Women bearing brunt of growth in low paid, insecure jobs since recession

Increasing levels of women in low paid work since the 2008 crisis, along with the declining value of low pay, is contributing to the widening inequality gap between women and men, according to a report by the Fawcett Society.

Wage Inequality diagram, showing gender pay gap


In its new report ‘The changing labour market 2: women, low pay and gender equality in the emerging recovery’  the Fawcett Society says that last year the gender pay gap increased for the first time in five years and now stands at 19.1 per cent for all employees.

The report considers how low paid women, who comprise one in four of all female employees in the UK, are faring in the emerging recovery.

The report includes analysis of national employment data and a survey of 1,003 low paid women. Key findings include:

  •  Since the start of the crisis in 2008, almost a million (826,000) extra women have moved into types of work that are typically low paid and insecure. Since 2008, female under-employment has nearly doubled (to 789,000) and an additional 371,000 women have moved into self-employment, which is typically very low paid. 1 in 8 low paid women now describe themselves as on a zero hours contract.
  • High levels of low paid women are working significantly below their skill or qualification level: 22 per cent of those on low pay are educated to degree level and 36.8 per cent describe themselves as ‘overqualified and over-skilled’ for their current job. Over one in five of those working below £7.44 per hour are educated to degree level.
  • Low paid women are feeling the cost of living crisis sharply:  nearly one in two say they feel worse off now than five years ago; nearly one in 10 have obtained a loan from a pay day lender in the last twelve months; nearly one in 12 low paid women with children have obtained food from a food bank in the past 12 months.

Dr Eva Neitzert, Deputy CEO at the Fawcett Society – said: “The evidence is clear: after five years of decline, the UK economy is back on the upswing. Employment is up, unemployment is down and GDP is improving. However, as our research shows, low paid women are being firmly shut out of the recovery.

Low paid insecure work

“The numbers of women in low paid, insecure work are still alarmingly high. Since the crisis in 2008 we have seen a nearly two-fold increase in the numbers of women working in insecure, part-time and temporary jobs where they would prefer to be in secure, full-time roles. In addition, 371,000 more women have moved into self-employment – a form of work which is typically very low paid and where women earn an average of 40 per cent less than men. We have also seen a sharp rise in the numbers of women on controversial zero hours contracts –  one in eight low paid women now describe themselves as being on a zero hours contract, the majority through necessity rather than choice. Overall, since 2008 almost a million extra women have moved into types of work that are typically low paid and insecure.

“We are concerned that at a time when the numbers of women on low pay are increasing, the value of their pay is declining in real terms, meaning they are struggling more than ever to makes ends meet. One in two low paid women told us that they felt worse off than five years ago. Even the planned increase to the national minimum wage this October will only increase the value of the wage to 2005 levels in real terms. It is clear that work is not providing a sufficient route out of poverty for low paid women: almost half are being forced to rely on benefits to top up inadequate wages, one in 10 are accessing pernicious pay day loans and one in 12 low paid women with children are having to resort to food banks.”

She added: “All the major parties have talked about how vital it is that the skills and abilities of women are fully utilised in the emerging recovery, and of the need to tackle the on going inequality gap between women and men. In order to prove that they are serious about this, and that when they refer to ‘women’ they mean all women, there are a range of firm commitments we would like to see the parties include in their 2015 election manifestos.

“We urgently need to tackle the unacceptably low wages paid to women by substantially increasing the value of national minimum wage. Government should also take the lead in supporting the take-up of the Living Wage by encouraging local councils to adopt it and through instating it across Whitehall.

“At the same time, more must be done to increase the availability of quality, part-time and flexible roles –again, government should lead the way by ensuring that all roles in the public sector are advertised on a flexible basis as routine.

“Last month we warmly welcomed the announcement by the Liberal Democrat party that they will be including a commitment in their manifesto to enact section 78 of the Equality Act which requires big businesses to publish information on their gender pay gaps. This is a long-standing Fawcett demand, and will help lift the lid on unequal pay for at least 1,750,000 employees in the UK. We would now like to see all the other major parties match this commitment and show that they too are serious about addressing the scandal of the widening gender pay gap.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s great that more women are in employment, but for too many working life just means a different kind of poverty and insecurity.The alarming shift in the UK’s job market towards low-pay and casualised contracts is hitting women hardest and risks turning the clock back on decades of progress towards equal pay. Unless more is done to tackle poverty wages and job insecurity women in particular will be excluded from Britain’s economic recovery.”

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