The impact on women of the recession and austerity
In 2010–11, the TUC, along with groups like the Fawcett Society and Women’s Budget Group, highlighted the gender impact of cuts to jobs, services and welfare that was likely to result from the recession and the coalition government’s austerity programme. There was a real fear that we were seeing the slow progress towards gender equality over the last 40 years unravel as women lost jobs, were pushed into poverty and could no longer access the vital services that enable them to participate on an equal footing in the workplace and society.
The TUC’s report “The impact on women of the recession and austerity” was prepared for TUC Women’s Conference 2015, takes stock and looks at how women have fared through recession and austerity. It finds that while progress on some headline measures of gender equality has continued – the employment and pay gap have continued to narrow, for example – some women are facing new hardships and barriers to equality. The number of women in work is greater than ever before but young women’s employment, which fell furthest in the recession years, has still not recovered. Most of the net growth in women’s employment has been in low-skilled and low-paying sectors. There has been a rise in the number of women who are stuck on zero-hours and short-hours contracts unable to get enough work to make ends meet and afraid to complain in case they lose the hours that they do have. There are more women in casual work with little or no security of employment. They struggle to arrange childcare and are unable to plan ahead to secure a future for themselves and their families.
Pay in real terms has fallen for women even though it hasn’t fallen by as much as for men. Women working full-time now earn about nine per cent less per hour than men but women working part-time earn nearly 38 per cent less. They still make up the majority of those paid less than the living wage and more women than ever before are in part-time work because they can’t find full-time work.
New rights to promote gender equality like the extended right to request flexible working and the new system of shared parental leave will bring benefits to some women (most likely, those in permanent employment with partners in well-paid, permanent work too). But women also face increased risks of discrimination and ill-treatment at work which they have no hope of redressing, especially since the introduction of fees for employment tribunal claims. The impact of cuts in benefits and public services has been shown time and again to be hardest for particular households, especially those headed by women. Single mothers face greater obligations to look for work and are at greater risk of having their benefits taken away. They are also the group most likely to be sanctioned for unjustifiable reasons. More single mothers are now in work but frequently they are stuck in low-skilled and low-paid jobs which they have little chance of progressing from.
These are just some of the findings of this report. It is intended to shine a light on how women have been affected by the changes to the labour market and the cuts in public spending in the past seven years and to help trade unions prioritise action to defend the most vulnerable women in the workplace and society.