The gendered impact of the cost-of-living crisis and what this means for UNISON women

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2023 National Women's Conference
13 October 2022

The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) have in 2022 produced a series of reports clearly highlighting the impact this post pandemic cost of living crisis will have on women. We are in the midst of combined high inflation rates, across the board price increases and significant income deficit for many through historic and ongoing low wage rises, austerity policies and harsh benefit cuts.

The Inflation rate for July 2022 was 10.1%, reaching a 40-year record. The Resolution Foundation forecast prices in 2022/23 will be up 7.6% from 2021/22. Workers are facing a pay cut in real terms of 1.9% and public sector workers are seeing an even bigger drop in salaries with workers in key sectors such as education (who are mainly women) seeing the biggest falls in pay. In April, benefits were increased by 3.1%, equating to a third of price rises in the same month. The UC covid payment was cut and the benefit cap is still in place. Women are far more likely to be reliant on state benefits, and foodbanks, and more likely to be in significant debt due to lower wages and savings.

According to the WBG reports this will inevitably bring more people into the realms of poverty but the impact of these combined crises will hit women particularly hard for several reasons:

• An increase in the cost-of-living will hit the poorest hardest. Women are more likely to be poor and have been hit harder by cuts to social security and provision of public services over the past decade.

• Women have lower levels of savings and wealth than men.

• Even before Covid-19, women were more likely to be in debt and this has worsened because of the pandemic.

• Women’s caring responsibilities mean that they are often less able than men to increase their hours of paid work, as childcare costs were increasing above the rate of inflation for several years before this crisis.

• Women are the ‘shock absorbers of poverty’. They tend to have the main responsibility for the purchase and preparation of food for their children and families, and for the management of budgets of poor households.

Groups of women will be disproportionately impacted:

• Poverty rates are significantly higher among people from Bangladeshi (53%), Pakistani (48%) and Black (40%) ethnic groups than among White people (19%), making it harder to meet rising living costs.

• Disabled people were already facing on average an extra £583 in costs per month due to their impairment or condition. Even prior to Covid-19, over a third of disabled workers were having to cut back on food and heating.

• Single parents, most of whom are women, have been hit particularly badly by Covid-19 with a third in financial difficulty, and 11% in problem debt. Prior to the pandemic 84% of single parents, reported savings of less than £1,500.

• Victims/survivors of domestic violence and abuse, including economic abuse, are likely to find it harder to leave an abusive relationship if they are unsure how they will support themselves and their children as living costs rise.

• Women with ‘no recourse to public funds’, who are excluded from claiming social security benefits are at high risk of poverty, and often destitution, if they lose work, or separate from a partner.

The SE Regional Women’s Committee believes this is a Unison issue since nationally our membership stands at approximately 70% female. Unison should take a lead in ensuring our members are not experiencing poverty and debt which will inevitably lead to poor mental and physical health, whilst being expected to carry out some of the most vital roles in the workplace.

Conference calls on the National Women’s Committee to work to:

1)Work with the appropriate bodies within UNISON to conduct research about the gendered aspect of the cost-of-living crises on women in UNISON to generate resources and toolkits for branches that are reflective of the different service groups we represent

2)Work with other SOGs across the union to better understand the intersectionality of the gendered cost of living crisis and its impact on workers

3)Raise the profile of the gendered impact of the cost-of-living crises and use as a strategic tool when recruiting and organising women

4)Work with Labour Link to promote the issue of the gendered impact of the cost-of-living crises on women

5)Work with ‘There for You’ to combat the impact of the cost-of-living crises on women members

6)Work with Learning and Organising Services to provide specific training for activists on the cost-of-living crises and in particular the affect it has on Women.