Why it’s problematic to claim ‘women are being hit hardest’ by the cuts


8:49 am - July 3rd 2013

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by redpesto

Since 2010, one of the constant refrains about the recession and the impact of cuts has been on the ‘disproportionate’ impact on women. The one-day strike by public sector workers in November 2011 was billed as a ‘women’s strike’ by Dave Prentis of Unison. Yet despite all the campaigning effort, one key problem with the ‘disproportionality’ argument remains: the way in which the numbers stack up.

Katie Allen’s report in the Guardian is a typical and recent example:

Women are bearing the brunt of the government’s austerity drive in the public sector, according to figures showing that twice as many women as men have lost jobs in local government since 2010. George Osborne’s revelation in his spending review that a further 144,000 jobs are to be slashed from the public sector means there is more pain to come for women, critics say.

Data collated by the Guardian highlights the disproportionate blow to female workers. The female headcount in local government has plunged by 253,600 to 1.43 million since the coalition came to power in 2010. The number of men in local government jobs is down less than half that figure, by 104,700 to 452,300, Office for National Statistics data published by the Local Government Association shows.

This gets trickier on closer inspection. First of all, it’s clear that nearly three times as many women as men work in the local government sector to start with, even after the latest round of redundancies (in line with employment patterns within the public sector as a whole). Secondly, as a percentage of the overall local government workforce, the redundancies work out at 15% for women, and 19% for men.

Put it another way: if the number of men made redundant had matched the number of women, 45% of male public sector workers would have been sacked, in contrast to the 15% of women. On the other hand, if the number of women had matched the number of men, barely 6% of the female workforce would have lost their jobs, in comparison to 19% of men.

The repeated implication of the ‘women hit hardest’ narrative has been that it is a deliberate policy of Cameron and his Etonian chums to target women: a combination of a traditional Tory narrative of ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ allied to a casual misogyny of ‘Calm down, dear’. Drawing attention to rising female unemployment in the public sector therefore is potentially a powerful campaigning and recruitment tool to force the Coalition to change its policies.

But the biggest problem is this: the liberal/left cannot defend the public sector, let alone local government, against the Coalition’s plans simply because it employs lots of women. The gender imbalances in the public and private sector is a related, but separate issue.

The public sector has to be defended on the principles of the role of the state, the benefits of public sector spending, and the values of public service and public sector provision. It cannot be defended – or rebuilt – on the numerical equivalent of ‘women and children first’.

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Reader comments


A balanced, well argued article with recourse to actual data on LC….the wonders never cease!

2. Shatterface

This gets trickier on closer inspection. First of all, it’s clear that nearly three times as many women as men work in the local government sector to start with, even after the latest round of redundancies (in line with employment patterns within the public sector as a whole). Secondly, as a percentage of the overall local government workforce, the redundancies work out at 15% for women, and 19% for men.

Actually, its not ‘trickier on closer inspection’ – the cuts are hitting women disproportionately when you are looking at the population as a whole – not just looking at local government.

Put it another way: if the number of men made redundant had matched the number of women, 45% of male public sector workers would have been sacked, in contrast to the 15% of women. On the other hand, if the number of women had matched the number of men, barely 6% of the female workforce would have lost their jobs, in comparison to 19% of men.

That’s jus bizarre logic. Look, if cleaning jobs were cut by 50% and only 10% of cleaners are men, and this broke down at 75% of the men losing their jobs this would still be a redundancy that effected women in general disproportionately.

Same goes for teaching jobs, carers and lapdancers: if the jobs ade disproportionately staffed by women it is entirely possible that a cut to the profession which disproportionately effects men within that profession disproportionately effects women as a whole.

3. So Much For Subtlety

Women disproportionately benefit from the State. The greatest social change we have seen over the last 40 years has been women moving from living off their husbands to living off men as a whole via the Inland Revenue. Of course when the State cuts back women are going to be disproportionately hit.

The question is whether this vast parasitic load on the productive part of the economy – and local government, male and female, is a good example – is hurting economic growth or not. We ought to cut back even more.

