Why gender and regional inequality need to be at the heart of levelling up
March 22, 2021
To truly ‘level up’, economic and social policy needs to directly address how gender inequality and regional inequality come together.
COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women. Women have shouldered more of the increased burden of unpaid care, and make up a higher proportion of the workforce in the hardest hit sectors such as hospitality, arts, and retail. This has set us back exponentially in the journey for gender parity. According to our Women in Work research we’ll have to make progress at double the rate of before just to get back to pre COVID-19 levels.
Progress on women’s empowerment within the UK has been unequal across geographies. Regional inequalities on improving women’s economic empowerment increased for the first time in the UK to 2019 - with some areas in the North and Midlands struggling with higher-than-average female unemployment. This has serious implications for the UK’s aims of reducing geographical economic inequalities, many of which are more keenly felt by women.
And, if you’re a woman of ethnic origin, you’re even more likely to have been negatively impacted by the pandemic by being employed in insecure roles (1 in 8 BAME women compared to 1 in 16 white women). Another hit to your already lower-than-average pay (compared to white women, and again to men). And further compounded by your lack of sick pay and access to your community support networks during lockdown.
If the government - national and local - is serious about an inclusive recovery and ‘levelling up’, it needs to consider inclusion in all of its intersections. Gender, alongside race and other characteristics, must be layered into both economic outcomes and widening geographical disparities, with targeted policy to close the gaps.
Levelling up, needs to look beyond purely the economic to the adjacent social policy areas that have a significant impact on women’s economic participation. That means making explicit choices and positive actions to bring women back into the workforce. For example:
- Building into economic analysis, planning and strategy women’s contributions to the workforce, economic output and growth.
- Subsequent consideration of policy initiatives and decisions that have a disproportionate impact on women’s ability to participate, such as childcare support, maternity pay, and support for unpaid carers. Could and should we incorporate quantitative analysis of such responsibilities into economic analysis as standard?
- Positive action on improving gender parity and representation in priority industries and sectors that are the focus of economic recovery plans. These areas perform poorly on women’s representation such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) but have a significant role in supporting a green recovery (advanced manufacturing, engineering, science). What criteria and incentives can government stipulate to ensure the workforce of the future in these areas is more equal?
- Recognising that closing the geographic gap might require different approaches by area. Stronger approaches to empowering women will be needed in areas including the North West, North East, West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber to bring progress up to the UK average.
This would be more effective if policy-making was more representative of the population and the workforce we want for the future. Inclusion needs to be embedded in how we think, make policy, make decisions and deliver. As Rachel Taylor discusses in her recent blog post, the best way to do this is to have representation in leadership and politics, public service design, and the workforce.