Where’s the work for women?

Interestingly, the Scottish Government didn’t mention women in its news release on the latest jobless figures today.  But then neither did the DWP.

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.


Predictions for 2012

Before I consternate you all with my innane predictions for the coming year, I thought it would be amusing to humiliate myself by revisiting last year’s ones:

  1. The Scottish Budget will pass at the first attempt.  This one worked!  And yes, there was a bit of huffing and puffing along the way, but nothing as dramatic as previous years.
  2. Labour will hold the most seats after the Holyrood election but won’t form the next administration.  Aye well, everyone called this one wrong, except the pollsters.  Whom we all refused to believe.  The whole prediction suggested it would go down to the wire for Labour.  Yes, I am contrite and yes, I am feeling silly.
  3. The SNP will remain in government, with the support of the Conservatives in return for baubles.  Partly right but obviously without the dreaded Tories’ bit.  Thank goodness.
  4. The unholy alliance with the Tories will prompt a resurgence of the left in the SNP.  This was always wishful thinking.  But the burd continues to live in hope…
  5. The UK coalition government will last at least another 12 months.  An easy one to get right, in hindsight.
  6. The first UK Minister to resign on conscience grounds will be a Conservative not a Liberal Democrat.  Has anyone resigned yet?  Apart from David Laws, who had gone before this prediction was made?  Wasn’t there some Tory PPS over Europe?  Zzzz….
  7. The UK will vote no in the AV referendum – but Scotland and Wales will vote yes.  Again another partial victory – very disappointed in the Celtic nations for going with the mainstream for once.
  8. Wales will vote yes in its referendum for legislative powers for the Assembly.  Hurrah it did!
  9. Tavish Scott will resign as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and will be replaced by Margaret Smith.  Again another partial one – and the replacement idea was based on them experiencing near total wipeout in the May 2011 elections, leaving Margaret Smith as the only woman standing in one of the supposedly safest seats in Scotland.  Little did I know….
  10. Iain Gray and Ed Miliband will survive the year in their respective leadership posts.  Another half point, though in actual fact, Gray did survive for most of the year, thanks to the antediluvian electoral process for choosing a new leader.  Miliband, it has to be said, has rather limped to the 2011 finish line.
  11. Scotland will not qualify for the Euro 2012 finals.  “As usual, we will be there or thereabouts right to the last, prompting much unjustified optimism, as usual, and hope that this time will be our time.  As usual, we will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”  Yep, that was about the size of it.  As usual.
  12. Celtic will claim the SPL title on the last day of the season (thanks to a controversial refereeing decision elsewhere), Hearts will nearly finish second and the mighty Killie will finish fourth.  Gosh, how wrong can the burd be?  Though Killie did finish fifth which was the source of much rejoicing in this eyrie.
  13. A Scottish band will win the Mercury Prize.  Nope, even though King Creosote and Jon Hopkins shoulda won it.
  14. A Scottish newspaper title will fold.  Right but not for the reasons I predicted.  All the main contenders lost readers by the bucketload but made it into another year.  Except for one, the News of the World.  Still, I’m bagging the points.
  15. We will have a heatwave summer.  Scotland’s weather is nothing if not unpredictable.

Fifteen predictions, five completely right (if a little wonky on the rationale), five partially right, five wholly wrong.  There’s a nice symmetry to that.

So what of this year?

