From the TUC

Women and recession: the debate goes on

18 May 2009, by in Economics, Labour market, Working Life

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.

3 Responses to Women and recession: the debate goes on

    May 19th 2009, 5:09 pm

    I have recently been party to a number of discussions about the future of local government services in the recession and the ensuing lengthy ‘pay back’ period of public sector borrowing. I have been shocked at how far some have gone to suggest measures which will impact particularly badly on women. Women are 75% of the local government workforce and many are engaged in jobs which are vital to social cohesion and community well-being – those jobs which involve relationship-building.

    Among suggestions made by a range of members and officers have been:
    * (Further) rationing of social care or ending of all but the most acute domicialiary support
    * Most care to be provided by ‘families’
    * Social insurance for care
    * Cessation – or reduction – of many local government functions, including libraries
    * And end to redistribution vis the local government settlement and targetting of resources on major ‘wealth creating’ areas of the UK ie. London and South east, and of course…..
    * Further reduction of jobs through rationalisation of ‘back office’ services

    It has a hollow ring when Government talsk about creating jobs in the public sector – while around 11,000 have been made redundant from UK councils and many vacant posts deleted or frozen.

    Government/s need to remember that spending on local services generates wealth within local economies, many of which are dependent on local government employment to survive.

  2. Nicola Smith

    Nicola Smith
    May 19th 2009, 5:42 pm

    Thanks Heather. You might also be interested in our 4th recession report which found that while during the early stages of the recession men had lost most jobs than women, the key reason for this was women’s job gains in the public sector – as this starts to change more women’s jobs will certainly be at risk. (

  3. Recession Report #8: comparing this recession to the 80s and 90s | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog from the TUC
    Jun 23rd 2009, 9:47 am

    […] report also considers how the recession is affecting particular groups and sectors. As we have previously reported, men are losing their jobs faster than women, but women look set to experience greater rises in […]