Female employees more financially vulnerable than men in cost of living crisis, survey reveals

Charity suggests women are ‘set up to fail’ by systemic gender inequalities that leave them more at risk during an economic downturn

Aleksei Morozov/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Female employees are more financially vulnerable in the current economic climate compared to their male counterparts, a report has found. 

The Deadline to Breadline 2022 report by Legal & General found that women were “significantly closer” to the breadline than men if they lost their income, with the average salary for working women in the UK lower than that of men (£23,245 compared to £31,070). 

The results, based on data collected from 5,201 consumers in July 2022, found women – who spend on average £90 per day – were approximately 14 days away from the breadline, while men are 28 days away. 

Leaders worried economy will reverse pandemic-induced workplace changes, survey finds

More than half of employees with fertility problems not getting support at work, survey finds

Career breaks stifling women’s confidence at work, study finds

The study found that more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of women were also more likely to view the cost of living crisis as a “constant source of worry”, which highlighted a potential wellbeing pinch-point for employers.

Additional research from Legal & General, released in April this year, revealed that women’s pension pots were half the size of men’s (an average of £12,000 compared to £26,000).

Joeli Brealey, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said women were “set up to fail by policy making” and the parental leave system, and called on the government to make changes. “Women and men tend to work the same number of hours, it’s just that women do a lot more of the unpaid work – almost three times that of men,” said Brealey. 

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

“This work has a huge value to society and to our economy, but that same economy does not protect women when the going gets tough.” She added that we needed “government policies that consider the gendered impact of the cost of living crisis”.

Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, pointed out that the root of the problem was that many working mothers were likely to be “trapped” in roles below their skill level and with part-time hours, “both of which reduce their earnings at a time when the cost of living crisis is hitting hard”. 

She added that the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, currently progressing through parliament, should increase access to flexible working.

Meanwhile, Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, called on employers to support unpaid carers – which are typically women – to remain in the workforce. “We hope to see more employers offer carer-friendly policies such as flexible working from day one, or five days of carer’s leave, which would better support this huge swathe of the workforce to manage their job with their caring role, while also helping employers retain experienced staff,” she said. 

However, Gemma Bullivant, HR coach and consultant, said the results were “frustrating” as they ignore the “fundamental issue” of the gender pay gap and its role in making women financially vulnerable. “We know the cost of living crisis is hitting those on lower incomes much harder, [because of] a lack of surplus income to accommodate the increased costs,” she said. “We know from national gender pay gap analysis that the main reason for the pay gap is that women occupy a larger proportion of lower-paid roles.” 

Bullivant “strongly advised” that companies continue to analyse, report and act on the gap so they can take “proactive steps to addressing these inequalities, enhance their reputation and employer brand, and attract a wider talent pool”.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) put the gender pay gap for full-time employees at 8.3 per cent in 2022, up 0.6 percentage points on the previous year. Meanwhile, ONS data from 2021 revealed that women were almost three times more likely to be in part-time employment than men (31 per cent compared to 11 per cent).