  1. There will be no referendum on independence in 2012.  I’m starting with the easy ones.  Not even if the UK Government decides to throw its weight around: it really isn’t that brave.
  2. The SNP will increase its number of councillors by at least a third and will win overall control in more local authorities  The SNP’s triumphant steamrollering of the opposition parties will continue with the local government elections in May.  Indeed, the results will actually be reined in by the performance of some weel kent local worthies clinging grimly on by virtue of reputation rather than performance.  There will be fewer rainbow alliances across the country and more of that sea of yellow.
  3. But it won’t take Glasgow. I’d like it to but I think the mountain is too big to climb.  Too many factional interests, not enough cohesion, too little groundwork, not enough focus despite the best efforts of some.  And old habits really do die hard.  Labour will use all its tricks, nefarious and other wise, to get a vote out.  The result will be no overall control and either a minority administration or some hard bartering to form a coalition with the various Tory, Lib Dem and Green cohorts.  Labour won’t give up power in the jewel of its crown without one helluva fight.
  4. There will be no Ministerial casualties from the Scottish Government  I know, not much of a prediction is it.  Okay how about this:
  5. There will be some kind of a two day wonder/scandal involving a high profile MSP or Minister but it won’t result in resignations or reshuffles.  We’ll all get righteously indignacious and then forget all about it.  Twas ever thus.
  6. There will be a Ministerial resignation from the coalition government and it will be a Liberal Democrat.  If only to make way for the return of a rehabilitated David Laws.
  7. Teachers will go out on strike, for more than a day.  In Scotland, not elsewhere in the UK.  There may well be more public sector strikes but the Coalition government is cleverly playing a game of divide and rule so we are unlikely to see the country grind to a halt as we did on 30 November.  But the teachers have got fire in their belly, even if their grievances are largely undeserved.  Expect lots of ranting from the burd if they do.
  8. Youth unemployment will rise to 30% Despite the best efforts of our new Minister and indeed the whole Scottish Government, proving that state intervention with limited powers can only go so far.  Providing more mettle to the SNP’s arguments for independence, more sticks for the Opposition parties to beat the SNP with, but none of it will matter.  The shame will be Scotland’s – a generation lost.
  9. A Scottish player will be in the Team GB Olympic football squad.  This will preoccupy us all more than is healthy but actually the sky won’t fall in.  It will dominate the headlines, the back pages, the Twitterverse, the blogosphere and bore the pants off everyone.  Ultimately he won’t play.
  10. Andy Murray will win a Grand Slam.  And certain elements will celebrate by trying to declare him Scottish not British despite the best efforts of the BBC.
  11. Kilmarnock will end its League Cup drought and win it for the first time in 2012.  Just as soon as we’ve disposed of the local rivals in the semi-final.  A doddle until you look at the cup form over the years.  Gulp.
  12. A Scottish artist/band will win the Mercury prize.  And I shall continue to predict this until it happens.  Either FOUND or Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells, surely.

I could trill on with more – a household name charity will get into serious financial difficulties, the Scottish Government will introduce a same sex marriage bill but allow a free vote to get some of its Ministers off the hook – but I won’t.  Twelve’s enough and again allows for symmetry in the win, lose, draw categories at the end of the year.

And it leaves some room for you to add your own.  Go on, you know you want to…

And the jobs forecast is….

Recent headlines proclaimed a rise in Scottish jobless figures and that employment also fell.   But a quick glance at “other related stories” on BBC Scotland’s website highlights just how confusing it all is.  “Scottish jobless figures improve (September 2011);  number of Scots out of work rises (August 2011);  Scots job market improves again (July 2011); and Mixed news for Scots job market (June 2011)”  So which is it?

Alongside those determined to create a headline a day, I’m not sure the official bean-counters are helping matters much.  They – the ONS – count quarterly job figures.  This used to be, as far as my burd brain can recall, January to March;  April to June (an important quarter marking the end and start of a new financial year);  July to September and October to December.  So how come we are now counting June to August – answers from experts please in the comment thread would be much welcome.

In case you missed it, in the last three months (June to August) compared to the previous three months (April to June) 7,000 more people lost their jobs in Scotland while it fell in the UK as a whole.  But compared to the same period last year (that’s June to August 2010), unemployment in Scotland fell by 17,000 while it rose in the UK by 113,000.  Generally, our unemployment trend over the last year has been downward while at UK level it is upwards.  It remains to be seen whether this quarter’s figures are a seasonal blip or the start of a more worrying long-term reversal.

