#IWD2018: time to loosen the grip of poverty on women in the UK

Women are more likely to experience poverty than men. On International Women’s Day, Aleks Collingwood highlights some of the key facts about women’s risks of poverty in the UK.

Today is International Women's Day (IWD) – a day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Although great improvements have been made, it is an unacceptable fact that opportunities are still restricted for so many women. Some 5.2 million women were in poverty in the UK according to the latest data, compared with 4.7 million men. In particular, women at the bottom end of our labour market are carrying the heavier burden of poverty in our society.

Women are, and have always been, more likely to experience poverty than men

We know this. We also know that we need to focus our efforts on specific groups – such as disabled women or women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. This blog focuses on another group that is disproportionately likely to experience poverty: female lone parents (90% of lone parents are female).

We know that having children increases a woman’s risk of poverty

A quarter of women in poverty have children, compared to 17% who don’t have children. This gap has been narrowing over the last 20 years but looks like it has started to widen again so we need to take charge.

Poverty rates for women - with and without children

Family type also has implications. Women are much more likely to be in poverty if they are single parents than couple parents (46% compared to 22%).

One of the biggest social changes in recent decades has been women in work

More women are working now than ever before, although employment rates are still behind those of men. In addition, women are more likely to work in part-time jobs that pay less, don’t offer training or development that leads to progression. This penalty for working part-time is trapping mothers and their families in poverty.

The employment rate of lone parents in particular has risen sharply. Indeed, over the last 20 years the employment rate of lone parents has been constantly rising – 45% of lone parents working 20 years ago and 68% working in 2016.

Employment rates of parents

However, work is not always guaranteeing a route out of poverty for lone parents

Twenty-seven per cent of working lone parents are in poverty. Working full-time helps to reduce the risk. But the latest data for part-time male and female lone parents shows a third are in poverty.

It is not right that so many people – particularly lone parents – are in work yet still locked in poverty. We need to see action to make sure it does always pay to work so people can build a better life. Universal Credit presents an opportunity to release families from the grip of poverty. Restoring the Work Allowances to their original level would mean 340,000 fewer people in poverty in 2020/21, 150,000 of them in lone-parent families.

Every person and all groups can make a difference within their sphere of influence by taking concrete action to help drive gender parity. From small powerful grassroots gatherings to large-scale conference and event audiences – International Women's Day is celebrated everywhere. It's a big day for inspiration and change.