Joining up housing and mental health

The role of housing goes far beyond physical shelter and safety. It introduces people to a community to which they can belong, a space which is their own, a communal setting where they can make friends, form relationships and a place where they can go for support, social interaction and reduce feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Housing  stable, safe housing  also provides a springboard for people to begin to re-integrate with society. An address allows them to register with services, including claiming benefits, registering at a local job centre, registering with a GP, and applying for jobs.

Housing and health, both physical and mental, are inextricably linked. A 2015 blog from the Mental Health Foundation put the relationship between housing and health in some of the clearest terms:

“Homelessness and mental health often go hand in hand, and can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having a mental health problem can create the circumstances which can cause a person to become homeless in the first place. Yet poor housing or homelessness can also increase the chances of developing a mental health problem, or exacerbate an existing condition.”

Single homeless people are significantly more likely to suffer from mental illness than the general population. And as a result of being homeless they are also far more likely to rely on A&E services, only visiting when they reach crisis point, rather than being treated in a local setting by a GP. They are also more likely to be re-admitted. This high usage is also costly, and increasingly calls are being made for services to be delivered in a more interconnected way, ensuring that housing is high on the list of priorities for those teams helping people to transition from hospital back into the community.

Not just those who are homeless being failed

However, transitioning from hospital into suitable housing after a mental health hospital admission is not just a challenge for homeless people. It is also the case that people are being discharged from hospital to go back into settings that are unsuitable. Housing which is unsafe, in poor condition, in unsafe locations or in locations away from family and social networks can also have a significant impact on the ability of people to recover and prevent readmission.

Councils are facing an almost constant struggle to house people in appropriate accommodation. However, finding a solution to safe, affordable and suitable housing is vital. Reinvesting in social housing is a core strategy councils are considering going forward to try and relieve some of the pressure and demand. Gender and age specific approaches, which consider the specific needs of women, potentially with children, or old and young people and their specific needs would also go a long way to creating long term secure housing solutions which would then also impact on the use of frontline NHS services (by reducing the need for them because more could be treated in the community). Suitable housing also has the potential to improve employment prospects or increase the uptake of education or training among younger people with a mental illness. It would also provide stability and security, long term, to allow people  to make significant lifestyle changes and reduce their risk of homelessness in the future.

A new relationship for housing and health

A number of recommendations have been made for services. Many have called for the introduction of multi-disciplinary teams within the NHS, recruited from different backgrounds, not only to create partnerships with non-NHS teams, but also to act as a transitional care team, to ensure that care is transferred and dealt with in a community setting in an appropriate way, and to ensure housing is both adequate and reflects the needs of those who are most vulnerable.

In June 2017 the King’s Fund held an online seminar to discuss how greater integration between housing and mental health services could help accelerate discharge from hospital and reduce the rates of readmission for people suffering from mental illness. The panel included Claire Murdoch, National Mental Health Director at NHS England and Rachael Byrne, Executive Director, New Models of Care at Home Group.

Final thoughts

Increasingly the important link between housing and health is being recognised and developments are being made in acknowledging that both effective treatment and a stable environment are vital to helping people with mental illness recover and re-integrate back into their community, improving their life chances and reducing the potential for relapse.

Housing can be an area of life which can have a significant impact on mental health. It can cause stress, and the financial burden, possibility of being made homeless, or being placed in temporary accommodation can have a significant and lasting negative effect on people’s mental health. However, safe and stable housing can also have a significant positive impact on mental health, providing stability, privacy, dignity and a sense of belonging.


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If you enjoyed this blog, you may also be interested in our other articles on health care and reablement care

#BeBoldForChange and the changing world of work: International Women’s day 2017

As women across the world mark the 106th International Women’s Day (IWD17) they are being encouraged to think about their place in the “changing world of work.” Perhaps by coincidence, only a few days earlier toy giant Lego announced plans for it’s latest toy set based on “real life female scientists, engineers and astronauts”. The design was the winner of the latest “Lego ideas” competition and will feature prominent female scientists including Katherine Johnson, a mathematician and space scientist who worked with NASA and was recently featured in the Oscar nominated film Hidden Figures.

Despite attempts to raise the profiles of successful and prominent women in employment, research consistently highlights the persistence of the gender pay gap, albeit more prominent in some professions than others. The “motherhood penalty” still stagnates, or even cripples the careers of many women, and women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and violence towards women is still worse than that of men, and that these factors affect their ability to participate fully in employment.