4. Shatterface

Do you really think female teachers, carers, nurses, etc. are ‘parasitic’ on the ‘productive sector’ (bankers, advertising execs, etc)?

Good article. I quite agree.

Shatterface:

That’s jus bizarre logic. Look, if cleaning jobs were cut by 50% and only 10% of cleaners are men, and this broke down at 75% of the men losing their jobs this would still be a redundancy that effected women in general disproportionately.

It’s not ‘bizarre logic': it’s maths. I think I addressed this in a part of the article Sunny cut for length:

The repeated mistake in the ‘disproportionate’ argument is to assume that the ‘raw’ numbers of redundancies have to balance in line with that of the overall population. However, there is an overall imbalance of men and women in the public sector as a whole. For example, if Coketown Borough Council has 100 ‘back office’ employees – 70 women and 30 men – losing 10% of the workforce ‘proportionately’ might suggest 7 women and 3 men. Sacking 8 women/2 men or 6 women/4 men would be ‘disproportionate’ in relation to the gender balance of that particular workforce. In other words, sacking ‘equal’ numbers of men and women would, ironically, ‘disproportionately’ affect the lesser number of male employees.

That’s why the ‘raw’ numbers tell one story, but the percentages tell another. And if equal numbers of men and women were made redundant, there would be all sorts of perverse outcomes.

Fair enough: the narrow claim that *among public sector staff*, women have been hit disproportionately by the cuts is false. However, the broader claim that women in general have been hit disproportionately by the cuts is true (since there’s a ‘disproportionate’ number of women in public sector jobs and so in the firing line when cuts are made).

This latter claim doesn’t *have* to be accompanied by the implication “that it is a deliberate policy of Cameron and his Etonian chums to target women”. Rather, it can be accompanied by the implication that the Tories ought to be taking into account the wider effects of the cuts they’re making – effects that go beyond the simple scaling back of services That might be in relation to women’s employment or, say, to employment in particular regions of the UK.

GO:

This latter claim doesn’t *have* to be accompanied by the implication “that it is a deliberate policy of Cameron and his Etonian chums to target women”. Rather, it can be accompanied by the implication that the Tories ought to be taking into account the wider effects of the cuts they’re making – effects that go beyond the simple scaling back of services That might be in relation to women’s employment or, say, to employment in particular regions of the UK.

The Tories have been challenged about the ‘wider effects’ – not just on a level of ‘equality’, but also on a broader economic level, as well as on the level of the role of the state. The fact that they are hostile to the role of the state in general, and to the public sector in particular, is what is driving so many of their policies.

‘Women hit hardest’ is tactically clever, but I fear it’s not a sufficient argument for the role of the public sector overall, let alone in defence of the public sector’s role in regional economies. To put it another way: do we defend the NHS from Lansley’s ‘reforms’ on the basis of healthcare free at the point of use, the benefits of a state-run service, or because the NHS employs lots of women as nurses and midwives?

9. Shatterface

The repeated mistake in the ‘disproportionate’ argument is to assume that the ‘raw’ numbers of redundancies have to balance in line with that of the overall population.

That’s not a mistake, it’s maths.

If a Welsh mining pit in the Eighties employing 1,000 men and 20 female catering staff cut costs by halving the men and ditching the caterers entirely that would be a 50% cut in male workers and 100% cut in female workers – are you honestly claiming that – taking the population as a whole – this would be a greater blow to the women of the village than the men?

10. Shatterface

It’s really amazing that when theres an entirely spurious pseudo-feminist cause to support – like banning targeted advertising of toys to specific genders – LibCon would be all over it but when its something that disproportunately effects womens jobs you back away.

Sacking 8 women/2 men or 6 women/4 men would be ‘disproportionate’ in relation to the gender balance of that particular workforce. In other words, sacking ‘equal’ numbers of men and women would, ironically, ‘disproportionately’ affect the lesser number of male employees.

