Women and poverty

Due to the patriarchal society we live in, there are various ways in which women and men are treated differently. Women tend to struggle more than men. One disadvantage is that they are more likely to live in poverty. I wanted to explore this topic further as a feminist interested in women’s issues, as a female business owner and as a human being concerned about society.

For transparency, financially I have been brought up privileged. I never had to worry about money growing up and I am incredibly grateful for that. Despite this, I did have money problems when I was in an abusive relationship that involved financial abuse. I talk more about financial abuse in this article. The debt he built up in my name brought me to the point of going to the food bank. Fortunately, with help from friends and family, I have stabilised myself. But I am very aware that even without the burden of financial abuse, many women in society are teetering on the edge of no longer getting by.

More than one-fifth of women, 22%, have a persistent low income, compared to approximately 14% of men. 

Poverty being this persistent is really damaging. If you are never in a position where you can build savings, your financial stability can’t grow. Usually, we think of older people as being more financially stable but this just isn’t the case for many older women.

There are some gender-specific facts that cause women to be more vulnerable to poverty. Their ability to earn is restricted as they are often the ones left to look after children, ageing parents or a family member with a health condition. This caring role means their career has to come second and they will have to reduce their work hours if they have time to work at all.

In 2011, one in four women in England and Wales aged 50-64 had caring responsibilities for older or disabled loved ones. That is a lot of physical and emotional labour as well as time no longer available for work. Women are nearly three times more likely to have to take time off work to look after children. Once again, this is time spent away from work on unpaid labour. I’m not saying mothers shouldn’t look after their children but we need to address the financial disadvantage experienced.

This is probably impacted by the fact that many single mothers don’t have anyone else they can rely on for childcare. Women are more likely to be single parents as well which puts a massive strain on finances. About 90% of single parent households are headed by women.

Then when women actually have the time to work, they will earn less because the gender pay gap still exists. Women just aren’t earning as much as men. The mean gender bonus pay gap saw an increase from 2.5% in 2019 to 7.3% in 2020. That’s a cash difference between men and women of £80.38. On top of that women are more likely to be in lower paid jobs. About 64 per cent of the lowest paid workers are women.

This isn’t just a problem in the UK or the West. It is a pattern replicated across the world. The charity Oxfam states the most of the people living in poverty across the world are women. If they are able to work, they work for lower wages while having to balance their unpaid responsibilities to their household.

This was the case before the pandemic. The Young Women’s Trust has found that now the situation is even worse. Women are struggling to get by. Research has found 1.5 million have suffered a loss of income. Many had to rely on benefits with 69% of young women claiming benefits in the past year doing so for the first time.

We can’t forget the mental stress of barely getting by and struggling financially. It is very difficult to thrive when you are scrambling to afford the essentials.

This is a bleak picture but that is not the note I want to end on. Poverty doesn’t have to be an issue. It is a man-made problem. There are lots of people and organisations working to bring people, especially women, out of financially dire situations. The Young Women’s Trust does amazing work around helping young women improve their lives. If you can support them, please do. Many other women’s charities are also doing good things.

There are things we can do on a personal level. If you are an employer, do you pay your male and female employees the same? Can you create more opportunities for women from low-income backgrounds? If you are employed, have you had a discussion with your colleagues and boss about diminishing the gender pay gap? Can you use your skills to help other people find decent paying jobs? Are you writing to politicians and supporting campaigns that benefit low-come women instead of making their lives even harder?

When we have the poverty women face in mind, we are more likely to take action to eradicate it. Women and poverty don’t have to be irrevocably linked.



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