THE BLOG

Why We Ignore Gender at Our Peril When It Comes to Worklessness

24/03/2015 21:38 GMT | Updated 24/05/2015 10:59 BST

Tackling men's and women's challenges in the same way can be a well-intentioned attempt at ensuring fair treatment or avoiding discrimination. However, men and women have different challenges and to achieve fairness and equality, different and tailored solutions are needed.

This is undoubtedly the case in the world of employment where the situation is far from equal. Women are over-represented in part-time and insecure jobs, four out of five of people stuck on low pay for more than ten years are women, caring responsibilities have a disproportionate impact on women and the pay gap is a long way from being closed.

These are just some of the reasons why Young Women's Trust is concerned about young women and has produced a report, Creating a Working Future for Young Women; the result of a year-long Inquiry into young women NEET (those not in education, employment or training). In this report we are calling for a gender-specific response to the crisis of young women's worklessness.

Crisis? What crisis? The report highlights the fact that many more young women than young men - 428,000 compared to 310,000 - are NEET. They will be NEET for longer - three years compared to two - and the impact will be deeper, forcing many to endure a lifetime of poorly paid, insecure jobs and unemployment.

Successive governments have failed to alter the fact that over the last decade an average of more than 130,000 more women than men have been NEET. Which is yet another reason why we need a gendered response.

Despite common assumptions, young women want to work. They share some challenges with young men, such as very high levels of young unemployment in some localities. But they also have additional and often insurmountable challenges which prevent them furthering their education or entering work. They are encouraged towards a narrow range of career options despite their qualifications, they are much more likely to be carers or mothers and the training and skills they are given do not match what is needed for the jobs that are available.

The report contains a number of recommendations, some of which will benefit young men and young women who are NEET, while some will undoubtedly benefit young women more. These include:

Training providers of Information, Advice and Guidance to ensure they are encouraging and supporting young women towards a broader range of subjects and careers, not funnelling them into the usual stereotypical jobs, which are fewer in number and generally pay less.

Extending the provision of free childcare so that young mothers can work and study. In 21st Century Britain being a mother or carer is still a huge barrier to work or study.

Gathering more data about young people who are "economically inactive", of which over two thirds are young women, and work closely with them to address the issues that are making it impossible for them to actively seek work.

There are other recommendations which will benefit young men and young women. Both groups need a second chance at education and training. They particularly need this if they have left school with few or no qualifications. The report recommends creating many more apprenticeships which do not require formal entry criteria (usually five A*-C GCSE's) and simplifying the access to funding for Further Education at least until age 25.

At the moment responsibility for young people's employment is split between three government departments, DBIS, DfE and DWP. This means no one person is accountable. We are urging the creation of a Minister for Youth Employment, who understands the challenges and is prepared to champion a gendered approach.

Aside from the human tragedy of young lives being written off before they have begun, it makes no sense for a country with more skilled jobs than it can fill and seeking to reduce dependency on benefits, not to do all it can to allow young women to fully contribute to the economy and to society.

These are complex problems that won't be fixed overnight but they can be addressed; just as long as we take gender into account. To do otherwise means that any attempts will continue to fail, and to fail young women.