Thousands of women will be given training and help finding a career under plans designed to help tackle the gender pay gap.
Gordon Brown said low-skilled women would be given help gaining careers in industries with a shortage of labour. He also said he would double the number of pilot coaching schemes in Jobcentres to help women back into work.
The announcement came a week after the Government-backed Women and Work Commission said women workers in Britain suffered one of the biggest pay gaps in Britain, representing 17 per cent of full-time staff and 38 per cent for part-timers.
The report warned that women were more likely to work in low-paid jobs and slip down the earnings ladder after having children.
Union leaders and equality groups welcomed the measures yesterday, but criticised the Chancellor for failing to do more to tackle inequalities within the workplace. They pointed to the Budget's failure to encourage workplace pay audits, which could root out pay differentials.
Mr Brown said the measures would offer "new help for working women who want a wider range of careers choices offering higher earnings" and help close the pay gap with men.
He said the increase in the national minimum wage to £5.35 an hour would help reduce the "unacceptable" discrepancy between men's and women's pay.
The measures include a major expansion of the Government's Train to Gain programme, which will offer employers subsidies to offer training for 175,000 low-skilled workers to gain GCSE-equivalent qualifications. New pilot schemes in three regions will extend the support to help workers gain skills equivalent to A-levels, while a separate scheme will aim to help 10,000 women by offering advice on training and skills in Jobcentre Plus offices.
Equality campaigners welcomed the Chancellor's announcements as a step in the right direction but warned much more needed to be done.
Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC, said: "Measures to help low-skilled women into work in response to the Women and Work Commission are particularly welcome. A new pilot aimed at achieving level 3 qualifications for women with low skills, additional skills coaching pilots focusing on women and funding for Sector Skills Councils to develop new ways of recruiting and training low-skilled women into industries with skills shortages are helpful strategies to increase the opportunity for higher skills, higher pay and sustainable employment for women."
But he warned: "One of the Women and Work Commission's recommendations was for action on tackling pay discrimination in the public sector. If, as the Budget suggests, the Chancellor is to bear down on public sector pay, we are concerned at how the findings of the pay audits that have already happened and of those that are under way in the civil service, local government and the NHS are to be implemented."
Jenny Westaway, of the Fawcett Society, said: "We are in favour of training and increasing skills but we want to tackle the fact that some jobs are not paid well. We have to increase the value of women's work."
Jenny Watson, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said: "The Chancellor's announcements on ... better training for low-skilled women are a welcome step in the right direction, but we need more investment in better careers information when young people make job choices."Reuse content