Women bearing the brunt of economic problems in the UK, new research finds

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  • Report by RSA think-tank finds women feel less economically secure than men
  • 43% of working women would struggle to pay an unexpected bill of £100, compared to 30% of working men, and 38% feel that their job does not provide them with enough income for a decent standard of living, compared to just 24% of their male counterparts
  • RSA calls on government and employers to get tough on ‘discrimination by algorithm’ which could make gender inequality even worse.

Female workers are significantly more likely to experience financial precariousness, are struggling to save enough for retirement, and fear the impact of Brexit on living standards more than men, a new report warns.

‘From Precarity to Empowerment: Women and the future of work’, by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce and the Women’s Budget Group, is part of a submission to the Commission for a Gender-Equal Economy, a ground-breaking investigation into the role of women in our economy and society, led by a group which includes economist Ann Pettifor.

An RSA-commissioned survey by Populus [see Notes], newly published as part of the report, reveals stark differences in the levels of economic security reported by men and women.

Female workers are more likely to feel that they don’t have enough savings to maintain a decent standard of living in retirement (54% versus 37% for men), and are more likely to feel that they don’t have scope to progress in their careers (42%, versus 34%).

Women in work are more likely to say that they would struggle to pay an unexpected bill of just £100 (43%, versus 30% of men).

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The report also highlights the dangers of new technologies exacerbating existing gender divides in the workplace, arguing that recent cases of women suffering from in-built bias in artificial intelligence systems require a “robust response” from policymakers and employers.

Left unchecked, “algorithmic prejudice” could become one of the new giants of modern poverty, the study cautions.

Campaign groups, the government and civil society should further pursue a ‘big push’ for women to join the STEM workforce, the researchers warn, calling for deliberation – involving informed discussion about issues around technology, gender and work – to provide for an inclusive way of tackling these issues.

The report comes just after the release of the RSA’s report ‘Economic Insecurity: The case for a 21st century safety net’, which looks more broadly at economic insecurity in the UK. This found that 59% of British workers could not afford an unexpected bill of £500.

Asheem Singh, Director of Economy, RSA, said:

“Automation, gig work and artificial intelligence offer huge opportunities to enrich the human experience – but also real dangers.

“Women in particular are at risk: whether it is algorithms that filter out women from certain job adverts or a gig economy that is increasingly gendered, we need to be alive to the danger and take action. We need more women in science and coding jobs and more conversations about gender and tech in workplaces and institutions. We must avoid at all costs a world in which prejudice by algorithm is an accepted part of everyday life.”

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the UK Women’s Budget Group, said:

“This survey highlights the stark truth that for too many women, the economy isn’t working. Women have lower incomes than men, are less likely to progress in their careers and are more likely to be living in poverty at all stages of their lives. Working class, BAME and disabled women are particularly likely to face the economic insecurity revealed in this survey.

“But it doesn’t have to be like this – we can organise the economy differently.

“This report makes an important contribution to our Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy, which is working to proactively develop alternative economic policies to promote gender equality across the UK.”

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