Women workers hit harder by this recession than previous downturns

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date: 20 January 2009

embargo: 00.01hrs Wednesday 21 January 2009

This recession will hit women harder than any previous downturn, according to a TUC briefing published in advance of today's (Wednesday) unemployment figures.

Women and recession shows that women will suffer more for three main reasons:

  • Jobs in this recession will be lost across the economy rather than concentrated in male dominated sectors such as manufacturing, as in previous downturns.
  • More women work today than in previous recessions.
  • More households depend solely or primarily on a woman's wage today. A quarter of households with children are headed by lone parents, 90 per cent of whom are women. Women earn more than men in a fifth (21 per cent) of couples.

TUC analysis of official statistics shows that in recent months the rate at which women have been losing their jobs has increased at the same speed as the male unemployment rate. This contrasts with the start of the downturn when the rate at which men were losing their jobs was increasing faster.

During the downturn women's redundancy rate has increased more quickly than the male rate. From January - September 2008 the female redundancy rate increased by 2.3 percentage points, almost double the rate of male increase (1.2 percentage points). It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue, leading to an even higher rise in the redundancy rate for women, or whether it will now level off to the same rate of increase as men.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'This is going to be an equal opportunities recession. Job losses in sectors where men predominate such as manufacturing and construction are now being balanced by job losses in retail and hospitality where more women than men work.

"But job losses among men are still more likely to hit the headlines as women tend to work in smaller workplaces where redundancies go unnoticed by the media.

"But with so many households absolutely dependent on women's wages the Government must ensure that women benefit in full from programmes to help those facing redundancy and the long term unemployed."

The TUC is calling on the Government to take specific measures to ensure that unemployed women receive the support they need to get them back into work, and to ensure that packages to assist unemployed people take account of women's particular needs.

Key points
  • In the UK around 12,658,000 working age women are in paid formal employment - around 40 per cent of whom work part-time (compared to around 11 per cent of working men).
  • Over the last 30 years women's employment has significantly increased, while men's has experienced an overall reduction. Unemployment rates also show significant variation by gender. In the last recession the rate of female unemployment was much lower than the male rate.
  • But while women are now more likely to be in paid work, they remain far more likely than men to be in low-paid jobs - around 16.1 percent of men in work are low paid, compared with 29 per cent of women workers - with those women who work part-time the most likely to be in low-paid employment.
  • Compared to the last recession women are making a greater financial contribution than ever before to family incomes, and lone parents - 90 per cent of whom are women - now make up a quarter of all families. More women than ever are therefore supporting families on their wages.
  • So far it looks as though women's jobs will be affected more than in previous recessions, recent unemployment data have shown consistent increases in the unemployment rate for women as well as men.
  • Since the start of the 2008 the female redundancy rate has increased by 2.3 percentage points, almost double the rate of male increase (1.2 percentage points).
  • Women are more likely to be employed in occupations where workplaces are smaller (for example, retail, care and personal services). This means that media headlines do not always focus on female redundancies - but does not mean that they are not taking place.
  • In some regions there have been stronger effects for women - for example in the North West the rate of women's unemployment has increased at almost double the rate of male unemployment since the start of the downturn.
  • Although it is too early to know if recent trends will be sustained, they could show that while early job losses were in sectors with a greater concentration of male workers (for example construction and manufacturing) areas with a higher concentration of female workers (for example business services and retail) are now also making more redundancies. Women's jobs could be at much more risk than in the last recession.
  • There are signs that women's jobs will continue to be hit: so far this recession is hitting sectors across the economy, and much growth over the last decade has been in the service sector, where women's jobs predominate. In addition, women's and men's employment rates have remained relatively constant over the last ten years - meaning that the ongoing upward trend in women's employment prior to previous recent downturns may not protect women's employment rates in the same way this time.
  • Women are likely to be affected by reductions in part-time hours during the downturn.
  • If there were a major drive to cut public spending even more women would find their jobs were at risk, as there are more women than men employed in the public sector.
  • Women may have different experiences of unemployment to men. As women are more likely than men to be in low-paid work, they are less likely than men to have savings and therefore face a greater risk of immediate poverty as they become unemployed. Unemployed women are also less likely than men to qualify for Jobseekers Allowance - which may exacerbate their financial difficulties. In part, this relates to the structure of the benefit system itself.
  • Women may also face particular barriers to finding new jobs. Women with childcare responsibilities may have chosen particular part-time or flexible employment opportunities as a means to balance paid and unpaid work. This places restrictions upon their job search as only certain employment opportunities will be suitable, and may be contingent upon the accessibility of affordable childcare. It is more important than ever that employers increase access to flexible working.
  • Discrimination will continue to affect women seeking to move back into work - particularly women who are pregnant or who already have caring responsibilities.
  • Evidence shows us that it is important that action is taken to support unemployed women. These responses are also necessary to challenge the ongoing labour market discrimination that women experience.
  • The TUC believes that Government, union and employer responses to female unemployment should focus on: acting to protect women's jobs; fair treatment for women facing redundancy; enforcing employment rights; support for unemployed women to access and understand benefits; and creating new opportunities for women.


- Women and recession is available at: www.tuc.org.uk/extras/womenandrecession.pdf

- The TUC has produced two leaflets to help working people in the recession, Coping with the Economic Downturn (produced with input from Citizens Advice) and Facing Redundancy. Both leaflets can be downloaded for free from www.worksmart.org.uk - the TUC's world of work website - which contains questions and answers on all aspects of redundancy. In addition, the TUC's Know Your Rights Line on 0870 600 4882 (national rate, daily 8am-10pm) offers information to callers on a wide range of workplace issues including redundancy.

Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248 M: 07778 158175 E: [email protected]
Elly Brenchley T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: [email protected]

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