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Women are suffering the most from the cost-of-living crisis



Case study by Safia Yallaoui

The cost-of-living crisis is affecting us all – particularly women. Safia Yallaoui looks at how and why.


There’s no doubt that everyone is feeling the effects of the current economic crisis. Food and drink prices are rising at their fastest rate since 1977. Electricity prices have risen by 66.7%, and gas prices by 129.4%, in the 12 months to February 2023. And inflation has hit its highest rate of 11.1% for 41 years.


But the effects aren’t felt the same by everyone. In fact, data show that women are generally worse off. Income, parenting, and domestic abuse are all key areas where women experience harsher consequences than their male counterparts, which are further exacerbated in times of economic crisis.


In this article, I will explore some of the key areas in which women are being affected the most due to the cost-of-living crisis.


Earning less


According to research, 69% of low-paid and insecure jobs are held by women, so it’s no wonder that having such a low income while prices are increasing is plunging so many women into even more debt. This was the focus of the UNISON national women’s conference this year where Annette Heslop, a member of the committee, said:


“The cost-of-living crisis is really a low-pay crisis. Incomes are insufficient to live on. Women are usually over-represented in part-time roles, but now they are having to take on more hours to survive. This has huge implications for relationships, mental health and leisure time, as caring responsibilities fall largely on their shoulders too.”


Not only are women the ones in most of the low-paid jobs, but research also shows that a fifth are paid below the real living wage and there are three times more women in part-time work than men. It’s evidence that women are hardest hit by the rising cost of living, as they simply don’t make enough money to afford to live comfortably and do the things they enjoy, which is vital for mental health. They can only afford to pay for the necessities, like bills and food, and in some cases, even this could force them into debt.


Opting out of motherhood


There are a lot of women who want to have children, but who now must put off the decision, or worse, terminate pregnancies. Government statistics show that a record 214,869 abortions took place in England and Wales in 2021.


That number is still rising, as The British Medical Journal published a report in January explaining: “Abortion providers are seeing unprecedented levels of demand so far this year because of a lack of access to good quality contraception and the economic downturn sparking concerns over the affordability of raising a child."


MSI Reproductive Choices UK treated 47% more people in the first two weeks of 2023 than the same time last year. This worrying figure shows that now, more women are deciding to talk to a professional about their options when it comes to whether to continue with their pregnancies. Phone consultations are the first step in a woman’s decision to potentially go through with an abortion. The fact that MSI Reproductive Choices UK had 51% more phone consultations in that same time period as well, is hard evidence that abortion has sadly become a much more appealing option for women, as they can’t afford the costs of bringing up a child.


For those who do feel ready to start a family, it’s not just baby food, nappies and potentially childcare that they need to find the money for, but as basic rate statutory maternity pay equates to just 47% of the National Living Wage, many women can’t afford to take months off work. This means many new mums are having to go back to work earlier than they’d like and pay out hundreds of pounds a month on childcare.


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Less able to escape abuse


One in three women are victims of domestic violence and, although these relationships are notoriously hard to escape, the cost-of-living crisis is putting them in even more danger. For those already experiencing economic abuse, where the abuser takes control of their partner’s finances and often their purchases, the situation is getting worse.


Women’s Aid has reported that 66% of domestic abuse survivors have had their access to money restricted even more, because of their abuser's concerns over the cost-of-living crisis. But for victims, less money means less freedom and forces them to rely more on their abusers.


“Almost three quarters (73%) of women living with and having financial links with the abuser said that the cost-of-living crisis had either prevented them from leaving or made it harder for them to leave.”


Women who are victims of economic abuse are often given a small ‘allowance’ to live on by their abusers. For many, this has decreased even more because of the cost-of-living crisis, which means they are forced to stay indoors, go hungry or go without important products like sanitary towels.


Lone parenting is harder


Women make up almost 90% of single parents in the UK, so it’s no wonder they are being hit the hardest during these tough financial times. Many are resorting to food banks to get by.


Annette Heslop said: “We are aware from our members of stories of women skipping meals, going without, turning off their heating, sitting in the dark because the electricity meter is empty, making their own sanitary products – because they simply cannot afford to get by. These experiences only scratch the surface of what the cost-of-living crisis is doing to women and their families.”


What’s being done to help?


In his Spring budget, the Chancellor announced that every child between nine months and five years old will be entitled to 30 hours of free childcare if both parents are working and meet the criteria. If all goes well, it still won’t be fully in place until September 2025, but it could help many mothers who have had to cut their hours to look after their children.


But much more needs to be done to help women, particularly single mums, and victims of financial abuse, during the cost-of-living crisis. It’s unfair that while the cost of living increases, most people haven’t seen an increase in their wages. For women to be able to afford to live and not just exist, they need to be paid more than the minimum wage and see their incomes increase to the point where they have a reasonable amount left over to live on after paying for necessities like rent. Single mums deserve much more financial help from the government too, like a grant or a significant discount on childcare costs.


The current financial situation in the UK is already affecting women’s emotional well-being because of all the added pressure it’s putting on them at work and home. Without help soon, the cost-of-living crisis is literally going to cost them their mental health.

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