Women ‘have borne brunt of recession’

Some 1.48m women could be unemployed by 2018 if current employment trends continue and women’s progress could be reversed, according to a new report from The Fawcett Society.

The report ‘The changing labour market: delivering for women, delivering for growth’ considers the position of women in the UK’s workforce post recession – and what could happen next. It says men’s unemployment has fallen since the recession ended, women’s has increased; less than half of the private sector jobs ‘created’ since the first quarter of 2010 have gone to women; almost three times as many women as men have become ‘long term’ unemployed in the last two and a half years – 103 000 women in comparison to 37 000 men; and that women have borne the brunt of cuts to the public sector workforce so far, and some 75 per cent of these are yet to emerge.

It predicts that “if the current pattern of women making up the majority of those losing their jobs but the minority of those benefitting from new employment opportunities continues”, the worse case scenario would see some 1.48 million women unemployed by 2018.

Ceri Goddard, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “The labour market is in the midst of enormous change. Almost a million jobs are being cut from the public sector, while many of the jobs created by what growth there is in the private sector are low waged and insecure.

“While unemployment has fallen overall, our research shows that the situation for women is bleak. Female unemployment has started to rise – and this will continue unless the government does more than tinker around the edges of this issue.

“The government’s various plans for growth continue to leave many women behind, with the majority of new jobs being created in the private sector going to men. At the same time, those women who do find work in this sector are likely to face lower wages and a wider gender pay gap. This “head in the sand” approach ignores the fact that women are now nearly half the workforce – and has serious consequences.

“If the government doesn’t address this growing problem, we risk returning to a much more male dominated labour market, with record numbers of women unemployed, those in work typically earning less, and the gap in pay between women and men beginning to grow instead of shrink.

“Not only is this bad for women, it’s hugely damaging for our economy. Women could and should be a key part of the driving engine getting the UK’s economy back on its feet, but with investment restricted to sectors where few women work, and funding for programmes tackling gender segregation slashed, there’s little hope.”

The Fawcett Society is calling on the government to take immediate action. It says there is an urgent need to tackle women’s low wages by uprating these in line with inflation. At the same time, it says, more must be done to encourage progressive working practices – “particularly as competition for quality part-time work is fiercer than ever – women make up three-quarters of those in part-time work” .

It says it is not acceptable “to have plans for growth that do little if anything to tackle record levels of women’s unemployment”. “The government must not continue to invest solely in sectors where men dominate the workforce, such as technology and construction. Where funds are channelled in these areas, more must be done to tackle the gender stereotyping and other barriers that remain to women taking up work in these industries,” it states.

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