Yet, the latest statistics present a dismal picture for women across the UK and also in Scotland. While unemployment rose for men by 3,000 across the whole of the UK, bringing the total of unemployed men to just over one and a half million, 32,000 more women found themselves out of work. The total number of women out of work is still less than men at nearly 1.1 million, but the gap is narrowing.
In Scotland, the picture is, if anything, more worrying. Unemployment among men actually fell in the quarter October – December 2011, from 134,000 to 126,000. But the trend is upward for women, with 105,000 out of work by December last year, up 24,000 in one quarter. That’s a 30% increase.
The rates show that 9% of men aged 16 – 64 were unemployed by the end of last year, a fall of 0.6%, while the rate for women was 8.2%, a rise of 1.9%.
Looking at the picture over a year (November 2010 – October 2011), unemployment among men in Scotland fell by 1000 (0.9%) while 17,000 more women became unemployed – a rise of 18.6%.
Also of concern is the trend in levels of economic activity. The official definition of economically inactive people is those who are not in a job and who have not actively sought employment in the previous four weeks and who would be unable to start work within two weeks.
Three thousand fewer men in Scotland became economically inactive in the last quarter of 2011, although 12,000 more men (up 1.9%) became economically inactive over the year. But 11,000 women became economically inactive over that last quarter, with 21,000 doing so over the year – a rise of 2.3%.
However, we look at it, the employment situation for women is worsening, faster than it is for men.
There is a six month lag in the publication of more detailed breakdowns of labour force statistics by ONS for nations and regions, making it difficult to scratch the surface to find age and gender trends. There are only age and gender breakdowns in the figures published today as far as June 2011, but it is worthwhile considering them, not least because they show just how much things have deteriorated for women in the workplace during 2011.
Unemployment among men of working age (16 – 64) actually decreased by 4,000 over the year to June 2011, a fall of 3%. But over the year, 10,000 more women became unemployed, an increase of 13%. The change is worst among 25 – 34 year olds, with unemployment among men in this age group falling by nearly 19% between July 2010 and June 2011 but growing among women the same age by a staggering 48%.
The rates of economic inactivity among women offer no succour.
Over a year between July 2010 and June 2011, the number of men who were economically inactive actually fell in Scotland by 1000 while it was static for women. If we look at the age group of 25 – 34 year olds again, it shows that 5.4% more men this age became economically inactive over the year, while the number of women categorised as economically inactive fell by nearly 5%. What this means effectively is that there are more young women available for work who are unable to find a job.
If we consider the levels of economic inactivity among young people, the gender difference becomes even more marked. While 11.9% fewer male 16 and 17 year olds became economically inactive, 2.4% more female 16 and 17 year olds became so. And even though 0.6% fewer women aged 18 – 24 became economically inactive, 9.1% fewer men the same age fell into this category between July 2010 and June 2011.
This suggests a number of things. Either more women are securing training places or actual work and are therefore no longer inactive (unlikely given the unemployment rates), or more women are going to college and university than men the same age (possible), or more women are having babies and therefore being categorised out of the labour market (again, possible but doubtful), or young women are being written off and moved from job seekers’ status and on to other benefits (an attempt at massaging the figures perhaps?) It might also be the case that young women may be finding it harder to take up apprenticeship places because they are less suited to their skills and interests. All of this, of course, is supposition or at best, guesswork. What is clear is that we need a proper analysis of what is going on.
Why? Because we cannot allow a generation of women, particularly young women, to be written off. They have as much right and need to be working and earning as men. Some might argue more.
There is a considerable bank of international research evidence demonstrating the link between women’s unemployment and poverty and children’s. If a woman is poor, her children are more likely to grow up in poverty. It is not just themselves who are adversely affected by a lack of work, but the future generation too. The rate of unemployment among women aged 25 – 34 years – key childbearing years – is even more concerning, when viewed through this prism.
There is a potential double whammy of inequality and exclusion that needs urgent government attention. If you are young, you are at high risk of unemployment and/or economic inactivity; the data suggests that if you are young and a woman, you are at even greater risk. This is something our Minister for Youth Unemployment must explore and address, as a matter of urgency. Multiple levels of marginalisation need careful thought and the application of considerable resources to resolve. The one-dimensional approach in evidence until now must be changed.
Indeed, if we need a Minister for Youth Unemployment, it could be argued that we also need a ministerial portfolio concentrating on women’s unemployment too. At the moment, no one is talking about this potentially huge problem. Few are asking, let alone focused on identifying work for women.
For while much has been made of the potential lost generation of young people, much less has been said – by anyone – about women’s unemployment, either here in Scotland or in the UK. The number of women out of work is increasing rapidly – the rate of growth is fast outstripping that for men. We simply cannot allow a return to the supposed good old days when men took preference over women in the workplace.
That would be a massively retrograde step, for women and for children.