Unemployment is down, but the government must not ignore the rise in jobless women

"Carrying on down this path will see the Coalition Government be the first to have presided over a reversal in women’s equality"

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Figures released yesterday show a fall in unemployment, but some are worried this moderate success could distract from the harrowing rise of joblessness among women revealed in the same data.

we-can-do-itThe Huffington Post reports:

Unemployment has fallen for the fourth month in a row and more jobs are being created, especially for people over the age of 65, new figures showed on Wednesday.

Despite the dip in unemployment the numbers claiming jobseeker’s allowance jumped by 6,100 last month to 1.6 million, including an increase of 8,000 among women to 530,700, the highest figure for 17 years.

The Office for National Statistics said the increase among women was likely to have been affected by a change in eligibility rules for lone parent income support from May.

Chief executive of the Fawcett Society Anna Bird feels that combined with cuts to benefits and childcare, the struggle to find employment will have an increasingly detrimental affect on women in society:

“Women are being asked to take on the role of shock absorbers for the cuts…

As well as the job losses, they’re also facing cuts to their income as a result of cuts to benefits and services they rely on to support their lives.

“We’re really concerned that cuts to childcare support combined with the rising cost of living make it difficult for women to put in place support that allows them to go out to work.

“We’re also concerned that working tax credits that allow parents to go back to work are being cut and that makes it hard for single parents to balance their work and family life.”

The minister responsible for women and equalities is also the home secretary, Theresa May, who I suspect may have different priorities in this Olympic year than how sisters are faring on the employment scale.

In April, May told MPs that she intended to tackle unemployment among women with the Work programme – one of the government’s least successful initiatives.


See also:

Women have been in the British cabinet for 83 years, but the fight for representation isn’t over 8 Jun 2012

Tories denounce boardroom quotas, as report says male-dominated boards will fall behind 29 May 2012

Boris is turning back the clock for women in London 14 Nov 2011

The “equality landmine” that the Coalition is supposed to back 25 Aug 2010


Writing for The F Word, Joanne Fradley opines that poor job prospects for women could affect the number of female role models within big businesses:

Women in the workplace hold a less than equal position as it is. [Last] August, an Equalities and Human Rights Commission report showed “a continuing trend of women being passed over for top jobs in Britain”.

Little progress has been made since the last iteration of this report in 2008, with so many young women losing out on any employment I find little hope for the next study’s findings.

Where are the next generation of successful women going to come from? Without a chance to work your way to the top from a young age, it will become harder for women to reach the higher positions in companies.

Looking closer at the figures, they show that women over-50 are being hit the hardest, with a 74% rise in unemployment in that age group since 2008.

Shadow minister for Women and Equalities, Yvette Cooper, said:

“Women in their fifties and sixties are being stretched in all directions – holding families and communities together. They are the ‘stretched middle’ – a middle generation of women, who are struggling like never before to provide care and support for their families at both ends of the age spectrum.

“But today’s figures show that older women are also facing steep increases in long term unemployment too – with a 41 per cent increase over the last year alone. In comparison, long term unemployment amongst men in their fifties and sixties has decreased by 10.5 per cent.

“The government seems to be completely blind to the pressures faced by this generation of women. Women in the stretched middle are being hit hard and it’s time their voices were heard.”

Graeme Cooke, associate director of IPPR, told the Guardian in February:

“In previous recessions like the early 80s, female unemployment figures weren’t nearly as high because there were fewer women in work to lose their jobs. It reflects the fact that women’s levels of participation have gone up. But more recently it is to do with job losses in the public sector where women disproportionately work.”

“There has been a big jump in unemployment among older women, age 50 to 64…

It is especially worrying because those years of their career are really crucial in building up their pension contribution.

“It’s not just a short-term problem of being jobless, it’s the risk that they will be unable to make up their lost pension contributions and then face a much lower standard of living in retirement and potentially greater reliance on state benefits.”

So while employment overall is increasing, a combination of cuts and changes are contributing to a sorry state of affairs for UK women. As Anna Bird wrote on the Fawcett Society website:

Carrying on down this path will see the Coalition Government be the first to have presided over a reversal in women’s equality, after generations of slow but steady progress.”

Recent census results show that women outnumber men in the UK by almost one million, so why aren’t the government prioritising more on their employment status?


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