Women and recession: how will this downturn affect women at work?
Today we have published Women and Recession, a report considering the impacts that this downturn will have for women in formal employment. While we are not arguing that women will be affected more than men we highlight that women will be hit more by this downturn than previous recessions, and that unemployed women face particular challenges.
There are three main reasons for this trend: there are more women in work than ever before; so far this recession is hitting sectors across the economy – including those where women are concentrated; and more families are reliant upon women’s income than in previous downturns (although women’s wages have always been vital to family budgets).
Data published later today will give us a more accurate picture of how women are being affected, but our report demonstrates that while women’s rates of unemployment remain below men’s redundancies and unemployment have been hitting women hard.
The reasons for women’s lower overall unemployment rate are complex, but include the fact that there are higher concentrations of women in areas of recent economic growth (for example hospitality and personal services); lower reporting of unemployment among women (women seeking paid work may be more likely to describe themselves as caring for a family rather than unemployed); and more women being employed in public sectors jobs. It could also be that as ‘women’s jobs’ are much more likely to be low-paid, and can be seen as lower status – it is clear from the UK’s persistent gender pay gap that many jobs women do remain undervalued – unemployed men may be less likely to consider them, and unemployed women, more likely to need part-time hours and jobs nearer their homes, may feel they have no other choice.
But despite these factors redundancy data to the end of September show that there has been a steep increase in women’s redundancy rate, and Labour Force statistics show that unemployment has also been rising among women. While overall women’s unemployment is unlikely to rise above men’s during the downturn, the impact for women will be greater this time.
Unemployed women will face particular challenges. More likely to have been in low-paid work when they were in employment, women may face greater immediate financial difficulties. Women are also more likely to have childcare or other caring responsibilities, which will place restrictions on their jobsearch as they look for new work, and will also mean that they face the complex task of identifying the full range of out of work benefits they are entitled to. When seeking new jobs, they may have to look into new childcare arrangements.
So how can women be supported? More than ever we believe that employers have a responsibility to offer jobs on flexible hours, which will open up more existing opportunities to women. Working Families have written an interesting piece on flexible working and recession – and this is also an issue that is being considered overseas – for example see this post from Juliet at Aequus Partners in Australia.
We also believe that job creation schemes should give particular thought to how women could be enabled to access new opportunities, particularly given the extreme gender segregation we still have in the UK labour market, and women’s concentration in secretarial and services sector work. Ensuring accessible new training schemes, as well as quality and timely advice on childcare and maternity benefits will be vital.
And whatever happens it is essential that the recession is not used as a further attempt to cut women’s pay – 29% of women workers are already on poverty wages, and neither their families or the economy can bear the impacts of even lower incomes.