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The role of female contract labour in UK economy boom

“After five years of decline, the UK economy is back on the upswing. Employment is up, unemployment is down and GDP is improving. However, low paid women are being firmly shut out of the recovery.”

This is the finding of a major research project conducted by the Fawcett Society – the results of which were published in August. ‘The changing labour market 2: women, low pay and gender equality in the emerging recovery‘ report highlights the disparity which currently exists in the level of pay between men and women.

Accordingly, as many as 1 in 2 women feel they are financially worse off now than they were five years ago, with the average woman currently taking home just 81p for £1 that a man earns.

Furthermore, more than a third of respondents stated that they consider themselves over-qualified and over-skilled for the job they are currently doing, with a staggering 1 in 5 of women working below £7.44 per hour holding a university degree.

It is our view that this is not only a phenomenal underutilisation of talent, it is also – to quote the report’s lead author, Dr Eva Neitzert – a “damming indictment of the government’s record when it comes to women’s standing in the economy.” Frances O’Grady, TUC Secretary General echoed this sentiment and warned that unless more is done to “tackle poverty wages and job insecurity, women in particular will be excluded from Britain’s economic recovery.”

However, we can also see some positives from the report too.

The report also found that since the start of the 2008 recession, 371,000 more women have moved into self-employment. This suggests that the female contract labour force is not only a significant contributor to the economy, it is also a major driving force behind its recent recovery.

Indeed, the office of the Minister for Women and Equalities recently stated that in 2012, 20% of SMEs were either run solely or mostly by women, whilst the significant skills and experience that women bring to the wider workforce is being recognised by their representation on the boards of an increasing number of FTSE100 companies.

So whilst it is only right to be concerned over the number of women who continue to receive low pay for the work they do when compared to their male counterparts, we should not lose sight of the strides that are being made to improve overall pay and conditions for women. Such progress may be slower than we wish, but it is progress nonetheless and any steps forward will ensure that we avoid what Frances O’Grady describes as “turning the clock back on decades of progress towards equal pay.”


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