Women and 2020

Marlyn Glen

8 October 2012

Two years ago , as a deepening recession  encircled daily life , and recovery seemed forlorn, our spirits were  cheered by Government slogans such as “We’re All in this Together”

That was before tax cut for millionaires 

That was before large sections of society were discounted as “Plebs”

And that was before the report by the Resolution Foundation Who Gains from Growth? which investigated how living standards might change by 2020.

Its verdict is that the future is extremely bleak for those who want far-reaching reforms for a much fairer society.

Even if years of unjustifiable austerity eventually produce a period of stable economic growth, by 2020 living standards will fall for low and middle income groups.

By contrast those in the highest income groups will continue to prosper.

The report concludes that raising the standard of living amongst low and middle income households requires that three features of employment are singled out as major priorities :

Increasing the number of women in work

Improving training and skills

Raising wages for the lowest paid groups.

Unless radical action is taken, and these goals are  accomplished – all three of them – then low income families can expect their income to plunge by 15 per cent in real terms by 2020.

Those in the middle could see their income lose out by 3 per cent.

The gains from growth will go those at the top ; the higher the income, the greater the gain.

What makes the report so grim is that these outcomes are based upon forecasts in economic growth described as “optimistic”.

Let us look at increasing female employment, one of the necessary conditions to boost living standards 2020

More women at work has been crucial to the rise in living standards over the past 20 years.

However, once they have a family women find their choice of work restricted by the lack of good quality jobs, lack of flexible working arrangements and steep childcare costs.

Many are therefore forced into lower quality, lower paid employment.

Previous research by the Resolution Foundation found that amongst the very top countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) that ranked highest for female employment were Sweden, Norway , and Denmark..

 Britain lagged far behind at 15th.

To raise Britain’s level to the Scandinavian equivalent would mean around 1 million more women  in work in this country.

Scandinavian countries have achieved relatively high levels of female employment by large investments in affordable childcare, which in turn  generates large amounts in tax revenues from the employment of women..

The standard of their childcare is such that part-time work has its attractions in allowing a better work-life balance or a more gradual return to work after childbirth.

By comparison, in the UK, part-time work for women tends to be of lower quality and the work-life balance less satisfactory with men working some of the longest hours in Europe.

The OECD study measured the percentage of people in its member countries working “very long hours” , defined as 50 hours a week on average or more.

In the UK, the percentage was 12 per cent.

In Scandinavian countries , the figures were  Norway 3 per cent ; Denmark 2 per cent: Sweden 1 per cent.

The Scandinavians therefore had more time to eat, sleep , and socialise with family and friends, and therefore, one benefit of more women in employment is a more equitable balance between work and life.

So as one of its essential conditions for safeguarding the quality of life for the rest of this decade, the Resolution Foundation has drawn attention to the need for more women in work.

This comes while women face the brunt of public expenditure cuts  from the public sector wage freeze, job cuts in public sectors areas such as health , education and local government , and billions of pounds being cut from welfare.

And living standards of families are particularly linked to female employment.

However increasing the  number of women in work is  not simply about higher wages, and a better work-life balance.

More women in work will lead to lead to a society with less inequality.

More equal societies show, amongst many benefits, less stress, less violence, less poverty, higher life expectancy, more literacy, less obesity, and a greater degree of communal trust and obligation.

Scratch the surface of the slogan  “We’re all in this together” and what is revealed is an OECD  prediction that UK will have the “worst performing economy amongst the G7 group of nations with the exception of Italy. “ this year alongside a staetling revelation that the directors of Britain’s largest companies saw their pay rise by almost 50 per cent last year.


Link : The Resolution Foundation –Who Gains from Growth ?

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