For there are alarming indicators in this quarter’s jobless figures.  The overall employment rate in Scotland fell by 24,000 translating into a fall of 20,000 over the year.  So over twelve months, we have had a net gain in people going into work of 4,000, again against a more dismal trend in the UK.

This would appear to back up the predictions of the Item Club which in June forecast that in the next year, 16,000 jobs will be added, mainly from the private sector, for it also forecasts a net loss of 40,000 public sector jobs.  By 2014, it is predicting that more than half of all jobs will sit in the private sector.

But at the same time, it is also forecasting depressed growth for Scotland compared to the UK as a whole.  In 2011, the economy here will grow by 1.7% and in 2012, by 1.9% while UK growth is forecast to be 1.8% and 2.4% respectively.  If these growth predictions bear out, I fail to see how the expected jobs boom in the private sector will materialise.

Moreover, the claimant count – that is the number of people on Job Seeker’s Allowance – fell in September (a monthly figure – I know, mixing the methodology, not good) by 200 while it rose by 17,500.  So more folk out of work, but fewer on JSA.  That to me suggests longer term unemployment with people moving after a year onto another benefit, as the rules demand.

But such trends cannot be discerned at “regional level” (sic) because the Office of National Statistics does not publish detailed breakdowns for things like claimant count, gender or age demographics below UK in this first round of quarterly reporting.  Scottish data will come later, ensuring a lag.  This matters because we already know at UK level that youth unemployment is on the up, running at an eye-watering 37.4% for 16 and 17 year olds and 19.1% for 18 – 24 year olds.  There are now over 2.5 million economically inactive 16 – 24 year olds across the UK.  A lost generation indeed.

The Scottish Government put tackling youth unemployment front and central of its Programme for Government with the Opportunities for All initiative, guaranteeing every young person not already in education or work or an apprenticeship, a training or college place.   It is a great commitment but remains to be seen how successful it can be, given that there are at least 10,000 young people in Scotland who could not access work, education or training, even during the boom times, because of their complex support needs.

Also worrying is that many of the jobs being lost are part-time ones.  Previous evidence suggests that this is where women are more likely to be concentrated, just as they are more likely to be found in the public sector.  It matters that more women are losing their jobs than men, because of the draconian welfare reform measures coming down the line which will stop benefit for anyone, and in particular lone parents, who do not take up job offers.  It is why the current amendments being pushed by voluntary organisations on childcare provision are so important.  Stopping benefit for women claimants who cannot find work because it is not there or because they cannot find suitable, affordable childcare might help reduce the welfare bill but how are they supposed to support their families?

Already the Institute of Fiscal Studies is projecting that both the UK and Scotland will miss their targets to end child poverty by 2020 and that child poverty will in fact increase significantly over the next few years.  Where is the Opportunity for all programme for these families?  Indeed, there is very little in the Scottish Government’s Plan MacB that focuses on particular demographic groups or that enables a gendered approach to be taken to training and job creation.  If we are to avoid worsening inequality, we need a more subtle approach and direction to its economic growth strategy.  Investing in infrastructure on the whole is a good thing but the construction sector is not particularly known for its gender balance in employment.

The official diagnosis of the burd is bumpy.  It’s up a bit, down a bit and a medium term prognosis of not very good, particularly for young people and women.  It’s not very scientific but I’m not sure any of the supposed experts can come up with anything better.  And until someone, somewhere is doing a regular map of losses, gains and demographic hits and misses that is visited and updated regularly, then it will remain difficult to pin down any trends with certainty.

In the 1980s, I recall ITN’s News at Ten doing a Friday night round-up with a great big map of the UK, announcing job losses and gains and running a totaliser.  It was compulsive viewing, for in easy to understand terms, it laid bare how horrid the times were for families and communities everywhere.   Surely someone, somewhere could resurrect the format?