13. Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): What progress he has made on increasing the number of women in employment. 
The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): Supported by this Government’s reforms of welfare and the equalisation of the state pension age, there are now more women in work than ever before, with an increase of over 1 million since 2010.
Lucy Frazer: It is absolutely vital that after women have had children, they have the option to go back to work if they want to. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that her Department encourages that?
Priti Patel: My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. In encouraging more women back into work, this Government are committed to increasing and providing more childcare places. In fact, I look forward to when we this week announce the early adopters of the new 30-hour childcare policy. I think it fair to say that alongside the increase in the national living wage and the increases in the personal allowance, there is more support for women to get back to work and to work longer hours.
20.  Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister agree that there is a special category of women—women on the autistic spectrum —who find it very difficult to get into employment? With the right kind of support, however, they can make a valuable contribution to our economy. Will the Minister look at Ambitious about Autism, which is launching an employability initiative for people with autism, and give it some support?
Priti Patel: Of course the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are working with that organisation. I have been in touch with the National Autistic Society, too, to discuss what more we can do to work with employers and find more employment engagement for people on the spectrum. The hon. Gentleman is also right to highlight the need for more support for women with autism—and that is exactly what this Government are committed to do.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Increasing the number of women in employment is a key goal for this Government. Many good things are happening, but one thing going on in my Gloucester constituency highlights that more needs to be done—helping women on employment and support allowance back into employment. In that context, will the Minister join me in thanking a partnership called Forwards, which, led by the county council and in tandem with organisations such as Pluss, is making a huge difference to the lives of individuals who are now coming into work for the first time?
Priti Patel: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point and for his observations from his own constituency. He is right to say that more support can always be provided for women on ESA, but also for people in general on it. That is why this Government are committed to the reforms that we have outlined. Importantly, we are committed to working in partnership with other organisations, including charitable organisations—as well as local authorities—such as the one my hon. Friend mentioned from his own constituency.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): What is the Minister doing to help women on zero-hour contracts to get tax credits?
Priti Patel: The most important and significant thing we have done as a Government in respect of zero-hours contracts is to abolish the exclusivity clauses, which the hon. Gentleman’s party, when in government, did absolutely nothing about.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): More and more people, particularly women, are taking on caring responsibilities. I thank the Minister for meeting me and Carers’ Resource from my constituency about this particular issue. Does she agree that it is important for employers to have more carer-friendly employment practices and that we need to do more to encourage that to happen in order to get the best for those people? Will the Government ensure that they do something to recognise the success of those employers who are carer friendly?
Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It was with great pleasure that I met Carers’ Resource from his constituency. Earlier today I discussed how we can support and work collectively with that organisation to support more women with caring responsibilities to get employment and also to work with employers to do more to support getting people into work—carers in particular. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and Carers’ Resource to see what more we can do to pilot more initiatives locally.
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): Last week, the Government were significantly defeated in the House of Lords over their plans to cut the benefits of sick and disabled people. More than half the people in the work-related activity group have a mental health condition. They face barriers getting into work as a result of their condition as well as stigma from employers. Will the Secretary of State now accept how utterly unfair and ineffective this proposed cut is, and abandon it?
The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): No one will lose out as a result of the changes we are making to employment and support allowance. Importantly, that means that there will be no cash losers. I think it is worth my reflecting on the point that the Secretary of State made, which is that this Government are focused on supporting those on ESA in a way that the previous Labour Government did not when they introduced the work capability assessment. That is why we have kept the WCA under review. We will announce the publication of a White Paper in the spring that will look into further reforms.
T5.  Mr Alan Mak (Havant) (Con): Jobs fairs are an effective way for local employers to promote their apprenticeships, which are a key element of this Government’s long-term economic plan. Will the Minister join me in congratulating local Havant businesses Fasset, Barratt Homes and Lockheed Martin on supporting my jobs fair later this month?
Priti Patel: I thank my hon. Friend for making this point about the great work that is taking place in his constituency. I absolutely endorse his commitment to holding apprenticeship and jobs fairs, because they are the gateway to new jobs and employment opportunities for many young people. I commend him for the work that he is doing.
