UK Policy Briefings
Spring Budget 2022: Women and employment
Date Posted: Wednesday 9th March 2022
Households in the UK are projected to experience the sharpest decline in living standards since records began in the 1940s. This cost of living squeeze will hit hardest among those on the lowest incomes, the majority of whom are women.
Households in the UK are projected to experience the sharpest decline in living standards since records began in the 1940s. This cost of living squeeze will hit hardest among those on the lowest incomes, the majority of whom are women. Although employment levels have started to recover over the past two quarters, wages are not keeping pace with inflation. The recent surge in vacancies is driven largely by an increase in low-paid jobs, in which women are more likely to be working.
In late 2021, 72.2% of women were in employment, more than ever before. 74% of all part-time workers, 57% of involuntarily part-time workers and 54% of temporary workers were women.
The sectors in which women tend to work are some of the lowest paid, with women predominating in the so-called ‘five Cs’ of caring, cashiering, catering, cleaning, and clerical work.
74% of all part-time workers are women, and the sectors in which women tend to work are some of the lowest paid.
The Covid-19 pandemic impacted women in very particular ways. Women were the majority of employees in industries with some of the highest Covid-19 job losses, and the dual pressures of caring responsibilities and working took a toll on mothers’ paid work. The main policy interventions (CJRS and SEISS) did not adequately take account of gendered differences in economic participation.
The post-Covid recession exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, not only in terms of gender but also in terms of ethnicity, disability, earnings and age: the numbers of BAME women in work fell by 17% between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020. These disproportionate impacts are likely to lead to a longer-term increase in race and gender inequalities.
The post-Covid recession exacerbated pre-existing inequalities.
PAYE data is not disaggregated by sex, so it is challenging to compose an accurate assessment of current labour market activity for women. Official data on the gender pay gap, released during the pandemic when many workers were furloughed, is also likely to be flawed. However, given other data it’s reasonable to deduce that an increasing number of women are working on zero-hours contracts. The public sector pay freeze will also particularly impact women, who make up over two-thirds of all public sector employees. The rise in the National Living Wage announced in the 2021 Autumn Budget is welcome.
The Women’s Budget Group is calling for: public sector pay to keep pace with inflation; a requirement for companies to produce plans to tackle their reported gender pay gaps; new duties to report on pay gaps affecting other protected characteristics such as race and disability; amending the Employment Bill, currently before the House of Commons, to reduce insecurity for low-paid workers by extending employment rights and investing in strong and effective enforcement.