HC Deb 11 February 2002 vol 380 cc74-5W
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

To ask the Minister for Women if she will make a statement on the benefits to the economy of flexible working for women. [33981]

Ms Hewitt

The economy needs a high rate of labour participation and both women and men want opportunities for productive paid employment. Flexible working is often the key to women's participation. Employers who adopt flexible working policies report that: staff are easier to attract and recruitment costs are less; skilled staff are retained and better returns are gained from training; staff turnover decreases; staff morale improves and absenteeism decreases; and changing market conditions are dealt with more effectively. In addition to the economic advantages the opportunity to work flexible hours can make a real difference to the lives of women, whether it is the woman or her partner who works flexibly; their families; and, their children.

Retention of staff is key to the stability of an organisation. The typical recruitment costs of replacing an individual have been estimated at £3,900. And these costs do not take account of the investment made in training which is lost if skilled employees have to change jobs. Skills are lost to the economy, for example, when women take lower skilled jobs and less well paid jobs on return from maternity leave. A survey of parents carried out in 2000 found that 10 per cent. of non-employed mothers with dependent children under 16 said that the lack of flexible working opportunities was the main barrier to their finding employment. The continuing pay gap is an indicator of the skills lost to the economy: women's hourly earnings are 81.6 per cent. of men's earnings.

This is why the Government are looking to improve the opportunities to work flexible hours. The Government's Work-Life Balance campaign encourages all employers to introduce ways of working which meet the needs of the business and its customers while simultaneously improving the work-life balance of their employees. In addition, for working mothers and fathers who juggle their work responsibilities with caring for their children, the Government through their Employment Bill are introducing a right to apply to work flexibly for parents with children aged under six (or 18 for parents of disabled children). If the new right encourages the participation of just 5 per cent. of mothers alone who are currently economically inactive it will increase the labour supply of women by 55,000.

Miss McIntosh

To ask the Minister for Women when she last met ministerial colleagues in the Department of Health to discuss health issues relating to women. [34015]

Ms Hewitt

The Ministers for Women, supported by the Women and Equality Unit, have worked closely with our colleagues in the Department of Health and Department for Education and Skills in the production of a report entitled "Better Services—Better Working Lives" which was published in December 2001.

The report was published as part of the Government's drive to deliver first class public services that are accessible to everyone. Women are the key users of health and education services, whether accessing the services themselves or for their children, and they are also in the forefront of delivering these services. The report which is based on the experiences of women as deliverers and users of these services will help inform future policy-making.