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Now is the time to end female economic inequality

For International Women's Day, Annabelle Williams, the author of Why Women Are Poorer Than Men and What We Can Do About It, on why the government needs to take charge of ending the gender pay gap, now.

Annabelle Williams

The Covid-19 pandemic changed life as we knew it - and it shone a spotlight on persistent gender inequalities. While the largely female workforce of low-paid nurses, carers and cleaners were on the front lines facing down the virus, elsewhere there has been soaring female unemployment and shocking rises in domestic abuse of women during lockdowns.

Meanwhile the burden of home-schooling children has largely fallen on mothers, adding stress to their existing workloads which includes an average of 60% more unpaid housework than men.

At the core of these issues is one thing: money. Despite the advances that this country has made towards gender equality, a crippling unfairness persists in money and wealth.

It’s time to end female economic inequality.

Women lose out in every facet of our lives which touches on money

When it comes to money, differences between the genders matter.

So far, most of the conversation around women and money has focused around the gender pay gap. Most people don’t realise that women are poorer than men throughout their lives. Women save less and make up the majority of the elderly poor, while the slashing of budgets for social services has cost women £79 billion since 2010 compared to £13 billion for men.

Women hold fewer of the highest-paying jobs, are less likely to invest their money and are held back financially by caring responsibilities.

The seeds are sown when girls are school-age, when their choices about what to study are shaped by gender norms rather than their future financial security.

It’s worsened by the pay gap, which means the typical man can borrow £145,000 more than the average woman and has double the likelihood of getting on the property ladder alone. As the housing crisis has intensified, Britain has reached the point where nearly 70% of the statutory homeless people are women, most of whom have kids. These are among the reasons that the housing shortage is a gender issue, although it’s rarely framed that way.

Women face huge barriers to getting ahead in business: persistent bias means female entrepreneurs receive just 1p in every £1 of capital given to start-ups. This is among the reasons women struggle to grow their wealth, as there are only eight women among Britain’s 1,000 richest people; in 2019 only one of these women was Black, a technology entrepreneur called Valerie Moran.

The fact is that women lose out in every facet of our lives which touches on money, from wages to pensions to housing and state benefits.

The time to change this is NOW. In just a few months during 2020 the government spent an additional £190 billion – the entire annual budget for the health service. This kind of spending had previously been considered either totally unacceptable or downright immoral. Very rarely is there such an upheaval in economic orthodoxy.

If there’s one lesson we can take from the pandemic it’s that we’re constantly told that the economic status quo cannot change, that social change is impossible.

Men don’t lose by women having more money

Until the day it suddenly isn’t. We must seize this moment, as the nation rebuilds from corona-ruins, to reimagine a society that works better for everyone.

And we must do this by recognising that men don’t lose by women having more money.

The opposite is true. Economies thrive when women do. When wealth is shared more equally children have greater opportunities, the bread-winning burden is lifted from men and people exercise more control over their lives. Wealthier people benefit the wider economy as they pay more taxes, lift their households out of poverty, spend more and invest in education.

So while I’ve laid out statistics about women – because the disparity in wealth between the sexes is rarely discussed – let’s acknowledge that ending this unfairness will lead to prosperity for all.

I’ve written the blueprint, Why Women Are Poorer Than Men And What We Can Do About It, and I’ve got suggestions for change in every part of our lives. Inequality is woven into the fabric of society, but it can be unpicked. Pull on one thread of unfairness and others will unravel too.

More intelligent design in government spending, improved direction to state spending and fairer workplace policies will all form part of the change.

Finance is a feminist issue. Let’s unite to end female economic inequality.

Why Women Are Poorer Than Men and What We Can Do About It by Annabelle Williams is out now.

Image credit: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

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