That’s just mental: no employer, public or otherwise, would propose cutting equal numbers of male and female staff. Some of the more PC ones might argue for cutting the same percentage but most would propose cutting staff as a whole by a certain percentage: none would say ‘Hey, we have 60% female staff and 40% male staff – it would be fair if we sacked equal numbers.

That would be simply perverse.

“do we defend the NHS from Lansley’s ‘reforms’ on the basis of healthcare free at the point of use, the benefits of a state-run service, or because the NHS employs lots of women as nurses and midwives?”

Why not both? Certainly the former argument should be given more weight than the latter, but there’s no reason to restrict ourselves to just these ‘core’ arguments. For some people it will be arguments about ‘side issues’ that resonate. And it makes sense to fit things into a bigger picture; for instance, is there a wider case to be made that equality would be better served by relying more on tax rises and less on spending cuts to close the deficit? If so, why not make that case?

12. Shatterface

Okay, another analogy: the prison population is disproportunately black or other ethnic minority. Increasing prison sentences for all offenders would effect more white people than blacl people – because whites are still the largest group in prison numerically speaking – but you’d have a hard time convincing us that this increase wasn’t effectively racist.

13. redpesto

Shatterface:

That’s just mental: no employer, public or otherwise, would propose cutting equal numbers of male and female staff. Some of the more PC ones might argue for cutting the same percentage but most would propose cutting staff as a whole by a certain percentage: none would say ‘Hey, we have 60% female staff and 40% male staff – it would be fair if we sacked equal numbers.

That would be simply perverse.

I agree that cutting equal numbers would produce odd outcomes, as I explained in the article:

if the number of men made redundant had matched the number of women, 45% of male public sector workers would have been sacked, in contrast to the 15% of women. On the other hand, if the number of women had matched the number of men, barely 6% of the female workforce would have lost their jobs, in comparison to 19% of men.

Your Welsh mining village has exactly the same problem as my hypothetical council (see comment #6): the ‘raw’ numbers mean more men get sacked (500 v 20); the percentages,however, would make a for typical ‘women hit hardest’ headline/campaign even though (a) fewer numbers of them were sacked compared to the men and (b) they were a minority (less than 2%) in relation to the overall mineworks’ staff.

That said, my final point is more important: to refer to your example, do we want to defend the Welsh coal industry on the grounds of national economic and strategic need, or because of its impact on female catering staff?

14. Shatterface

Civil servants generally work 9-5, Monday to Friday, but may also have flexi-time, part time hours, term time working patterns, public and privilege days that coincide with school holidays,, etc. which are unlikely to be replicated in the kind of private sector jobs ex-civil servants are likely to find.

Since it precisely these benefits that draw more women than men to the public sector the loss of a civil service job is more likely to lead to long term unemployment among women – so even if the civil service employed and sacked a 1:1 ratio of men and women this would still disproportionately effect women and cost tax payers more in the long run.

15. redpesto

@GO (#11):

Of course you could do both, but the point of the NHS is to employ nurses and midwives (and doctors and all the other staff) in terms of the roles they play in the NHS, not because of the sex they are. The NHS needs more midwives: in an ideal world 50% of them might be male (though in this case it’s the opposite of the more common ‘where are the women?’ argument). As I said in the article: ‘The gender imbalances in the public and private sector is a related, but separate issue.’

It’s tricky to see how you can have ‘proportionate’ redundancies in terms of gender where there are gender imbalances to start with (see comment #6). It’s even trickier to ‘Save the NHS’ simply by referring to female nurses, even if they make a better ‘face’ to such a campaign than male NHS staff (even if they happen to be nurses too).

16. David Moss

This is completely bizarre. More women (% of population and absolute numbers) are losing their jobs due to the cuts. No-one, as far as I can tell from your article, is saying “the government is deliberately choosing female rather than male people to sack, ceteris paribus.”

Then you say that pointing out that women are disproportionately hurt by the cuts isn’t in itself “sufficient” or the single best argument against cuts… but why would it need to be? It is a (by your own admission good) argument and so it is a good thing to make this argument, among others.

