HC Deb 07 March 1995 vol 256 cc139-41W
27. Mr. Wilson

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to improve the training opportunities available to women.

Mr. Paice

Women returners and lone parents may enter training for work without having to be registered as unemployed. They may train on a part-time basis and receive child care support. The Department is also promoting women's training and employment opportunities in England through the fair play initiative.

Mrs. Angela Knight

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about the Government's policies for improving women's opportunities in the labour market and beyond.

Miss Widdecombe

By promoting a competitive, efficient and flexible labour market, the Government have widened choice and opportunities for everyone, men and women.

There are 12.1 million women economically active, and women make up 45 per cent. of the work force in employment. Since 1984, there has been a 14 per cent. increase in women working full time and a 19 per cent. increase in women working part time.

The number of self-employed women has risen by 80 per cent. since 1981. The proportion of women in management and professional jobs increased from 25 per cent. in 1984 to 30 per cent. in 1994.

The pay gap between men and women continues to narrow and now stands at approximately 20 per cent.—the lowest it has ever been.

In 1992, the latest year for which data are available, the UK had the second highest female labour market participation rate in the European Union, as then constituted, after Denmark.

In the EU, only the UK has a lower unemployment rate for women than men.

To help this process of improvement, the Government have introduced specific policies and programmes. For example, workplace nurseries have been exempted from income tax since 1990.

The Employment Department is channelling £45 million through training and enterprise councils and local enterprise companies to help create up to 50,000 new out-of-school child care places for the over-fives.

From October 1994, help with child care charges is available to families receiving family credit, disability working allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit. Child care charges of up to £40 are offset against earning when benefit entitlement is calculated. In the longer term, an estimated 150,000 families are expected to benefit from this new measure, including 50,000 families who are expected to take up work as a direct result of this change.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is consulting on ways to achieve my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's target to provide, over time, a pre-school place for all four-year-olds whose parents wish to take it up.

In addition, "Fair Play for Women"—a joint Government/Equal Opportunities Commission partnership—was launched in April 1994 to tackle the barriers facing women in economic and social life. Regional consortia have been established in each of the 10 Government office regions in England and each consortium is developing and implementing an "Agenda for Action" based on local priorities. Chwarae Teg, set up in south Wales in 1992, now covers the whole of Wales in a programme to expand women's participation in the work force at all levels.

In December 1994, the Government established a development unit on women in science, engineering and technology—SET—to promote the role of women in SET.

In other fields, there has also been much progress. The proportion of public appointments held by women increased from 23 per cent. in 1990 to 30 per cent. in September 1994.

In health, the NHS is now screening over 80 per cent. of eligible women nationally for cervical cancer.

In 1992, more than two thirds of breast cancer screening programmes exceeded the 70 per cent. screening uptake target.

On domestic violence, the Government have set up interdepartmental groups at official and ministerial level to co-ordinate Government action to tackle this serious issue. Government-funded publicity campaigns have been mounted in England, Scotland and Wales to increase awareness of domestic violence. In Northern Ireland a publicity campaign, jointly funded by the Northern Ireland Office, the Department of Health and Social Services and the Northern Ireland Women's Aid Federation is due to be launched very shortly.