The scale of gender inequalities

A report published by the charity Engender ahead of IWD17 found that of the 3029 top leadership positions across business, politics, public sector, media, culture and sport in Scotland, only 27% of positions are held by women. The report found that, although women make up 52% of the population, they represent only:

  • 35% of Members of the Scottish Parliament
  • 7% of senior police officers
  • 20% of museum and gallery directors
  • 25% of local councillors
  • 16% of local authority leaders
  • 28% of public body chief executives
  • 26% of university principals

Previous research by Engender also found that women still do the majority of “invisible” work including housework, raising children and caring for vulnerable relatives. According to the 2011 census data, 62% of unpaid carers are women and the UK household satellite accounts found that the value of informal childcare in 2010 was £343 billion – equivalent to 23% of GDP. A report published by the Fawcett Society highlighted that inequalities also exists between women. The report found that the gender pay gap was even more exaggerated in black and ethnic minority (BAME) women than in other groups.

Women in Employment

The most recent employment figures for the UK showed that unemployment stood at 4.8%, the lowest level since 2005, and the proportion of women in work reached a record high of 70%. The latest PwC Women in Work Index measures levels of female economic empowerment across 33 OECD countries, based on five indicators. It reported that the UK had rapidly improved since 2000. However it also said that at the current rate of progress it will still take until 2041 to close the gender pay gap in the UK.

In short the picture is improving, but what exactly is being done to help women enter and remain in employment?

Supporting women into work

Supporting women into work was highlighted as a key policy objective for both the coalition and Conservative governments. A number of strategies have been considered to help different groups of women into employment:

  • Supporting women from disadvantaged backgrounds into employment – this includes women who have little to no formal education, victims of domestic violence, disabled women, and female offenders.
  • Supporting young women into traditionally “non female” roles – this includes encouraging young women and girls to take subjects at school and continue these onto university. It also means making apprenticeships open and inclusive, and marketable to everyone.
  • Supporting women to start up their own businesses – recent research highlighted that the annual revenue of women-led companies in the UK is growing at 28 per cent with an average turnover of £3.7 million. Potential support includes making women aware of specific funding they are entitled to, and helping them with the initial start up process. We’ve blogged before about female entrepreneurs if you want to know more.
  • Incentives and increased flexibility for women with children – For many women, the cost of childcare for young children means that working does not make financial sense for them. Employers have been taking steps to make working hours and conditions more flexible, some even providing crèche facilities or credits for childcare to staff to ease the pressure of childcare on working families. Changes to maternity and paternity leave also allow fathers to take a greater caring responsibility for new babies, and can help make the transition back to work easier for some families.
  • Supporting older women – this group has been identified as having been somewhat neglected by back-to- or entry-to-work schemes. Age related conditions, increasing caring responsibilities for elderly parents or grandchildren, and decisions to retrain or change careers can all impact significantly on the professional careers of older women.
  • Supporting women to progress – Women typically still make up the majority of the low-skilled, low pay work force, with many working part time in order to meet childcare needs. However, research has shown that this impacts significant on their ability to progress. While progression is an issue across the board for women in employment, it is particularly noticeable for this group. Research from NPI showed that there were around 5.1 million low paid employees in 2015. 62%, or 3.2 million of them were women and options for progression were significantly lower than for men, which keeps many women in a cycle of low-skilled, low paid, often insecure work.

Supporting women back to work

Many women take career breaks during their professional lives, most commonly to start or look after family. However, when they decide to return they face a number of barriers. These barriers mean that many returners end up in lower skilled jobs, either because their old job does not accommodate new flexible working needs or because extended time away from work is associated with a loss of skill. The UK government have launched a number of strategies and consultations aimed at encouraging and supporting women back to work after a career break. Individual organisations have also developed their own schemes, including the Back to Business scheme developed by PwC and Relaunch your career from MasterCard.

Many schemes include coaching and mentoring, phased returns to work, flexible working options and job shares, where appropriate. Increasingly, organisations now offer childcare options. Employers are also now allowing more staff to work from home, with the increased use of videoconferencing and online document sharing.

Earlier this week, Vodafone announced that it is launching the one of the world’s largest supported return to work programmes, ReConnect to recruit women who have taken a career break, as well as committing to increasing the proportion of women in management and leadership roles.

