What have we learnt about women who are ‘economically inactive’?

Wednesday 7 June 2017

What have we learnt about women who are ‘economically inactive’?

Emma MMy favourite part of research is carrying out interviews or focus groups. It is a great privilege to spend an hour or two as a researcher with people who have paused their everyday lives to share their views with you. My interest is fortunate given that I am one of a small team responsible for interviewing over 50 young women in a matter of a few months!

Young Women’s Trust are midway through our second year of research about economically inactive young women – those who are not working, but may not be able to seek work regularly or start a job immediately. In the first year of our research we highlighted how young women are much more likely than young men to be economically inactive but don’t get the right support to take paid work. The Times, Independent, Buzzfeed and BBC all covered our findings.

Through the interviews we’ve been doing in 2017 we hope to build up a rich picture of what it’s like to be young, female and economically inactive. Already we have spoken to 56 young women, aged between 16 and 24. It’s still too early to draw detailed conclusions and recommendations, but we can say something about features that we have encountered repeatedly in the otherwise diverse range of young women who we have spoken to.

  • Caring responsibilities: Some women have children, have to look after other members of family who are ill, or both. Where women have children the cost of childcare puts them off using it in order to work or seek work; they might also be nervous about leaving their baby with someone they don’t know.
  • Health: A mental health condition – like depression, anxiety or something less common like bipolar – could make it impossible for women to look for work regularly or hold down a full-time job. If she has a physical disability, that may come with the same problems as well as limiting the sort of physical work she can do.
  • Education: A lot of women we have spoken to struggled with school or had their education interrupted, meaning they left with few or no formal qualifications. They may have to retrain before looking for work, or they may not feel confident about their ability to learn and work.
  • Money and benefits: Some women were being supported by their partner or family; others needed to claim benefits. These included Universal Credit, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Child Benefit and Tax Credits, and Housing Benefit.

We are indebted to a number of housing associations, charities and employment support services who have recruited young women for us to interview. They all do great work supporting young people with housing, learning, work and family. We are also grateful for ongoing financial support from the Barrow Cadbury Trust. Finally, our biggest thanks go to the young women who have come to meet us and tell us about their lives.

Young Women’s Trust, with our academic partner Professor Sue Maguire, plan to publish our research in November 2017. Look out for our final report and in the meantime if you want to hear more about the project and its findings, or maybe how you can get involved, get in touch with me at emma.mckay@youngwomenstrust.org