HL Deb 27 February 1989 vol 504 cc855-6

2.54 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

In what way women are taking advantage of the Government's policies for enterprise and growth.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, women are taking full advantage of the favourable economic climate created by the Government. Since 1983 there has been an increase of over 1.5 million in the number in paid work, and an increase of 11 per cent. in the number working full time. Since 1979 the number of women in self-employment in the United Kingdom has more than doubled.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Can he make any comparison with the employment of women in other EC countries?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes. The labour force survey shows 11.4 million women working or seeking work. We know that this represents the highest participative rate of any EC country except Denmark. The United Kingdom is unique in the EC in having lower unemployment among women than among men.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how we rank when it comes to full-time employment for women? Does the Minister not agree that the very high figure he quoted is much swollen by the large numbers of women working part time?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the implication of that question, I believe, is that part-time employment does not count as real work, which I would dispute. I hope that that is not the implication of the question. There is no doubt that many women and some men actively seek such jobs so that they can combine paid work with family or other interests. There is no evidence that people in part-time work would like full-time work. In September 1988, 51.7 per cent. of the estimated number of women in self-employment were working part time.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that it is desirable in the present situation to encourage more women to join the workforce? Does he not further agree that it would be a good idea for the Government to give greater encouragement to the provision of crèche and nursery facilities? With that in view, can the Government reconsider their attitude to taxing the provision of nursery care and so on as a fringe benefit? Moreover, will not the Government reconsider their attitude to the EC directive on parental leave which might also encourage more women back into the workforce?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Baroness that it is important to encourage more women on to the labour scene. Whether or not tax advantages can be given in this regard is not a matter for my right honourable friend but for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Tax relief is already available to employers for providing child-care facilities. There is much interest and discussion at the moment among the major firms as regards vouchers for child-care facilities. That is something of which I heartily approve.