Women bearing brunt of Britain’s economic woes

Nearly 1m public service jobs will go by 2018

A woman looking into the window of a job centre as women’s unemployment is rising to a 25-year high while men’s is falling. Photograph: PA

A woman looking into the window of a job centre as women’s unemployment is rising to a 25-year high while men’s is falling. Photograph: PA


People may argue about the scale of the spending cuts being implemented and planned by chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, but there is no doubt about their impact on public service numbers.

Between 2010 and 2018, 929,000 public jobs will be lost, according to the independent Office of Budget Responsibility, an outcome that particularly threatens women, according to the Fawcett Society.

One-third of working women in Britain are employed by the state, often as teachers, nurses, doctors and cleaners, but two-thirds of the public service workforce are women, according to the OBR.

The future numbers employed by the state are important for women, not just because of the employment itself but because British public sector workers earn 8.3 per cent more than those in the private economy, even allowing for the cuts that have been made.

This week, the Fawcett Society, which campaigns on women’s work issues, warned that the worst is yet to come: “Given OBR projections, we can expect around an additional 699,000 job losses in the public sector by 2018 – meaning 75 per cent of job losses are yet to come.”

So far 43,000 jobs have gone from the National Health Service’s payroll – an institution where women comprise 77 per cent of the workforce, while 131,000 jobs have gone in public administration.

However, figures can hide as much as they reveal, since the statistics show that the number of public and private workers involved in health and social work has jumped, indicating that some jobs have been privatised.

Following the credit crash in 2008, the recession was initially labelled “the mancession” because men were worst affected, but the pendulum has swung and is continuing to do so.

Between the first quarter of 2010 and October 2012, men’s unemployment has fallen by 7.33 per cent and women’s risen by 11.88 per cent, meaning that their unemployment figure has jumped to 1.076m – a 25-year high.

However, some of the figures for women are explained by the impact of welfare reforms being pushed through by work and pensions secretary Ian Duncan Smith, which could prove to be one of the 2015 general election campaign’s key issues.

In October 2010, single parents – 92 per cent of whom are women – were moved from income support on to jobseeker’s allowance once their youngest children had reached seven years of age.

The 2010 decision had been a leftover from Labour’s time, announced but not implemented before they were ejected; but by October 2011 the Conservatives-Liberal Democrats ordered that non-working mothers with five-year-olds should sign on for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The changes mean that more women today are regarded as looking for work rather than economically inactive than was the case before the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats took office in 2010.

Ever since, Osborne and others have argued that cuts in public spending would spur life into the private sector, “rebalancing” the UK as it did and offering a way from its debt-fuelled morass.

And their claims are partly true: private sector employment is now slightly ahead of where it was when the recession was at its worst in 2009, while the total number of private sector jobs has risen by 1.254 million since March 2010 – if one accepts some questionable footwork.

For a start, 105,000 of the jobs counted as being private sector are in fact made up of people who are claiming jobseeker’s allowance, but who are registered on mostly unpaid back-to-work schemes.

Equally, the 196,000 working in further education have been reclassified from the public to private sector, according to the Fawcett Society – partly, perhaps, because such institutions are now supposed to raise more funds from students.

“A degree of progress on women’s position and status in the UK labour market has been made in recent years – for example the gender pay gap has been gradually narrowing and the numbers of women on boards is improving. Women’s progress at work has ground to a halt since the recession hit. We are concerned that a number of key changes currently taking place are threatening to undermine progress on women’s ability to enter and prosper in the labour market,” the society says.

The future ability of the state to hire will remain central to women’s fortunes, it argues, since the bottom 10 per cent of women in full-time work are paid £6.42 if they work for private firms, compared to the £8.77 that their equivalents receive in the public sector.

“Low-paid women in the public sector are paid 36.6 per cent more than their private sector counterparts. More women than men work part-time and part-time work is paid worse in the private sector. Part-time work is typically far lower paid than full-time work.”

Equally, women are more dependent on part-time work, partly because of their role in bringing up children, which is more poorly paid – the average gap between hourly rates stands at 37 per cent, according to official figures last year.