Since 2008, nearly a million more women have been forced to take low paid work. Of these women, 10% are being forced to access pay day loans and one in 12 are using food banks. This has to stop, says Daisy Sands
The evidence is clear, after five years of decline the UK economy is back on the upswing. Employment is up, unemployment is down and GDP is improving.
We know however that men and women do not operate on a level playing field when it comes to their position in the economy, so with this in mind we set out to dig beneath the headlines figures and investigate how women are faring in the emerging recovery.
The results are not good. Since the start of the crisis in 2008 we found that almost a million extra women have moved into types of employment that are typically low paid and insecure. We have seen a nearly a two-fold increase in the numbers of women working in insecure, part-time and temporary jobs where they would prefer to be in secure, full-time roles. Further, an additional 371,000 women have moved into self-employment. Whilst the government celebrates this as evidence of a new entrepreneurial drive amongst women, the reality is that the vast majority of these women will be earning around only half the average national wage. Overall 3 million women, or 1 in 4 of all female workers are now classified as on low pay.
At the same time, the value of pay for this group is declining in real terms – even with the uplift to the national minimum wage this October, it will still only match the real-term level that the wage was at almost 10 years ago in 2005.
Unsurprisingly, women in this situation are finding it harder than ever to make ends meet. Around 1 in 2 feel worse off than five years ago, 1 in 10 are accessing pernicious pay day loans and 1 in 12 of those with children are having to resort to food banks in order to feed their children.
Worryingly, many low paid women are working substantially below their qualification and skill levels. Over a third consider themselves over-qualified for the job they are doing and almost 1 in 4 are educated to degree level. This is not only bad for individual women, it’s hugely damaging to the economy at large with talent simply going to waste.
All the major parties have talked about how vital it is that the skills and abilities of women are fully utilised in the emerging recovery, and of the need to tackle the on going inequality gap between women and men. If they are serious about this, there a range of concrete actions they should be committing to.
The unacceptably low wages paid to women should be urgently addressed through a substantial uplift to the value of the minimum wage. Government should also take the lead in supporting the take-up of the Living Wage by encouraging local councils to adopt it and through instating it across Whitehall.
At the same time, more must be done to increase the availability of quality, part-time and flexible roles – again, government should lead the way by ensuring that all roles in the public sector are advertised on a flexible basis as routine.
Finally, the time has come for tougher action on the gender pay gap. We are calling on all parties to commit to enact section 78 of the Equality Act which requires big businesses to publish information on their gender pay gaps. This will help lift the lid on unequal pay for at least 1,750,000 employees in the UK and show that all parties are serious about addressing the scandal of the widening gender pay gap.
Daisy Sands is the head of policy and campaigns at the Fawcett Society