United Kingdom, all ethnicities and all religions. Surely part of levelling up means that we must make it better for absolutely everyone. If covid has taught us one thing, let it be that when we pull together, we can get real action and the strength of community that all of us have seen in our constituencies.

I absolutely welcome the news on apprenticeships, which are such a key part of making sure that young people get into their first job and develop a trade, and are able to progress in their lives. I absolutely endorse the measures that the Chancellor has announced. But this has to be about reaching across the age range and across the gender divide, so we need more to help those women who might come out of this pandemic in worse shape than they went into it. We need to help them retrain, upskill and find new parts of the economy that they can work in. I pay tribute to the Government’s record. We went into the pandemic with female employment at a record higher—higher than it had ever been in my lifetime—but we must not see that go backwards. We already know from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that woman were more likely to be furloughed during covid and are more likely to be in parts of the economy that remain shut down.

It would be remiss of me, after a week of discussing this subject, if I did not draw the Minister’s attention to the beauty industry, a sector that remain shut down. It employs 370,000 people, the vast majority of whom are women. They have asked me to point out, time and again, that they are the entrepreneurs. They are the women who have learnt a trade, built their own businesses and gone on to employ others. They have taken risk by renting premises, and in some instances they are still having to pay rent while those premises remain shut down. I do not speak just for beauticians; I speak for those practising complementary therapies, and for yoga instructors, dance instructors and those working in sectors that help our wellbeing, ones that we may well want to turn to when lockdown is finally relaxed in its entirety. I was cheered by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister earlier today when he gave some indication that we might expect an announcement—we hope, fingers crossed—later this week. It is high time that these people were given something to work for—an opportunity to start building their client list back up and an opportunity to make appointments. If not, I respectfully ask the Minister that he make some representation asking for additional fiscal support for them, because they are really struggling and want some hope.

In the 45 seconds I have left, I wish to echo the comments of Matt Western on childcare. I lobbied Treasury Ministers before this statement to say that we needed help for that sector. I appreciate that the sector has had support from the 33 hours offer, but the sector goes into the relaxation of lockdown having to make social distancing changes in premises and possibly having to reduce the number of spaces that can be provided. That means women may well not be able to go back to work if they cannot find the childcare they need. With schools not open until September, this industry is close to crisis. I just leave that thought with the Economic Secretary.