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Labour market will be “female unfriendly”

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Fawcett Society, ONS< female unemployment, women's rightsWomen will face a “female unfriendly” labour market unless the government takes affirmative action.

According to data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) released in April, women’s unemployment currently stands at 1.12 million – the highest for a generation.

But this figure could rise to 1.48 million by 2018 if the current trend continues a report from the Fawcett Society cautions.

With government strategies for growth seemingly targeted at spending in the private sector and saving in the public sector, the report  reveals the disastrous impact that this is having on the UK’s female workforce.

A high concentration of women work in the public sector, in part because it offers flexible working schemes and, for those in full-time work, the gender pay gap is halved when compared to the private sector.

So as the government continues to make strides towards further privatisation of the public sector, projections from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) suggest that the worst is yet to come, with 75 per cent of public sector workers yet to lose their jobs.

In contrast, a range of government initiatives have been implemented to boost private sector growth.

This includes subsidies and tax relief for small to medium size businesses, as well as capital investment in construction and science, engineering, and technology (SET) industries.

However, only 14 per cent of small to medium size businesses are ‘majority-led’ by women – either run by a woman or have a management teach that is over 50 per cent women – and women are similarly under-represented in the construction (13.5 per cent) and SET (12.3 per cent) sectors.

Unsurprisingly, then, 60 per cent of those ‘new’ private sector jobs have gone to men.

Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “Women could and should be a key part of the driving engine getting the UK’s economy back on its feet, but with investment restricted to sectors where few women work, and funding for programmes tackling gender segregation slashed, there’s little hope.”

In addition to revealing the particular barriers faced by women striving to participate in the labour market, the report also stresses the continued inequalities faced by women in the workplace.

The Women in Work Index recently downgraded the UK to 18th position out of 27  countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) based on five indicators of female economic empowerment, including the gender pay gap and the female unemployment rate.

Women in full-time work earn on average 15 per cent less per hour that men and, consequentially, find that their pensions are only 62 per cent of those for the average man.

Two-thirds of those paid at or below the minimum wage are women, and such is the problem that The Work Foundation claims that ‘the UK’s low pay problem is essentially a gender pay problem.’

Low pay is endemic in part-time work, although part-time work is often the only option for single mothers and those with caring responsibilities – which is why almost three-quarters of the part-time workforce are women.

The report also highlights other challenges faced by single parents seeking work.

It is not just finding affordable childcare and flexible work which are compatible with one another, but also the lack of support and misinformation emanating from the very agencies that should be there to help.

Citing research from Single Parent Action Network (SPAN), which investigated the experiences of single parents in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance, the report reveals that information being dispensed by Jobcentre Plus staff is often ‘confusing and contradictory’.

Single parents report being turned away from Jobcentre Plus appointments for taking their young children with them, as well as finding staff  inflexible when appointments clash with childcare commitments like school drop offs.

As one mother explained, “I had thought that, you know, I would be encouraged … given the opportunity to kind of put myself back together [but] it was a very lax kind of, nobody gave a damn attitude, you know you were treated without any respect, without any dignity.”

As Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, warned in 2011 when depth of the proposed public spending cuts were announced: ‘When politicians talk about the need for deep spending cuts they rarely say how this would affect ordinary working people… women would have to pay for these cuts with their jobs and pensions.’

And so, the Fawcett report makes clear, they have.

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