17. redpesto

@Shatterface (#14):

You’re absolutely right about how women might be attracted by the pay/conditions in the public sector ‘which are unlikely to be replicated in the kind of private sector jobs ex-civil servants are likely to find,’ which is, in part a criticism of the private sector.

However, the public sector is not designed to be ‘women’s work’ or a ‘women’s sector’ (even allowing for gender stereotyping, e.g. nursing re. women; armed forces re. men). So Much for Subtlety has already given an indication of the kind of wrong-headed line of attack those hostile to the public sector are trying to pursue.

18. So Much For Subtlety

4. Shatterface

Do you really think female teachers, carers, nurses, etc. are ‘parasitic’ on the ‘productive sector’ (bankers, advertising execs, etc)?

Pointing to a tiny minority who do something you consider useful does not disprove the general point. Not that they are productive as a general rule. The more female teachers a school has, almost by definition, the worse it is. This country depends almost entirely on the independent sector for literate graduates and their teachers are disproportionately male. Which is not surprising as it can and has been shown female teachers discriminate against male students.

17. redpesto

You’re absolutely right about how women might be attracted by the pay/conditions in the public sector ‘which are unlikely to be replicated in the kind of private sector jobs ex-civil servants are likely to find,’ which is, in part a criticism of the private sector.

Really? You think the fact that the public sector is recruiting third rate people who couldn’t get a job in the private sector is a criticism of the private sector?

Interesting.

However, the public sector is not designed to be ‘women’s work’ or a ‘women’s sector’ (even allowing for gender stereotyping, e.g. nursing re. women; armed forces re. men).

It shouldn’t be. But it is.

So Much for Subtlety has already given an indication of the kind of wrong-headed line of attack those hostile to the public sector are trying to pursue.

I doubt anyone has the balls to mount that sort of attack actually. But it is still true. Women have strong career preferences for safety and good conditions. Men remain the risk takers. Which means men are found in all the new sectors of the economy. Men created Silicon Valley for instance and we are still not remotely close to getting parity in female programmers. Women are found in the public service and declining sectors of the economy. The older companies. And they tend to be in the most useless and even counter-productive parts of those old companies (where they will not have to make any real decisions). Human Resources for instance.

It may well be regretable that this is so. But it is. It is not an attack to say so either.

Well is known that in the Goverment sector the number of women compared with men are dismatching allways, now there is really important things in which women should take close participation and numbers should be equal per every men working a women is there.

Thank you!

20. Shatterface

Really? You think the fact that the public sector is recruiting third rate people who couldn’t get a job in the private sector is a criticism of the private sector?

You see ‘third rate people who couldn’t get a job in the private sector’ I see ‘women with family commitments’ but I guess that’s the difference between being brought up in a caring family and being grown in a vat and raised by robots.

21. Shatterface

Your Welsh mining village has exactly the same problem as my hypothetical council (see comment #6): the ‘raw’ numbers mean more men get sacked (500 v 20); the percentages,however, would make a for typical ‘women hit hardest’ headline/campaign even though (a) fewer numbers of them were sacked compared to the men and (b) they were a minority (less than 2%) in relation to the overall mineworks’ staff.

That’s the oposite of what you are claiming in the OP. in the OP you are talking about raw numbers not percentages – here you are saying the coverage would be about percentages.

That said, my final point is more important: to refer to your example, do we want to defend the Welsh coal industry on the grounds of national economic and strategic need, or because of its impact on female catering staff?

You haven’t understood the analogy: in the pit example the cuts disproportionately effect the men of the village even though 100% of the catering staff lose their jobs – and I chose the mining industry in the Eighties because the gender division is so stark and I didn’t want people waffling on about ‘how dare you assume workers in a modern industry would mainly be men!’ and all the rest of it.

GO:

That’s the oposite of what you are claiming in the OP. in the OP you are talking about raw numbers not percentages – here you are saying the coverage would be about percentages.

