It’s time for Wales’ women to get off the miserable merry-go-round of inequality
Natasha Davies, Policy and Research Lead at Wales’ leading gender equality charity, Chwarae Teg
Here we are again. Another crisis, another warning that women are more vulnerable to the worst impacts of said crisis. But it’s a warning we have to give, and that has to be taken seriously.
As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, we can already see the very real impact it is having on women in Wales, and across the UK.
The Young Women’s Trust found that 54% of young women are reporting it being a ‘real struggle’ to make cash last until the end of the month. With this rising to 75% of single mums.
The Living Wage Foundation found that 42% of low paid women have already fallen behind on households bills and 35% have skipped meals for financial reasons.
We know, from previous research, that women are more likely to go without to ensure that their families do not, cutting back on their own food and toiletries and not replacing clothes or shoes. This is only likely to worsen as financial pressures on households increase over the winter.
We also know, that the cost of living crisis leaves some women at greater risk of domestic abuse and violence. Financial abuse is not uncommon, and violence against women organisations are already reporting that the crisis is being used as a tool of coercive control and some women are being prevented from leaving abusive relationships as a result.
But why are we here again? The same warnings were made after the 2008 financial crash, and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Time after time, crisis after crisis, we see the same groups left most vulnerable to the worst impacts – women, disabled people, racialised and ethnic minority people, those on low incomes, single parents.
This is the direct result of the persistent inequality evident across our society and economy. Women were already more likely to be living in poverty, particularly lone parents, the majority of whom are women. This means that women were already facing a far more precarious financial situation than others, which will only be exacerbated further as the cost of energy, food and other essentials increase.
Linked to this, is women’s dominance in low paid, part-time and precarious work. The Minimum Income Standard, which is based on the living standards we as a society agree everyone should be able to have, is calculated to be £25,000 in 2022. In Wales, women’s average annual income is £20,000.
The continued existence of the gender pay gap demonstrates that women still experience pay inequality and figures show they are far more likely to be paid less than the real Living Wage. As prices further outpace pay, pressure on incomes will be felt more acutely by women.
Urgent action is needed to ensure that women are supported as the cost of living crisis deepens and inflationary pressures increase. Changes are needed to social security to better support those most at risk of financial hardship and falling into poverty.
Benefits must be uprated in line with inflation, the benefits cap and two-child limit should be abolished and Universal Credit advances should be changed to non-repayable grants. The energy price guarantee and support with energy bills over the winter are welcome, but don’t go far enough for those most in need.
Changes are also needed in Wales. Work should be accelerated to bring together means-tested support schemes into a Welsh benefits system. Consideration should be given to a cost of living helpline to provide a one-stop-shop for advice on all available support, and pressures on household incomes could be further reduced through faster roll out of free childcare for under-2s and action to regulate or freeze rents in the private rental sector.
Longer-term, we cannot afford to ignore the problem of inequality. The cost of inaction, to individuals, our economy, and our wellbeing, is just far too great. In the face of artificially created culture wars and efforts to fuel division between marginalised and disadvantaged groups, we must retain a collective focus and commitment to tackle inequality at its root. This will mean different decisions about what to invest in and what to prioritise; it will mean changing how we do things not just what we do.
Three years ago, Chwarae Teg set out recommendations for how we can make this shift happen. The Review of Gender Equality in Wales report Deeds not Words, provides a clear, well evidenced framework to embed equality into the heart of decision-making.
The sooner this way of working becomes business as usual across government, the quicker we can make progress towards a truly equal Wales.
And maybe next time we find ourselves facing a national or international crisis, we won’t need to provide this kind of warning.
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