I’ve just attended a one-day conference on equality and discrimination organised by the Institute of Employment Rights.
A main focus of the event was exploring the impact of the Equality Act 2010 and as an academic economist I was a lone voice on the platform – my fellow presenters were legal professionals.
However, early on in the day it was clear that we agreed upon an overall theme – the story we all had to tell was a gloomy one.
In telling that story I was particularly struck by a phrase my legal colleagues used, referring to the legislation as a “necessary but not sufficient condition” to orchestrate change.
I am not sure if this is specific legal terminology but I would like to borrow it when talking about the progress we have made in securing a better position for women in Scotland’s labour market.
One participant at the event commented that we have indeed come a long way. Women’s position in the world of paid work has improved in recent decades. I would argue that this is ‘necessary, but not sufficient’ when I consider the labour market my 10-year old daughter will inherit.
That is, we have not come nearly far enough. Women represent 47% of the labaour force yet are over represented among the low paid and remain segregated in gender-stereotyped occupations.
Women make up 89% of the total health and social care sector in Scotland, and 60% of unpaid care work is undertaken by women. The gender pay gap is currently 12% and women graduates earn 15% less than men within 5 years of graduating.
The evidence indicates that the progress made to date is not perhaps necessary but not sufficient. On 30 November, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers across Scotland took strike action protesting in defence of their pensions.
Changes proposed by the UK Government include an increase in pension contributions, a reduction in benefits, and an increase in the age at which pensions can be drawn. This comes on top of a two-year wage freeze for the majority of workers in the public sector.
There are nearly twice as many women than men working in the Scottish public sector and women make up nearly two-thirds of the local government workforce.
As the public sector contracts, a consequnce of the fiscal cost of the recession, women’s employment will suffer more than men’s. In addition it will tend to be lower paid workers who bear the brunt of the readjustment and nearly half of all public sector workers earn less than