Lack of flexible working blocks young women from job vacancies, new research shows

26 November 2021

New research from Young Women’s Trust shows a lack of flexible and accessible employment opportunities is preventing young women from finding or staying in work. The charity’s research previously revealed that young women have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid crisis, with 1.5 million young women losing income during the pandemic and 69% of young women claiming benefits doing so for the first time.

A new survey and peer research conducted by the charity looked at whether the employment and benefits systems were meeting the needs of young women. Over a quarter of young women have found it difficult to apply for a job due to the associated costs, such as travel to and from work. This rises to 38% for young women with caring responsibilities. Young women with disabilities or long term health conditions face additional barriers, with 65% reporting that they had been discriminated against because of this. Inflexible and inaccessible work was a key issue, with fewer than 3 in 10 young women agreeing that there are enough job opportunities accessible to them in their local area.

These barriers to employment are pushing young women into precarious situations, with 38% reporting they have been unable to afford food or essential supplies whilst unemployed. 72% of young women taking part in the survey reported that their financial situation was ‘uncomfortable’.  For some, living on benefits had pushed them into unsafe situations such as a forced dependence on others, or an unsafe working environment, whilst 37% have taken on additional debt as a result of being unemployed.

Many young women reported that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to employment and to the benefits systems is worsening inequalities and making it particularly difficult for those with additional needs to find flexible work and access support. 39% of young women in receipt of benefits have experienced discrimination whilst claiming them and almost a quarter (23%) had experienced delays in receiving payments. Most of the young women reported that the benefits system was complex, challenging and confusing. Our findings make it clear that in the face of a range of additional barriers to entering the workplace, young women need specialist support and flexible opportunities to enable them to thrive.

Abi Shapiro, Interim Chief Executive of Young Women’s Trust said

‘For many young women, flexibility is not a preference, it is the difference between being able or unable to enter and remain in the workforce. For many who have caring responsibilities or disabilities the traditional nine to five working day simply doesn’t work. Employers should develop clear flexible working policies which are responsive to individual circumstances. Young women also need the government to invest in their frontline services to provide training for staff to help them to provide more tailored support.

“This research makes it clear that the current ‘one size fits all’ approach is not working and ultimately does not fit anyone. The government, employers and public services need to work together and act now so that young women receive the support they need to access meaningful employment and claim the benefits they are entitled to.’

Young women who took part in the research said

‘I hated being unemployed. I didn’t want to be a single mum, a teen mum, and then unemployed as well. I was doing everything in my power to find a job, but then I had caring responsibilities; I had a young baby, and these jobs are not flexible enough or they require more from me.’

‘There were times when I basically couldn’t afford to feed myself and pay rent. So I had to just pay rent, I needed to have a roof over my head. I basically wasn’t eating. It’s just a really, really, really horrific system.’

‘A lot of young women have caring responsibilities, and there’s all the unpaid labour that women do. They’re expecting us to stick to nine to five hours, that’s just not possible for a lot of people. There’s an expectation that young women can do the same as everybody else, with no acknowledgement of how our situations are very different’.

Notes to Editors

  • “One Size Fits No One: young women’s experiences of navigating inadequate employment opportunities and the benefits system” can be downloaded from here: Download report
  • Young Women’s Trust commissioned a survey of 1,012 young women in England and Wales with current experience of unemployment, underemployment and/or living on benefits.
  • Peer researchers from the Research Centre for Young Women’s Economic Justice carried out 23 semi-structured telephone interviews with young women in England and Wales who had recent (within the last two years) experience of unemployment, underemployment and/or claiming benefits.
  • We also held an online focus group with four care experienced young women (facilitated by a peer researcher with care experience) to better understand their specific experiences of unemployment, underemployment and living on benefits.
  • Young Women’s Trust is a feminist organisation working to achieve economic justice for young women. Our Work It Out coaching service supports young women to make plans for the future. We campaign for young women’s equality in the workplace and our research examines what young women’s lives are really like.
  • Young Women’s Trust has launched a petition calling on the Government to reinstate the £20 uplift to Universal Credit; extend the uplift to legacy benefits, including the carer’s allowance and increase the National Living Wage to at least £10 an hour.