Women and recession: the debate goes on
The impact of the recession on women is still being discussed. The debate that started in January goes on, and despite the media misreporting earlier this year it’s good to see that conversations remain focused on how the specific challenges that women will face during the recession can be overcome. No one is (or ever has been) arguing that more women than men are losing their jobs, or women’s needs are more important than those of other groups, only that the particular ways in which women are affected by the downturn should be recognised and addressed.
A new Fawcett Society report notes, as we did, that with more women in work, and women’s incomes comprising a greater proportion of household income than ever before, unemployment will have a greater impact for women this time around (and these conclusions are being borne out by data – the rise in women’s unemployment rate since this recession started is already close to the total rise we saw in the 1990s). Fawcett also discuss risks of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and the particular impacts that women in part-time or vulnerable work, and those with flexible working arrangements to facilitate caring responsibilities may experience. The report then goes on to discuss the broader contexts of women’s lives outside of the labour market and the ways in which the downturn may impact on women. This includes potential increases in domestic violence and the affects of the drop in interest rates on older women with smaller pensions and savings.
And the Government Equalities Office have also produced new research, looking specifically at the experiences and concerns of women and families during the recession. Among other conclusions the survey found that more women than men have reduced their spending in response to the recession, that more women than men can no longer afford to save and that women have particular concerns about having to adjust childcare arrangements in response to changed financial circumstances. The report also reveals that 37 per cent of men believe that where jobs are being lost part-time workers should be made redundant first (as opposed to 20 per cent of women).
But who will be affected by the recession most of all? It remains important to recognise that different groups will experience the downturn in specific ways, but maybe the issue that no one (ourselves included) has yet discussed loudly or explicitly enough is class. I have been struck by recent analysis of unemployment by previous occupation. In the 4th quarter of last year national unemployment rates among those who were previously in ‘elementary occupations’ were 9.6 per cent, compared to 1.7 per cent for those who had previously been in ‘professional occupations’ and 2.4 per cent for ‘managers and senior officials’. While rates are higher for men than for women, the same trend is clear for workers of each gender. However you cut it those who will be affected most by this recession are likely to be those who had the least to start with.