The Disproportionate Impact of Cuts on Women

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2014 Local Government Service Group Conference
1 January 2014

Conference values local government’s history as an important part of the gender equality movement, acting as a key employer for women. Women make up 65% of local government staff and many of those women are low-paid and working part-time.

Women are also more likely to use public services than men, and use them more intensively to meet their own and their family’s needs. There are many public services that women access more than men because of pregnancy, longer life expectancy and lower wages, or as carers for children and older or disabled relatives.

Conference is outraged that local government’s tradition of supporting women as staff and service users is in reverse and that women are disproportionately bearing the brunt of this government’s austerity measures. Attacks on worker’s pay and conditions, including cuts to paid leave, unsocial hours payments, overtime and sick pay, impacts on staff and the provision of local services. Black, disabled and LGBT women are the worst hit, experiencing multiple discrimination as both workers and the users of specialist services:

1) By July 2013, the number of women working in local government had plunged by 253,600 to 1.43 million since the coalition came to power in 2010.

2) According to the latest Labour Force Survey statistics, the employment rate of Black women is 52 per cent compared with 72 per cent for the working population as a whole. Being Black and female is detrimental to employment prospects, career progression and job security, while Black women – particularly those who wear religious dress – are likely to experience discrimination at every stage of the job recruitment process.

3) Disabled women are already less likely to be in employment and suffer widespread discrimination in the job market, but have traditionally found the local government workplace supportive, in part because of the Equality Duty and previous legislation requiring public sector employers to avoid discriminatory practices.

4) LGBT women, as evidenced in the recent UNISON/NatCen report, reported feeling more marginalised and isolated in the workplace, and feared the rise of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

5) Less government support to meet the increasing costs of childcare has meant that 24% of mothers have had to quit work, while 16% have reduced their working hours.

6) Single parents (92% of whom are women) and women pensioners have been even more affected by the cuts, losing 15.6% and 12.5% respectively from their incomes because of welfare cuts and cuts to services.

In redundancy selection, it is Black and disabled women who are most likely to be selected. In February 2012, UNISON surveyed 17 out of 27 local authorities in London and found that Black women are being disproportionately hit in 12 London councils: for example, in one council Black women constituted 5% of the workforce but 23% of redundancies.

The same report found that disabled women were also more likely to lose their jobs, particularly where sickness absence and capability procedures were used in the selection process.

The demise of the public sector has exposed the weakness of the private sector in recruiting Black and disabled employees. The private sector remains less transparent and accountable in how it recruits and in its employment practices. Black women, for example, are primarily employed in the lower and junior administrative roles, despite their qualifications and in the social care sector – jobs that have been disproportionately affected by job cuts and privatisation.

Conference believes that the disproportionate impact of austerity on women – such a crucial part of the local government workforce – is unacceptable and cannot continue unchallenged. Fighting against the further impact of cuts to services on women should be a priority in UNISON’s wider campaign against the cuts.

Conference calls on the Service Group Executive to:

a) Work with self-organised groups, other trade unions, the TUC, the STUC, supportive politicians and elected members, think tanks and equalities groups to campaign against cuts to services that will have a discriminatory impact on women.

b) Monitor the scale of redundancies by gender, including, wherever possible by ethnicity and disability to establish the scale of multiple discrimination.

c) Raise awareness of the disproportionate impact of the austerity measures on women working in local government.

d) Raise awareness of how redundancies in local government and cuts to services such as children’s centres and supported bus services act as barriers to women’s employment.

e) Build on the findings of ‘The Damage’ campaign’s report on women, to support recruitment and organising activities around the impact of cuts to services on women.

f) Emphasise the further impact of service cuts on women who also identify with other equalities groups, including Black, LGBT, disabled, older and younger women.

g) Issue guidance to branches on challenging unfair redundancy selection processes.