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The Chancellor is steering our economy through choppier waters. The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast weak growth for the UK economy over the next few years while just last week the deputy governor for monetary policy of the Bank of England warned that Brexit could negatively affect productivity.

One way of boosting the economy would be to further increase the employment rate of women. According to the Government’s Women’s Business Council, equalising the participation rate between men and women could increase economic growth by 0.5% percentage points per year. Similarly, the IMF estimates that a one percentage rise in the employment rate of women could lead to overall productivity growth of between 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points a year.

It is worth noting that, over recent decades, significant progress has been made on increasing female employment. In 1971, 53% of women were in work. This has steadily increased to a record 70% in the last three months of 2016. But, the employment rate gap between men and women of working age is still 9.3 percentage points.

There have been a number of causes of this increase. These include: cultural and attitudinal shifts; increases in the female retirement age; greater subsidised childcare, parental leave and flexible working; anti-discrimination laws; growing conditionality in welfare, and the rise of the services sector in the UK.

So what can the Chancellor do to boost women’s employment rate? Evidence from the Office for National Statistics show that the female employment rate is very similar to the male employment rate until the mid twenties. The gap in employment between men and women then grows until women are in their 40s, when it narrows again.

This coincides with the average ages at which women have children and, indeed, the primary reason women cite for leaving employment is to “look after their family or home”. The narrowing of the gap in later life suggests women tend to return to employment as their children grow older.

To increase the employment rates of women, government must make it as easy as possible for new mothers to get back into the labour market as soon as they would like. There are two barriers, in particular, which prevent mothers doing this: high childcare costs and poor work flexibility.

According to the OECD, British families have some of the highest childcare costs of all OECD countries. The average British family spend more than 30% of their family income on it. For many families, particularly single parent families and low-income families, this makes returning to employment difficult and not worthwhile. A number of suggestions have been made to reduce the cost of childcare. However, these often rely on significant additional government spending at a time when government budgets are tight.

The Chancellor should offer government-backed, income-contingent loans to all parents with children under the age of five. This – in addition to existing government support for childcare through tax credits, the free entitlement and Tax-Free childcare – would make childcare instantly affordable for all parents with young children overnight. Parents would repay their childcare loans back only when they are working and earning above a certain income, allowing them to smooth high childcare costs over a longer period of time.

Cuts to Universal Credit, introduced by the Treasury from 2015, have undermined the original intention of the scheme: to improve work incentives. The Chancellor should therefore restore – in part or full – the original work allowances of Universal Credit, especially the second earner work allowance.

Despite the increase in flexible working in recent decades, a recent poll found that only 49% of women enjoy flexible working hours, despite a considerable proportion more wanting them. The Coalition Government, admittedly, did introduce the right to request flexible working for all employees.

But this right is only available after an employee has worked for 26 weeks of continuous employment. The Chancellor should remove this requirement so employees can request flexible working immediately for any new job they apply for.

The Chancellor must offer bold and innovative solutions to boost growth and productivity in this turbulent time for the British economy; getting more women into work is one such solution.

James Dobson is a senior researcher at Bright Blue