By Ann McKechin MP - 18th January 2012
Ann McKechin MP says both the UK and Scottish governments are guilty of treating women with contempt and disregard by allowing them to unfairly bear the brunt of government cuts.
Both administrations should adopt a positive agenda to mitigate the impact of the current economic crisis on women throughout the country. I would also challenge public bodies in Scotland, including the Forth Road bridge project, to follow the example of the Olympic authorities in increasing women’s participation in its construction and engineering.
Recent figures show the UK now has the highest female unemployment in over 23 years with the number of women claiming unemployment benefits in Scotland increasing by 15 per cent to over 42,000. In contrast the male count only rose by one per cent.
Even during the economic downturns in the 1980s and 90s, women’s employment levels were not substantially dented. However, this current economic downturn has witnessed what I believe is a serious and potentially permanent shift in the jobs market.
Not only has this halted women’s progress in the workplace and our economy more generally – it seriously risks putting it into reverse gear. We urgently need greater analysis and a determined political will to ensure that women, as the majority of our population, do not see their opportunity for advancement crushed.
Both the UK and Scottish governments are failing in their obligation under the Equality Act 2010 to give ‘due consideration’ to the implications of their policies for gender equality.
With more women being employed in the public sector, it follows that the cuts to this sector will disproportionately affect women. This has led to many women being pushed back into substantial economic hardship. There is no evidence that any meaningful consideration was given to this by either government.
This is typified by the difficulties faced by working mothers in accessing good quality and affordable childcare. It seems to me that rather than helping women, more and more obstacles are being put in our way by both governments. In Scotland childcare costs are the highest in the UK and already the number of places available has decreased as centres close.
I also question why the government stopped funding the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science and Engineering which could have looked at placing women in roles where jobs are most likely to emerge in the future.
I am deeply concerned this problem for women in the workplace shows no sign of improvement. After a push to have women employed in the public sector which caused them to bear the brunt of government cuts, there seems to be no thought to the emerging workplace trends, areas where jobs will emerge in the future: for example, science, engineering and technology.
Although women make up over 45 per cent of the UK workforce, they remain under-represented in these occupations – in 2010 only just over 12 per cent were female. Gender segregation is especially extreme in skilled trades such as electrical work, with women forming roughly one per cent of the workforce.
I have been struck by the good example set by the Olympics Delivery Authority in their procurement processes. It introduced a Business Charter for Inclusion which pushed contractors to increase support and training for women workers.
The impact has been considerable – as of last year, over 1,000 women were directly involved in the construction work on the site. Can you imagine if we could reach these sorts of levels on the new Forth Road Bridge?
I challenge both administrations to start working together now in 2012 for a fairer work arena for women.
Ann McKechin has been Labour MP for Glasgow North since 2001.