17th November 2022

Today the Chancellor set out his ambition to support people already in work to increase their hours and incomes – but this completely fails to recognise the systemic issues linked to the gender pay gap, which is 11.3% in 2022 and has barely shifted in recent years. We know many women want to work more hours, but are prevented by reasons including a lack of flexible working options and affordable childcare - with 1.7 million women unable to take on more hours of paid work due to childcare issues. Women’s wages are also impacted by pay discrimination, the failure to promote women within organisations, undervaluing and underpaying the types of work women are more likely to do, and a lack of women in more highly paid sectors such as tech and engineering.

We welcome the decision to uprate income support, which Fawcett and other charities have called for, and the increased investment in schools, the NHS and social care, especially as women dominate these workforces. But action on the systemic causes of the gender pay gap is urgently needed, especially in the current cost-of-living crisis which is disproportionately affecting women.

We urge the Chancellor to take forward the urgent actions in our recent letter to him and reform our childcare system to make it work better for families, require employers to offer flexible work arrangements as a default and to advertise jobs with flexibility built-in, and strengthen gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting. This makes economic sense too, with action on childcare alone likely to generate up to £28.2bn through women's increased earnings. Women must be at the heart of the UK's recovery.

Letter to the Chancellor from Fawcett Society and partners

Ahead of the Autumn Statement, The Fawcett Society and 9 other charities - The Runnymede Trust, Young Women's Trust, Pregnant Then Screwed, UK Women's Budget Group, Gingerbread, Working Families, Disability Policy Centre, Muslim Women's Network UK and Mumsnet - wrote to the Chancellor asking him to place women, especially marginalised women, at the heart of the UK's economic recovery. The letter, which was also published in The Mirror on 16th November, is below.

Dear Chancellor,

Re. Women and the UK economy

We are living in unprecedented and incredibly turbulent times. Too many people are enduring hardship and we know families are being pushed into poverty and living with the disadvantage that this brings. Those with the most meagre resources are bearing the biggest burden – and many of them are women; single mums and unpaid carers, healthcare workers, women of colour who are so often excluded and ignored, and those in insecure jobs in struggling sectors like retail and hospitality. Many had not built back from years of austerity followed by the pandemic, before being plunged into the cost-of-living crisis. They are extremely vulnerable and existing on the brink, they need urgent, targeted support from a compassionate Conservative government.

We were encouraged by your commitment to “prioritise help for the most vulnerable” – many of whom are women – and we ask you to ensure this support is given swiftly and at sufficient levels to offer a real lifeline. We ask you to pledge in your statement on 17th November that everyone who needs it will be properly supported to endure the economic uncertainty ahead.

Many of our organisations work directly with women who are held back, disadvantaged, and pushed to financial breaking point because of a lack of support and an economy that conspires to exclude them. Recognising the needs of women, especially women of colour and disabled women who are most often left behind, and the value we bring to the economy is key to realising your commitment to “delivering wider economic stability and driving long-term growth that will help everyone.”

Your statement must rebalance the scales and throw a lifeline to women who are making unimaginable choices – it has gone beyond a choice between ‘heating or eating’. We know that too many are building up expensive debt that they may never be able to repay, struggling to afford childcare that allows them to work sufficient hours, and facing systemic barriers that limit their ability to reach their full potential.

We are asking for a commitment from this government to:

  • Uprate income support in line with inflation – without this 100,000 women and 200,000 children will be forced into poverty[1]

  • Reform our childcare system to make it work for families. The UK has some of the highest childcare fees alongside low Government investment. Tinkering with a failing system is not enough. The childcare system needs to be reformed to increase affordability for families while also ensuring our children get the best start in life

  • Require employers to offer flexible work arrangements as a default and to advertise jobs with flexibility built-in. It’s simply not right that women have to put themselves at a disadvantage by requesting flexible work during interviews or stay working in jobs beneath their skill level because these roles offer flexibility that is so essential. This is not only good for women, it’s good for the economy – a 50% increase in current flexible working rates could result in a net economic gain of £55bn, alongside the creation of 51,200 new jobs[2]

  • Take a truly intersectional approach to tackling pay gaps, whilst fighting against gender, racial and disability inequality. Mandatory gender pay gap reporting was a good first step but more needs to be done. The system needs to be strengthened so employers are held accountable for the actions they are taking to tackle the gap. It also needs to be expanded to expose the intersecting forces of discrimination which impact Black and minoritised women and disabled women.

We want you to invest in immediate action and long-term, transformative change, which truly puts women, especially those who are most marginalised, at the heart of the UK's economic recovery. 

Yours faithfully,

Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive, The Fawcett Society

Dr Halima Begum, CEO, The Runnymede Trust

Claire Reindorp, CEO, Young Women’s Trust

Victoria Benson, Chief Executive, Gingerbread

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, UK Women’s Budget Group

Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive, Working Families

Joeli Brearley, CEO, Pregnant Then Screwed 

Justine Roberts CBE, CEO and Founder, Mumsnet

Celia Hensman, Director, Disability Policy Centre

Baroness Shaista Gohir OBE, CEO, Muslim Women’s Network

[1] https://wbg.org.uk/media/press-releases/wbg-analysis-finds-cuts-to-benefits-would-drive-over-100000-lone-parents-and-200000-children-into-poverty/

[2] https://www.motherpukka.co.uk/flexonomics/