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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Women and Employment Survey

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

At a conference held at the Department for Trade and Industry to commemorate the first ‘Women and Employment Survey’ Meg gave the following speech.


Thank you for inviting me; it’s a pleasure to be here. I hope you have enjoyed your conference.  I’m sorry that I was not able to attend earlier in the proceedings, but I will be staying for the all-important reception!


25 years ago in 1980, when the first Women and Employment Survey was commissioned, it was a fairly turbulent time:

  • Steelworkers held their first strike in almost 50 years;
  • Polish Dockers were finally allowed to unionise,  and
  • Margaret Thatcher made her famous speech - “The Lady’s not for turning” in response to the plight of nearly 2 million unemployed.


If you remember any of those you probably feel, as I do, old!


At that time just under half of all married women and two thirds of single women were working in employment outside the home. Just over 40% of mothers with dependent children were working. The gender pay gap was just under 30%.


Women may have been more active in the workforce but were still shouldering the majority of work in the home.  25 years ago husbands did around 10% of household duties. 


Today we see a different picture:

  • The Civil Partnership Act comes into force today with same sex couples able to register their partnerships;
  • We have low levels of unemployment, less then half of what it was a quarter century ago along with the highest number of people in employment since 1971.


More women are working now. Today 64% of married women and 62% of single women are working in employment outside the home. Almost 70% of mothers with dependent children are now working. The gender pay gap is now at its lowest - 13% - still too high.


As you know - women still do the majority of domestic household duties, with husbands today undertaking just over a third. 


The Women and Employment Survey - context

Before the Women and Employment Survey was commissioned in 1980, the last major study covering women and employment had taken place in 1965. Not surprisingly, there had been major changes in the level and the nature of women's economic activity. In addition, there was legislation affecting women's employment - the Sex Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act and Maternity Provisions in the Employment Relations Act.


The 1980 survey, commissioned by the government, was an attempt to understand the extent of women’s labour market activity, and to find out the reasons why women were not in the labour market.


There was a growing recognition that women's position in the labour market could not be understood without taking into account their domestic role and the unpaid work in the home.  As I mentioned before, women in 1980 did 90% of all household duties - clearly a major part of their lives.


The survey was the cornerstone of a whole raft of projects on women’s employment, most of which looked at specific policy questions - topics like ‘how maternity provisions were operating’ and ‘how job evaluation schemes worked in setting women’s pay’. A total of 11 projects, which together constituted the largest ever programme of research on women in the labour market in the UK.


The Women and Employment Survey - background

The Women and Employment Survey covered a nationally representative sample of just over 5500 women aged 16-59, and the husbands of almost 800 married women.  You will no doubt be impressed with the 83% response rate. 


Key aims of the survey were to collect information about the work they did, their pay, conditions of employment and how they found work or decided to leave their jobs. In addition, the study also set out to determine the importance of work to women.


This survey was not the first ever survey of women’s employment by the UK government, but it was by far the most comprehensive - a real an innovative baseline study on women’s working lives.


In particular the survey was ground breaking in its use of work histories. It was the first ever study in the world to collect any work history information on such a large scale. Of the 5500 plus respondents, the oldest had approximately 45 years of history to record covering movements in and out of employment, job changes and the reasons for this, as well as associated fertility and family history. 


This was comprehensive and a real opportunity to gather and analyse data previous thought unobtainable, or worse, not necessary. The Women and Employment study is one of the most quoted studies in British Social Science and was heavily used by groups such as the EOC, trade unions and journalists.


Most importantly, the survey results were used to inform all policy aspects of women’s employment across a range of government departments - from education to health and all in between.


Moving Forward

Gender equality and gender research have moved forward considerably in the last 25 years. For instance, with the Women and Work Commission. The Commission invited many leading academics to respond to its call for evidence and reviewed the available research on issues related to the gender pay gap. 


Commissioners also made a series of fact-finding visits to meet girls and women to find out first hand about their experiences in education, training and work. They also visited small, medium and large workplaces, along with education and training establishments, to examine different initiatives to see what worked where and why.


Their recommendations will be published in the New Year. I have no doubt that they will be practical and innovative in their quest to reduce the gender pay gap and to improve the situation for women in work.


We are also in the process of publishing a series of three reports on occupational segregation. This research has used a wide variety of different methods - including experimental techniques from psychology - to try to understand how girls and boys, make decisions about work and training when they leave school. Also how women who are returning to work find jobs and whether they might consider doing jobs that have traditionally been done by men.



There are two key pieces of legislation that will have real and tangible benefits for women in the labour market.


The first is the Equality Bill - which will set up the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights.  Within it is the public sector duty on gender equality - known better as the Gender Duty.  Very much in the same vein as race and disability duties, this will put a statutory duty on all public authorities to promote and ensure equality of opportunity between men and women. 


Then we have the Work and Families Bill, having its second reading in the House of Commons as I speak - which is the first step towards delivering some of the measures set out in response to the ‘Work and Families: Choice and Flexibility’ consultation.  Our ambition is to see greater choice to parents in how they balance their work and family life.


The Bill will:

  • Extend the maximum period for payment of Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance and Statutory Adoption Pay to 52 weeks.
  • Provide employed fathers with an entitlement to up to a further 26 weeks leave. Some of which could be paid, if the mother returns to work.
  • Extend the right to request flexible working to carers of adults from April 2007. 
  • Ease the administration of Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Adoption Pay. 

This is about how to help give children the best start in life. It will enable all families to have genuine choices about how they balance their work and family caring responsibilities.



The programme of your conference today shows that we are still learning a great deal about women’s work experiences, how women and men are trying to find a balance between work and family life. You may also be aware that with Tessa Jowell, Minister for Women in the Cabinet I am undertaking a series of meetings around the country talking to women to find out more from them about the issues that concern them today. We held our first event last week in Birmingham and it was a fascinating day giving us a snapshot of women’s lives today. Government needs to keep in touch with ordinary peoples lives. The study you have considered today showed how well government social scientists and academics worked together to produce a long lasting report of enormous benefit to the policy, practice and research communities. 


Thank you very much?..

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