MPs say public services and the law are failing millions of women
MPs and charities say the views and experiences of women of colour are largely hidden when it comes to public services and policymaking.
A new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sex Equality, supported by Young Women’s Trust and the Fawcett Society, shows that black and ethnic minority women are overlooked by mental health and employment support services, which are failing to meet their needs. This is due to a lack of data on their experiences and exclusion from policymaking.
MPs are calling for service-users to be involved in designing services to ensure they are more responsive to the needs and experiences of diverse groups – especially when it comes to mental health and employment support.
The law must also change to factor in the ‘multiple discrimination’ that women face, lawmakers said. At present, a black woman can only bring a case that she has been discriminated against on one of those two characteristics – not the combination of the two.
The ‘Invisible Women’ report also says that gender pay gap reporting has the potential to drive real change. However, the lack of intersectionality hides many women’s experiences. Factors such as disability, age, race, faith, ethnicity, sexuality and location impact on the size of the pay gap women face but current reporting does not take this into account. Driving change for all women requires a more nuanced approach.
Jess Phillips MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sex Equality said:
“Millions of women are invisible in Westminster’s evidence and thinking. Unless we see women in all their diversity, we will make the wrong policy decisions and will not achieve equality.
“We need data, policy, the law and services to recognise women’s diverse experiences and work for women.”
Effia (name changed), 27 from London, said:
"As a black woman, I was bullied at work but told that I had a severe attitude problem when I tried to stand up for myself. It had a really bad impact on my mental health.
“After that, I was unemployed for four months and making an effort to return to a job. I am degree-educated and wanted to be confident again to chase ambition in the future. But I definitely felt judged when accessing the job centre. I was seen as a lazy black woman who wanted to rely on benefits. The assessment process terrified me and I applied for any job to escape it. In the end, I found counselling more helpful than the job centre."
Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton OBE said:
“Young women are struggling to get by due to low pay, job insecurity and debt. This is particularly acute for young women of colour and disabled young women, who face bigger pay gaps and more often report workplace discrimination. Yet mental health and employment support services are letting many down.
“Much more needs to be done to improve young women’s prospects. This requires politicians and policymakers to listen to women – especially those who experience multiple discrimination or have complex needs – and make sure they are not invisible in our policies and services.
“Without action, today’s young women face a lifetime of inequality.”
Fawcett Society chief executive Sam Smethers said:
"We have to start seeing the reality and complexity of women's identities and women's lives. We repeatedly overlook the women who are in the most need and who experience the greatest disadvantage. That has to change.
"Reforming our equality law to address multiple discrimination and improving data collection are just the first step. What we need is a transformation in how we see women."
Notes to editor:
1. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sex Equality is currently chaired by Jess Phillips MP (Lab) and was co-chaired by Jo Churchill MP (Con) during the ‘Invisible Women’ inquiry. Young Women’s Trust and the Fawcett Society provided the secretariat for the group in 2016-17 during the ‘Invisible Women’ inquiry and the Fawcett Society is the current secretariat.
2. Young Women’s Trust supports and represents women aged 16-30 trapped by low or no pay and facing a life of poverty. The charity provides services and runs campaigns to make sure that the talents of young women don't go to waste.
3. The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights. We publish compelling research to educate, inform and lead the debate; we bring together politicians, academics, grassroots activists and wider civil society to develop innovative, practical solutions; we work with employers and in schools and we campaign with women and men to make change happen. Our vision is a society in which women and girls in all their diversity are equal and truly free to fulfil their potential; creating a stronger, happier, better future for us all.
4. The ‘Invisible Women’ report shows that ethnic minority women have a different experience of public services, which often is not taken into account. For example, a study of the participation of women in the labour market in Leicester found that the relatively large number of Asian women who were economically inactive or unemployed did not access the benefit system. As a result, they are less likely to appear on the radar of government. The APPG also heard that some of the difference in ethnic minorities’ experiences of mental health may be down to the attitudes of healthcare workers in diagnosing and treating ethnic minority patients and the inability of healthcare services to adapt to differing cultural attitudes towards mental health, sometimes leading to a lack of preventative support.
The report contains the following recommendations:
1. To fully understand the experiences of “invisible women” we need additional data that allows for comparisons between different groups of women. This could be achieved by better linkages between datasets and data sharing between public services. Government should resource the creation of intersectional pay gap data as a priority. But existing data should also be analysed and published in a way that allows for better understanding of the experiences of distinct groups of women.
2. The Government should evaluate and review existing legislation and policy to ensure it takes a joined up view of the interaction between gender and other protected characteristics. In particular, the APPG draws attention to the need for a more intersectional approach to closing the gender pay gap, apprenticeship recruitment, childcare provision, and industrial strategy.
3. Make it possible to bring a discrimination claim based on an individual’s true identity, by reviewing and then implementing Section 14 of the Equality Act 2010.
4. Many public services do not reflect the needs and experiences of intended service users. This risks excluding women with multiple characteristics from much-needed support. This could be overcome by more sensitive public service design. The APPG advocates greater efforts to involve beneficiaries in service design in order to make them more responsive to the needs and experiences of diverse groups. In particular, the APPG urges work to improve mental health and employment services.
5. Young Women’s Trust commissioned Populus Data Solutions to conduct a survey of young people. A representative sample of 4,010 18-30 year-olds in England and Wales, from the Populus Live Online Panel, were surveyed between 4 and 14 July 2017. The survey found that 41 per cent of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) young people said they had been treated less well than others when working or looking for work because of their ethnicity.
For more information, please contact Bex Bailey on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07495 981 142.