This article discusses the Tory-Liberal budget cuts to the public sector in England. It shows a clear division of labor as women are claimed by the author to be over represented in the public sector; which is set to be ruthlessly hacked at by the new government. While one may want to question the assumptions which the author makes in explaining this statistical discrepancy (or the stats themselves) the article gives a good example of macroeconomic policy having a gendered effect.
Original main article can be found at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/07/public-sector-cuts-women
Secondary article discussing the same topic: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jul/04/women-budget-cuts-yvette-cooper
One could be forgiven for imagining that shadow welfare secretaryYvette Cooper is actually the only person in Her Majesty’s opposition at present, so busy is she, as she hammers away at the iniquities of the coalition budget. This makes it all the more unsettling that she is not herself contesting the Labour leadership. Still, Cooper has explained with perfect clarity the reason why she is not standing. She has small children, and it is a big job.
It is notable, of course, that the same small children are no bar to the desire of her husband, Ed Balls, to secure the same big job. But that’s only because this illustrates something that is perfectly well known – a “working mother” is someone who is fulfilling two roles, possibly to the detriment of both. A “working father”, by contrast, is so unremarkably natural and normal that the phrase “working father” hasn’t even had to be invented, let alone heavily freighted with socio-cultural significance.
Nevertheless, Cooper is the exception, rather than the rule. Only 18% of women work full-time while their children are younger than three, as Cooper did. The rest work part-time or not at all. This makes it all the more remarkable that there is now such a small difference between the number of men who work overall and the number of women. Office of National Statistics figures from March 2009 confirm that there is now a difference of 7.7 percentage points in employment rates for men and women, which is quite a change from the 27.6 difference of 1979. The bulk of that switch occurred in the 1980s, as male-dominated industries collapsed and female-dominated industries thrived. But the gap has continued to narrow, at a slower rate, ever since.
You could be forgiven for imagining, therefore, that the last 30 years have seen a huge increase in the financial independence of women. Sadly, that is not the case, as the diligent Cooper has inadvertently shown. This week she published a gender audit of the budget, commissioned from the House of Commons library, and showing that the burden of an astonishing three-quarters of the coming budget cuts would be shouldered by women. Cooper’s political point is that the budget is unfair, because it punishes women so disproportionately. But the really rotten thing that this analysis displays is the massive extent to which women have become dependent on the state, either for benefits (especially when they are mothers) or for employment.
Men lost more jobs than women in the recent recession because they tend to work in the private sector, which shrank, while women tend to work in the public sector, which continued to expand. Women will be taking the next hit, as jobs in the public sector start to be winnowed out. It’s a delayed consequence of the recession, but an inevitable one nonetheless.
It’s easy to explain why more women work in the public sector, of course. Largely, it is because the public sector tends to provide the vocational jobs – teaching, nursing, social work, child care – that women are still far more likely to do. But it is also linked to the fact that the public sector tends to be more progressive on flexible and part-time work, and in Britain’s part-time sector (which is disproportionately large in comparison with those in other similar countries), women dominate hugely.
It is interesting that part-time work among women is not as closely correlated to “working motherhood” as might be expected. About 44% of women who work part-time do not have dependent children. Further, women are over-represented in lower-paid occupations (and there are plenty of those in the public sector, despite the perception that wages are generous).
Of course, for decades there has been much concern over the gender pay gap, which has remained a stubborn problem, even though the Equal Pay Act came in 40 years ago. Likewise, it has long been acknowledged that mothers are more likely to hold down part-time jobs and lower-paid jobs. Still, Cooper’s analysis reveals the huge extent of female vulnerability in the workplace, and suggests that state support for unskilled working women has actually helped to create more low-skilled, low-paid jobs and more “in-work poverty”.
Greater access to education, a change in social attitudes that assumed that a woman would give up work when she married, more widespread provision of childcare: these were supposed to deliver equality, and independence – even liberation – for women. The reality is that while this has indeed been the experience of many women, another trend has pushed females into poorly paid, low-value, insecure work that offers little or no career progression. At this end of the market, increased female employment has expanded the unskilled jobs market and made it more downwardly competitive.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation warns that it is the nature of the UK jobs market itself that creates and fosters a “major barrier to further progress on poverty”. Its research suggests that the British jobs market is becoming increasingly “hollowed-out”, with the polarised development of one strata of jobs that are highly skilled and highly paid, another of jobs that demand few skills and are poorly paid, and with little in the middle offering progress up a career ladder. This is a dismal prospect, because it promises exactly what political rhetoric is always warning against, “a two-tier system”.
My feeling is that the expansion of the public sector over the last 13 years, and the focus on getting mothers into work, even if they need a great deal of state support, has merely disguised the degree to which such an economy has already developed. (Unskilled men have been left to their own miserable devices far more, in part because of the lack of cultural focus on fostering “working fathers”.)
There has been much fretting about gender inequality in the boardroom, or in the City of London, and much attention paid to how well or badly women are doing in the race to the top. At the same time, however, the influx of women into the labour market has been significantly characterised by a race to the bottom that has been hugely preoccupied with what single mothers and feckless fathers are up to, when the real problem is a horribly divided economy in which a whole swathe of unskilled men and women are blamed and pilloried because they live in a society that denies them any opportunity at all. Labour dressed this up with its financial interventions, which was perhaps understandable in the humanitarian respect. But it also helped to disguise the retrenchment of a class system as rigid and socially immobile as the one Labour was founded to dismantle. The disguise is being taken off now, and what’s underneath is pretty ugly.