6.  Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Tame Plastics and other manufacturing firms in Tamworth that are creating new jobs and apprenticeships? What can he do in areas of low unemployment to turn jobcentres into recruitment agencies for more and better-skilled roles?
Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says. There is no doubt that a great deal of work is being done with Jobcentre Plus to support local firms such as Tame Plastics, not only in recruiting new employees but in supporting the skills base that important companies such as this need in his constituency.
T8.  Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): Last week, the Government suffered another embarrassing defeat in the House of Lords on the proposals to cut ESA WRAG support by £30, which would leave many disabled people in a very difficult financial position. Despite what has been said earlier today, will the Secretary of State now re-examine the arguments put forward by the Scottish National party? Will he categorically give a commitment today that no one will lose out on this critical financial support?
Priti Patel: Let me remind the hon. Lady of my earlier comments, when I said that no one currently on ESA will lose out as a result of the changes. Importantly, too, our Government are focused on supporting individuals who have health conditions and are on ESA, which is why those in need would automatically go to the support group.
Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con): A jobcentre’s role is especially important for those who do not have the necessary support at home. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in addition to the youth obligation, there should be an obligation on jobcentres to offer more specialist support?
Priti Patel: My hon. Friend raises an important point: jobcentres have a significant role to play in providing support to young people. That is why we have just started a pilot that takes Jobcentre Plus, with employers, into school to act as a gateway to provide new employment, work experience and work placement opportunities. He has also made the point that the new youth obligation focuses on ensuring that young people are either earning or learning, and do not end up trapped in the benefits system, which is exactly what happened under the previous Labour Government.
Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): Following on from the comments about the ESA WRAG changes and the Lords having passed the matter back to us, I welcome the opportunity to look at this again and am excited to see the content of the White Paper. Can the Minister give us any feel at all about the cost recognition for claimants in the future? This is not just about support; it is also about the additional costs that they face to live.
Priti Patel: I thank my hon. Friend for the point she raises and her question, and I come back to the comments I made earlier. Importantly, the changes we are making, particularly through the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, show that we are committed to transforming people’s lives by supporting more people with disabilities who face barriers to work. This also means an increase in funding support for those with health conditions and disabilities of almost 15%, and we will bring that forward in the new work and health programme.
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Will the Minister agree to look at the case of my constituent Mr Beet, who has home dialysis three times a week but is also trying hard to keep his job to support his family? He has been turned down for PIP twice. Does she feel, as I do, that if a person is having dialysis, they are eminently suitable to receive PIP?
Priti Patel: I would be very happy to look at this case with the hon. Lady to see what support we can provide her constituent. She makes an important point, which is that he wants to work and therefore should be supported to stay in employment, too.
Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP): Half of those receiving employment and support allowance in Scotland qualify through a mental health problem. A report from the Scottish Association for Mental Health, which has a base in my constituency at Redhall Walled Garden, has found that people who are placed in the work-related activity group report “inappropriate expectations” being put on them, making their mental illness worse. Does the Minister agree that that will be exacerbated by the Government’s proposed changes?
Priti Patel: With respect, I say to the hon. Lady that she is wrong. This Government are investing more than any previous Government in providing financial support and in piloting new projects to make sure that those who have mental health challenges and problems are given the right kind of support. We should make the distinction here that this is about not just financial support but the wider support that they get through DWP and the networks and in the community to help them get into work.
Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I welcome the news that nine out of 10 businesses that started with new enterprise allowance support survived for more than 12 months. Will the Minister update us on what further progress there has been in the Government’s efforts to support jobseekers who are looking to start up their own businesses?
Priti Patel: I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the great work and the results of the NEA, which has been an outstanding scheme, supporting more and more people to get into work and start up their own businesses. There is more support going through our Jobcentre Plus network to mentor, help and engage with those individuals who want to start up their own businesses. We have more reviews coming, but the whole House can join me in commending this programme for its success and for how it has enabled people to get on in life and start up their own businesses and become successful.