Cutting Women Out
What’s the problem?
Women in UK today face entrenched economic inequality. For example:
- Across the board, women earn an average of 15% less than men – so for every pound a man earns, a woman takes home 85p.
- Women make up the majority of those in low paid jobs.
- Around a million women are ‘missing’ from the UK workforce due to a lack of the types of flexible work opportunities that women require to balance their work and caring commitments
- Women also experience economic inequality in later life: women’s average personal pensions are only 62% of the average for men and they make up the majority of pensioners living below the breadline
These problems are far from new. Whilst progress towards achieving economic equality for women has been made in recent years, successive governments have failed to adequately tackle the root causes of the problem and design policies in a way that reflect the realities of women’s lives in the modern world. In other words when key tax and spending policies are being designed not enough attention is being given to how they are likely to impact on women’s equality and if they will make this worse or better.
Making budgetary decisions in this “gender blind” way runs the danger of polices being created that not only don’t reflect women’s existing economic inequality but actually shore it up or make it worse.
Austerity and The ‘triple jeopardy’
But what progress there has been is now under renewed threat: the current austerity agenda and programme of deep spending cuts has left women facing a ‘triple jeopardy’ of cuts to jobs, benefits and vital services:
Jobs – women make up around two-thirds of the public sector workforce, so cuts to this sector are hitting them harder. What’s more, there is evidence that women are not sufficiently benefitting from government action to create jobs in the private sector.
Benefits – caps and cuts to benefits and tax credits such as housing benefit and carers allowance hitting women disproportionately hard – around three-quarters of the money being cut is coming from women’s pockets.
Services – rolling back public services also affects women disproportionately as they tend to use things like childcare and social care services more frequently and more intensively than men.
Find out more about the Triple Jeopardy
Why it matters?
Women’s economic equality is crucial. Until women are able to fully participate and benefit from the labour market, have control over their personal finances and live free from poverty they will be gravely hindered from achieving equality in many other areas of life – for example the ability to exert equal influence in the home, or to participate in positions of power and influence in public and political life.
For the economy
Women’s economic equality is also crucial for a stable and prosperous economy – for example, the increasing numbers of women in work in recent years has helped to offset the flat wages and falls in income from male employment.
While we have come used to seeing slow but steady progress toward women’s economic equality in recent years, the impact of the triple jeopardy is ‘turning back time’ on this progress.
What do we want to see happen?
Action to help women now: women’s jobs
Women’s unemployment currently stands at a record high: cuts to public sector jobs are hitting women hardest, whilst increasing numbers of lone parents being required to seek work – all while competition for jobs is fierce.
We are calling on government to implement a women’s employment strategy to address the specific challenges women face.
Visit the Women and Work section of our website for more details
Action to help women now: benefits and services
In late 2011 Fawcett published a set of six key policy recommendations for government that, if adopted, would help mitigate against some of the worst impacts of austerity on women’s equality and offer a ‘life raft’ for women’s equality.
We are calling on government to adopt these recommendations as a matter of urgency.
Re-thinking deficit reduction
Any approach to reducing the deficit primarily through large cuts to public spending will necessarily have a devastating impact on women.
We would like to see government think carefully about how it might reduce the deficit in ways that do not hit women so much harder – such as through increasing the amount of money raised through taxes, or investing more heavily in measures for growth.
Even if a major reduction in spending do continue there is still much more scope much better assess impact on women and adjust if necessary. The government could also do much more to address some impact of its cuts – see for example – insert section on women and work on employment
Common sense policy making that reflects government’s duty to respect women’s rights
We want all governments to think carefully about their decisions impact on women’s equality – in fact, equality law requires that bodies like the Treasury consider whether some people will be affected disproportionately as they draw up their policies, and if so, think about how they can take steps to prevent harm.
All major economic statements, such as budgets, should be accompanied by information on the likely impact of polices on women’s equality, if and how action has been taken to mitigate any identified harm and if not, why not. It is simply staggering that in 2013 our national budgeting process has yet to catch up with modern Britain and is still based on an outdated “each home has male breadwinner” model.
2010 Fawcett took a legal action to expose just how bad the situation was.
Subsequently the EHRC published a report confirming that if the government had better considered the likely impact of their plans on equality we would be seeing less unequal impact on different groups – including women. The EHRC and the Government say they are looking at this further.
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