The Disproportionate Impact of Austerity Measures in Relation to Unemployment and Redundancy on Black Women

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2014 National Women's Conference
17 October 2013
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that Black women are disproportionately bearing the brunt of this government’s austerity measures. More Black women are being condemned to living in poverty in the midst of these cuts and to a higher rate of unemployment than white women. 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. The Black women’s economic unemployment rate is particularly high, at 39.2 per cent. Being Black and female is detrimental to employment prospects, career progression and job security.

Conference, Black women are twice as likely to be unemployed than white women – and are reporting having to ‘Westernise’ their names or removing hijabs (headscarf) to improve their chances of getting a job.

This is according to the Runnymede Trust report for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community, which finds that 25% of the unemployment rate for Black and Asian men and women is because of “prejudice.” For example, the unemployment rate for Black women in 2011 was 14.3% and 6.8% for white women. The report found Black women face discrimination at “every stage” of the recruitment process.

The report also found discrimination based on religious dress, especially towards women who wear the hijab. It was found that those who removed their hijab for interviews were more successful than similarly qualified women who did not, and some women interviewed reported removing their headscarf in order to find work.

The report found the situation had not improved since the 1980s for Black women and was worsening for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women. “With 17.7% of Black women and 20.5% of Bangladeshi and Pakistani women looking for work being unemployed compared to only 6.8% of white women,” the inquiry found that “this gap has remained constant for Black women since the 1980s, and has actually worsened for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women since 2004”.

Unemployment among women is set to rise to 1.5 million by 2018, according to a report by the Fawcett Society that says 400,000 women in the UK can expect to lose their jobs over the next five years. It says Government moves to increase employment opportunity in the UK are “leaving out women” as six out of 10 “new” jobs are going to men.

The report blames a variety of factors, including cuts to public sector jobs. It has found that a third of women in the UK are employed in the public sector, making up 65% of the workforce, so women are likely to make up the majority of those who lose their jobs. Almost half of Black Caribbean women work in the public sector before the public sector job cuts hit. Over the past 12 months, there has been a 5.3 per cent decline in the amount of public sector jobs, which has a disproportionate effect on Black staff. In Lambeth, South London, it was reported that 73 per cent of Black staff were at risk of redundancy compared to 45 per cent of white staff.

The Fawcett Society report concludes that the Government should implement a ‘Women’s Employment Strategy’ to improve levels of low pay and ensure greater access to the jobs market for women.

Many Black women are losing their jobs in the public sector, as they work on the frontline, particularly in the NHS and local government, where jobs are going first and fast. This cannot be allowed to continue so that the already unacceptable levels of unemployment amongst Black women can get even worse. Ministers must take urgent action on the recommendations of this report, particularly the monitoring of redundancies by gender and ethnicity combined, and do more to tackle the labour market barriers faced by Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, including racism.

The demise of the public sector has exposed the weakness of the private sector in recruiting Black employees. The private sector remains less transparent and accountable in how it recruits. Accusations of racism and nepotism, or the ‘who you know’ syndrome, have often been leveled.

In the UK, largely because of the racism in the employment practices in the private sector, Black women are more likely to work in the public sector. They are largely located in the lower and junior administrative roles and it’s these post that have been disproportionately affected by job cuts and pay freezes.

Black communities are among some of the hardest hit by the Government’s programme of spending cuts according to a ground-breaking new report published in October 2013 by the Centre for Human Rights in Practice at the University of Warwick, Coventry Women’s Voices, Coventry Ethnic Minority Action Partnership and Foleshill Women’s Training

The ground breaking report entitled, Layers of inequality: a human rights and equality impact assessment of the cuts on BAME women in Coventry examine the impact of cuts BAME in a range of areas including employment, housing, welfare benefits, health, social care, education, legal aid, violence against women and voluntary organisations.

This local study has found that unemployment among BAME women in Coventry increased by 74.4% between 2009 and 2013. Unemployment among white British women increased by 30.5% during the same period.

We can therefore expect that around twice as many women than men will lose their jobs in the public sector, with around half a million women in total facing redundancy. Jobs that will be lost include local government workers, nurses, teachers, council workers, school meal assistants, Sure Start workers, domestic violence support workers and care workers, amongst many others.

Women in certain regions will be hit particularly hard; for example, 46% of working women in the North East of England work in public sector occupations – one of the highest percentages in any region of the UK.

Women in certain parts of the public sector are especially vulnerable as they make up an even greater majority of the workforce. For example:

• 75% of local government workers are women

• 77% of NHS workers are women

• 80% of adult social care workers are women

• 82% of education workers are women

Black women may be affected severely by job cuts. 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.

Conference believes that the austerity measures are unfair and their disproportionate impact on Black women cannot continue unchallenged.

Conference therefore calls on the National Women’s Committee to work with the NEC and other appropriate bodies, together with:

1)The TUC and Fawcett Society to determine strategies to counteract the discriminatory impact of the austerity measures.

2)Labour Link to campaign vigorously to promote full employment of Black women

3)The National Black Members Committee to develop information on challenging unfair redundancies.