It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Bob Seely, my neighbour, on securing this important debate on levelling up. It is a really great opportunity to explore the scope of this call to action. The timing of the debate really could not be better, as it immediately follows the G7 and the joint communiqué published by the Group of Seven developed country leaders, indicating the shared agenda that we have and the central role that the Government’s agenda of levelling up has across those other nations, which are key trading partners and, indeed, key allies.
The issue of levelling up resonates across the nation, and we saw that in the general election. I believe that we need to look not just at regional levelling up, which we heard about so eloquently from my hon. Friend, but at the broader scope and vision that we saw in the communiqué that was published following this weekend’s conference. The G7 leaders agreed unanimously that in reinvigorating our economies we should be levelling up as nations, so that no place or person, irrespective of their age, ethnicity or gender, is left behind. The full power of the applicability of our vision was seen not just at home but in the wider world.
It was important to see gender equality so clearly and explicitly embedded in the G7 communiqué for levelling up. Gender equality has to be embedded into the strategy of the Government’s levelling-up White Paper when it is published later this year. We need to be talking about left-behind people, as well as left-behind areas, particularly when we look at economic underperformance, which is something we are still having to tackle in this country. It demonstrates itself through low pay and low employment levels in some areas of the country, leading to lower living standards and poor productivity. These issues are still particular challenges for women in work. We may see increased numbers of women in Parliament or in high-profile jobs, but despite that, more women, who achieve higher qualifications than men, will still end up underperforming economically through their working life.
Across all age groups men make up the majority of high and middle-income earners in the UK. Women are only over-represented in the category of low paid work. Although there are record numbers of women in work under this Government, there is a persistent gender pay gap in the over 40s and an unemployment gap of more than 6% between men and women. The Government have to make levelling up as an agenda work hard for everybody throughout the United Kingdom, wherever they live.
The Government would do well to ensure that their policy focuses particularly on the experiences of women and how we can make sure we level up for women across the United Kingdom. It is important that every single part of our country is performing as it should in economic terms. If we do not give women the support they need, particularly through employment policies supporting maternity leave, we will continue to see an under-representation of women in the workplace.