As the Women’s Budget Group (WBG), we are best known for our analysis of UK government policy for its impact on women. Now, we are pleased to announce a new project, the Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy, which will proactively develop alternative economic policies to promote gender equality in the UK. An alternative economic approach focused on gender equality is not only desirable, but economically feasible, and indeed, necessary if we are to have an economy that is fair, sustainable and resilient.
What counts as ’the economy’?
Unlike traditional approaches to economics, WBG sees the economy as encompassing everything that human beings need to survive and flourish. This includes unpaid care work as well as labour market activities.
At the heart of a new economic system would be the principle that the economy works for people, instead of vice versa. This means that the focus of the economy, and the measure of its success, should be wellbeing, rather than simply measuring GDP. Not only does GDP exclude a wide range of human activities, but it is not a measure of wellbeing, as those who created it as a measure well recognised. Maximising GDP should therefore not be the goal of economic policy. How about maximising the wellbeing of people and planet instead?
The inequalities that shape our economy
Women in the UK still experience structural inequality throughout their lives. While unpaid care and domestic work are essential for paid work, and more broadly, a fundamental part of human wellbeing, because of existing gender norms, women are still more likely to have responsibility for unpaid labour.
This gendered division of labour means women are less available for paid work and earn less than men. This not only perpetuates women’s roles as carers rather than breadwinners, but also gender stereotypes about the relative interests and abilities of men and women. Gender roles and norms then reinforce – and are in turn reinforced by – women’s under-representation in decision-making positions.
Inequalities based on gender intersect with other forms of inequality based on race, disability, income, age and so on meaning that some groups of women, particularly poor women, BME women and disabled women face intersecting disadvantages across their life course.
These structural inequalities are not only unfair, they undermine the UK’s economic wellbeing.
Reshaping the economy to work for all
The challenges that the UK faces including low productivity, lack of public investment, increased automation and an aging population and related social challenges such as low pay, in-work poverty and a crisis in public services, are both a cause and consequence of gender inequality.
These challenges are only compounded by the economic uncertainties facing the UK as it prepares to leave the European Union. They require policy solutions that take account of gender and actively seek to promote equality if they are to be sustainable.
Given the urgency of a transition to a green economy, it is essential that the policies proposed are environmentally sustainable.
WBG’s vision of a gender-equal economy goes beyond measures to tackle specific inequalities, such as increasing the number of women in senior positions in companies, or eliminating the gender pay gap, but instead envisions a fundamentally reshaped economy which achieves a just society that is gender-equal across the board by putting the care and wellbeing of people and planet at its centre.
Gender inequality is a structural problem, requiring structural solutions. This requires not only reactive analysis but the development of an integrated suite of alternative policies that reinforce each other in transforming gender inequalities. This is what our Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy is intended to do.