From the TUC

Women’s unemployment at 23 year high

17 Aug 2011, by in Labour market

Contrary to city economists’ optimistic predictions that today’s labour market figures would show a drop in unemployment, it seems that unemployment is stubbornly refusing to fall.

Women’s unemployment in particular saw a dramatic rise (21,000 on the quarter) taking the women’s ILO unemployment count to 1.05million – its highest level in 23 years.

The claimant count also saw the number of unemployed women increase by 15,600 to reach 512,700 – the highest figure since April 1996.  I’ve blogged before about the DWP’s Lone Parent Obligations as one of the causes of the steady rise in the number of women claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and this is likely to continue pushing up the claimant count for the foreseeable future as the Lone Parent Obligations are set to become more stringent in the new year.

At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, the main driving force in the increase in women’s unemployment is public sector job cuts.

With women making up 65% of the public sector workforce it is perhaps unsurprising that mass job cuts in the public sector will lead to a noticeable rise in women’s unemployment. In some regions, nearly 50% of the working female population is employed in the public sector.

The redundancy figures also seem to bear out the idea that women’s unemployment is being fuelled by public sector job cuts. Whereas the number of men being made redundant is 1.5% down on the year, the number of women being made redundant is up 1.6% on the year. And while the average number of redundancies across all sectors is up 4% on the year, the number of redundancies in Public Administration is up a whopping 19% on the previous year.

So what is the government’s view on how public sector job cuts will effect women’s employment? Worryingly, when asked recently about the disproportionate effect of public sector job cuts on women, the Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone replied that “you can’t make an omelette without cracking eggs”.

Women’s employment in the private sector may not be faring as badly as in the public sector but it’s not without its problems. The continued slump in the retail sector has undoubtedly been bad news for women’s employment. As my colleagues at Usdaw will testify, the problem facing women in retail is not just redundancy, but underemployment as employers routinely use “zero hours” contracts as a means of cutting hours as and when they choose.

I don’t know whether the City analysts’ predictions will be quite so rosy next month but I’ll give you  my prediction now: the worst is yet to come.