It is an honour to follow Chris Stephens.
There is much to discuss about the resilience of the economy, the demand-led recovery and the need for consumption. However, today, I will focus my remarks on women and what else we need to do to safeguard their jobs during this period.
There is no doubt that Government intervention has saved women’s jobs during this crisis. We know that women are disproportionately likely to work in the hospitality sector. We know that parents have been more likely to be furloughed and mothers more likely than fathers. So it is Government action in this area that has really helped women safeguard their jobs and what we saw this morning was that that help will continue.
The jobs retention bonus scheme will be incredibly important to make sure that women’s jobs continue in the aftermath of this crisis. The VAT cap for the tourism and hospitality sector as well as the eat out to help out scheme will disproportionately help women. That is very important and has been overlooked in the narrative we have had to date. So this support will be very important.
What else do we need to do to make sure that women come out of this crisis in a strong position? First, we need schools to go back in September. That is very important, and I am so pleased that the Government have pledged that that must be the case. It must, however, be full-time; we must make sure that all children are going back five days a week, to ensure that mothers and fathers can responsibly go back to work with a commitment that they know cannot be reneged on.
We must also look at whether, in future local lockdowns, we do actually close schools. The evidence is that children are less likely to get the disease and less likely to spread it, so there is a question in my mind, because of the economic recovery, as to whether we need to close schools when we do the local lockdown.
The other point I briefly want to make is about flexibility. The flexibility we have shown during this period has been a lifeline for women and women’s jobs, and I know that many want to see that continue. The model of local hubs, which would enable people to go in and out in a more flexible manner—and which I hope we can pilot in Sevenoaks—will be very important and will help to remodel our economy for the long term.
So I welcome what was announced this morning. It will be hugely beneficial for women in the workforce, and I think we need to ensure that we get schools back and a more flexible economy going forward.