The percentages in your example would get the headline ‘Women hit hardest in Welsh mine closures’ because that’s what an author would rely on to get the story – ‘100% of female catering staff face redundancy’ – rather than using the ‘raw’ numbers.

So Much for Subtlety:

I doubt anyone has the balls to mount that sort of attack actually. But it is still true. Women have strong career preferences for safety and good conditions. Men remain the risk takers.

I’m not convinced ‘Me Tarzan, You Jane’ is much of an economic model re. the private and public sectors.

@Shatterface

“You haven’t understood the analogy…”

I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you haven’t produced anything approaching a compelling argument against the original article. Your analogy fails because it needs to create such an extreme scenario. In the original piece the proportionality argument was based on two large samples, each involving hundreds of thousands of people, and therefore made a perfectly reasonable point that the men and women affected were proportionately about the same. Your example takes one large group suffering heavy losses and compares it to another group suffering complete losses that is two orders of magnitude smaller; it’s not a statistically meaningful comparison.

There may very well be an argument that women have been harder hit than men, but present that case, because Katie Allen’s argument is not it.

25. So Much For Subtlety

20. Shatterface

You see ‘third rate people who couldn’t get a job in the private sector’ I see ‘women with family commitments’ but I guess that’s the difference between being brought up in a caring family and being grown in a vat and raised by robots.

Hey, we prefer the term uterine-deprived if you don’t mind. Women in Britain, by and large, don’t have children. If they do, they often do not work. The female workers of Britain are not kept down by their thirteen school age children any more.

redpesto

I’m not convinced ‘Me Tarzan, You Jane’ is much of an economic model re. the private and public sectors.

Good for you. But it remains true. Why it is true might be an interesting conversation, but it is not one we are likely to have here.

So Much for Subtlety:

redpesto

I’m not convinced ‘Me Tarzan, You Jane’ is much of an economic model re. the private and public sectors.

Good for you. But it remains true. Why it is true might be an interesting conversation, but it is not one we are likely to have here.

Well, we could have that conversation. However, since your argument is based on essentialist ideas of gender (‘Man the hunter/women the nurturer’ etc.) allied to a hostility to the public sector as the ‘useless’ part of the economy which employs ‘third-rate people’ (most of them, coincidentally, women) – both of which I would disagree with – I don’t think the conversation would get very far.

27. So Much For Subtlety

26. redpesto

Well, we could have that conversation. However, since your argument is based on essentialist ideas of gender (‘Man the hunter/women the nurturer’ etc.) allied to a hostility to the public sector as the ‘useless’ part of the economy which employs ‘third-rate people’ (most of them, coincidentally, women) – both of which I would disagree with – I don’t think the conversation would get very far.

Wow. Now you bring out the Big Guns. Not just any old Doubleplus Ungood Crimethink, but essentialism. Well that showed me. But unfortunately no. I did not based my argument on any essentialist ideas of gender. I pointed out what different sexes do. Now that may be based on essentialist ideas of gender, but it is irrelevant. As I am not suggesting we try to re-order the universe. I am merely pointing out what the two sexes actually want to do and subsequently do do. Real world. Deal with it.

As for the rest, obviously anyone capable of working in the private sector, works in the private sector. If they were valuable someone would have paid them more to hold down a real job. Also, of course, the public service destroys the work ethic and morale of any worker so pretty soon they are useless even if they started out with promise. Nor is it deniable than most of the public sector is unproductive and a drain on the real economy.

But if you want to continue to live in DaveSpartland I guess any discussion would be short. However you can change. You can rejoin the reality based community.

28. redpesto

So Much for Subtlety:

did not based my argument on any essentialist ideas of gender. I pointed out what different sexes do.

And yet you wrote:

Women have strong career preferences for safety and good conditions. Men remain the risk takers.

Now why do you think this is the case? What makes men ‘risk takers’ and women ‘prefer’ ‘safety and good conditions’? Especially if that preference results in them working in a public sector you dismiss as not involving ‘real jobs’ and in ‘declining’ or ‘useless’ parts of the economy (which will be news to anyone working in, say, teaching, nursing or the police).


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