Last week, the official UK unemployment figures showed that women were losing their jobs at a disproportionately greater rate than men. Of the 2.67 million people who are unemployed, 1.12 million are women – the highest number for 25 years. One factor is that the number of women in the labour market has increased over recent decades. “In previous recessions like the early 80s, female unemployment figures weren’t nearly as high because there were fewer women in work to lose their jobs,” says Graeme Cooke, associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research. “It reflects the fact that women’s levels of participation have gone up. But more recently it is to do with job losses in the public sector where women disproportionately work.”
Women make up around 65% of the public sector, and are represented even more highly in some areas, such as local government, where 75% of workers are female. “When you look ahead to the 710,000 jobs that will be going from the public sector by 2015, that is going to disproportionately impact on women,” says a spokesperson for union Unison.