Economic Equality

Economic Equality

Women’s economic equality, independence and security is vital if we are to secure equality with men in other areas. Rightly or wrongly, more money often does mean more power – over our lives and society at large.

For this reason, campaigns to secure and protect women’s economic position e.g. the right to equal pay and the development of a welfare system that is fair reflection of women’s work have been a central part of the women’s equality movement from its very earliest roots to the present day.

But even now, UK women’s economic inequality remains extremely high. Even prior to the recent recession, women were far more likely to be employed in low paid, part-time work, more likely to head a single parent household, more likely to have fewer financial assets and more likely to live in poverty, especially in older age. At the same time, women’s unpaid labour is worth tens of billions of pounds to the economy every year – unpaid carers (the majority of whom are women looking after children or older or unwell family members) contribute unrecognised billions to both economic and social health every year.

For these and other reasons, benefits tend to make up a 1/5th of the average women’s income as opposed to a 1/10th of men’s, and women are more likely to work in the public sector and use a number of its frontline services.

At same time men still tend to earn more money and own more assets and have more savings in part because they still undertake far fewer unpaid caring work roles.This means that decisions on tax and spending affect women and men very differently. For example, cuts to public spending – whether that is services where women make up 65% of the workforce or welfare benefits – will inevitably hit women much harder than men. Whereas tax increases or tax breaks will impact on men more as they earn and own more.

This means that in this age of austerity, where the current government are pursuing an 80/20 ratio of public spending cuts to tax rises, women are facing a triple jeopardy of benefit cuts, job losses and reduced services. Women’s unemployment is at a 25 year high and over 75% of the spending cuts to date have come from women’s incomes. The background to this is explored further in our campaign Cutting Women Out, that highlighted the issue.

Longer term, we need to see much more action to ensure this does not worsen women’s equality or reduce our independence even further.

Although women in business are playing an increasing role in our economy and its growth, and are critical to its success, we are still a very long way from realising their full potential. For example, women only make up 17% of Directors of FTSE 100 companies and it has been calculated that between £15 to £23 Billion or 1.2%  to 3% of GDP of women’s labour market potential remains unreleased.

What could make a difference?

Economic policy is a huge area but some key things that could address some of the key issues facing women include:

  • Developing budgetary policy – in particular tax and spending, in a way that takes on board the likely impact on women’s equality.
  • Better safeguarding and investing in our “social economy” or infrastructure – cuts to public services and spending may save in the short term, but end up costing the exchequer and our society much more dearly in the medium to longer term.
  • Taking more action to unleash women’s economic potential and support our contribution to growth, whether as employee’s or in greater economic leadership roles – the Treasury is currently a female minister free zone and there are no women on the Bank of England’s Monetary Committee

The changing labour market

Our 2014 report looked at the effects the emerging recovery and a changing labour market had on gender equality and women in low paid work. It is comprised of two parts: an analysis of labour market trends to understand how women and men were faring, and the second part drew on a survey of low paid women to set out their experiences in the recovery. Read the full report here:

The Changing Labour Market 2 Report

We are developing a third Changing Labour Market report and are seeking funding. If your organisation is interested in funding the report, please contact Jemima Olchawski – jemima.olchawski@fawcettsociety.org.uk.

Further reading

Westaway, J. and McKay, S. (2007) Women’s financial assets and debts