UK jobs market is ‘female unfriendly’ - research

Jo Swinson MP will give the UK government's response to report. Picture: Contributed
Jo Swinson MP will give the UK government's response to report. Picture: Contributed
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THE number of women out of work is rising and predicted to hit a 25-year high, while unemployment among men is falling, creating a “female unfriendly” labour market, new research claims today.

A report by equality campaigners warns that the UK government’s economic policies are leaving women behind with almost two out of three new private-sector jobs going to men.

The study has been conducted by the Fawcett Society, the organisation that campaigns for women’s equality rights on pay, pensions, justice and politics.

The society warns that unless action is taken, the labour market will be characterised by “persistent and rising levels” of women’s unemployment, diminishing pay levels for women, and a widening of the gender pay gap.

The study found that almost three times as many women as men have become long-term unemployed in the past two and a half years – 103,000 women compared with 37,000 men.

• Ceri Goddard: Strides women have made in the workplace risk being undermined

Women have borne the brunt of cuts to the public-sector workforce so far, the society’s report said, adding that women’s unemployment could reach 1.48 million by 2018 – the highest level for quarter of a century.

When the initial recession officially ended in the final quarter of 2010, men’s unemployment stood at 1,525,00. Since that point, it has fallen by 7.33 per cent to 1,413,000. In the same period, women’s unemployment has risen by 11.88 per cent – from 962,000 to 1,076,00.

Speaking ahead of the report’s publication, Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “While unemployment has fallen overall, our research shows that the situation for women is bleak. Female unemployment has started to rise – and this will continue unless the government does more than tinker around the edges of this issue.

“The government’s various plans for growth continue to leave many women behind, with the majority of new jobs being created in the private sector going to men. At the same time, those women who do find work in this sector are likely to face lower wages and a wider gender pay gap.

“This ‘head-in-the-sand’ approach ignores the fact that women are now nearly half the workforce – and has serious consequences.

“If the government doesn’t address this growing problem, we risk returning to a much more male-dominated labour market, with record numbers of women unemployed, those in work typically earning less, and the gap in pay between women and men beginning to grow instead of shrink. Not only is this bad for women, it’s hugely damaging for our economy. We are calling on the government to take immediate action.”

The report, The Changing Labour Market: Delivering for Women, Delivering for Growth, will be presented to the all-
party parliamentary group on sex equality in the House of Commons. It will demand the UK government implements a women’s employment strategy.

The minister for equalities, Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson, will respond to the findings on behalf of the UK government.

Last night, Cathy Jamieson, the Labour MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, said the report raised serious concerns about the fate of women in the workplace.

She said: “It is really concerning that this study found that almost three times as many women as men have become long-term unemployed in the last two and a half years.

“Labour has repeatedly highlighted that women are suffering an unfair share of the pain caused by the government’s failed economic policies.

“With the report suggesting women’s unemployment could reach 1.48 million by 2018, it is time for the government to change course and ensure women are not left behind or left out of the jobs market.”

The report also pointed out there was a gender gap when it came to pay with women accounting for two- thirds of those on the minimum wage.

Maria Miller, minister for women and equalities, said: “The government is incredibly focused on this issue and we now have more women in work than ever before – and the cultural shift is happening.

“The gender pay gap is closing and the number of women employed is a third of a million higher than when the coalition came to office. The workplace was designed by men, for men, and as we have seen, times have changed, and if we want women to achieve their full potential then we need to make sure the workplace is modernised.”

The Scottish Government 
argued that the gender imbalance in Scotland was not as severe as in the UK as a whole.

A spokesman said: “The latest labour market statistics published by the Office for National Statistics show that over the past year, the number of women in employment in Scotland has increased by 6,000 whilst the number of women unemployed has decreased by 21,000.

“Scotland is outperforming the rest of the UK on overall employment with the latest figures showing the largest rise in people in employment for 12 years.

“We share the Fawcett Society’s concerns that the UK’s plans for growth are failing to deliver whilst their austerity drive hits women hard.”

In its analysis, the Fawcett Society also found that fewer than half of the private-sector jobs created since the first quarter of 2010 have gone to women. Of the 1,254,000 jobs created in the private sector since the first quarter of 2010, men have filled some 60 per cent of posts (752,000). Women took the remaining 40 per cent.

There was more bad news for women in the public sector with females bearing the brunt of the UK cuts to the public sector.

The report said that 75 per cent of those cuts were yet to come. It estimated that a total of 929,000 jobs will be lost in the public sector by 2018 as spending is cut. Some 230,000 of these have already been lost, leaving 699 000 to go. Of the 230,000 jobs already gone, women have made up the majority of those made unemployed – 57.5 per cent versus 42.5 per cent for men. The report said that if the skewed impact continues, some 400,000 – 57.5 per cent of 699,000 – more women will lose their jobs in the public sector over the next four years.

If they do not find alternative work, the current 1.08 million women facing unemployment will see this further 400,000 join their ranks, taking the total to 1.48 million by 2018. To put this figure in context, the highest number of women unemployed since records began occurred in the second quarter of 1984 when the figure reached 1.34 million.