Final thoughts

Fully unlocking women’s economic empowerment – one of the cornerstones of true gender equality – is reliant upon unlocking the full potential of women in the workplace. As people across the world celebrate the economic, social and political achievements of women, as well as a growing awareness of their collective power to agitate for change, International Women’s Day also provides the opportunity to reflect on the position of women within society, and the steps that can be taken to improve this in the future.

#BeBoldForChange is the official hashtag for this years #IWD17 celebrations. You can submit your #BeBoldForChange action via the IWD website.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our other articles on women in employment and women in technology.

Women in politics: the long and winding road to equality

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On 9 November, the world woke up to learn the name of the next US president – and it wasn’t the name most people had been expecting. Although the election didn’t turn out to be as historic as it might have been, having a female nominee for president of the United States still marked a milestone on the road to equality for women in political life. But, while the profile of women in politics has never been higher, the wider story of female political participation and representation has been one of slow, intermittent and hard-won advancement.

The path to power

In 1893, New Zealand was the first modern democracy to acknowledge women’s right to vote, while the first European country to introduce women’s suffrage was Finland in 1906. In the UK, women were first entitled to vote in 1918 – but only for property owners over the age of 30. It took another ten years before the vote was given to women on same terms as men. Women in Switzerland had to wait even longer, first receiving the right to vote in national elections in 1971.

Progress towards greater representation of women in politics has also been protracted. Again, Finland led the way, electing 19 female members of parliament in 1907. But it wasn’t until 1960 that the world’s first woman prime minister was elected (Sri Lanka’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike). Twenty years later, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland became the first woman to be elected as a head of state (she was subsequently re-elected three more times). In 2015, for the first time, Saudi Arabia allowed women the right to vote and stand in municipal elections (21 female candidates were elected out of 2106 seats).

Women in politics today

In 2016, Theresa May followed in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher, to become the UK’s second woman prime minister. Meanwhile, after a decade in power, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most influential politicians, and she recently announced she’ll be seeking re-election for a fourth term in 2017.  In addition, there are now female heads of government in a variety of countries, from Chile to Bangladesh, Liberia to Norway. There are also women first ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and a growing number of female mayors in cities such as Paris, Rome, Montevideo and Baghdad. In October’s Icelandic election, 48% of those elected were women – enabling it to claim the title of the most equal parliament in the world.

It may seem that the tide has turned for female representation in politics. But a closer look uncovers a less rosy picture:

  • Of the 193 member states of the United Nations, only sixteen (8%) have a woman president or prime minister.
  • Seven countries have no women in their national parliament, while 35 have fewer than 10%.
  • Out of 650 contested seats, 191 women were elected to the House of Commons at the 2015 UK general election (29% of MPs).

Breaking down the barriers

Earlier, this year, we reported from the Women in Public Life conference held in Edinburgh. The discussions highlighted the low proportion of women elected to the UK’s local councils and devolved assemblies with a particular focus on Scotland.  The May 2016 elections did little to improve on this situation.

  • 45 women (34.9%) were elected to the Scottish Parliament, the same proportion as in 2011, and down on the high point of 39.5% in 2003.
  • 2016 saw 25 women (41.7%) elected to the National Assembly for Wales, a higher proportion than the other devolved assemblies, but down on the 2003 Welsh Assembly, which had an equal number of women and men.
  • In the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, of the 108 seats contested 30 were won by women – up on the 20 elected in 2011, but still only 27.8% of the total.

The conference also debated some of the ways in which the barriers to female participation and representation in politics might be overcome. These included:

  • creating a forum for women councillors in local government;
  • promoting a cross party consensus on encouraging women candidates to stand in local and parliamentary elections;
  • creating a mentoring scheme to encourage more young women to participate;
  • promoting flexible working patterns, including reducing the number of late night debates
  • statutory measures, such as quotas, to advance the role of women in elections.

Supporters of gender quotas point to their effective deployment in countries such as Bolivia, South Africa and Sweden as ways of redressing women’s exclusion from public life. Following the Scottish Parliament elections of 2016, a team of University of Edinburgh researchers argued that without quotas women’s representation would remain slow and incremental at best:

“For real and lasting progress, warm words must be backed up with statutory measures to embed quality in our political institutions.”

In the Republic of Ireland, legislation was introduced in 2012 with provisions that the major political parties would lose half of their state funding unless at least 30% of their election candidates were female. The first national test of the new quotas came in the general election of 2016, which saw 35 women (22.3%) elected to the lower house of the Irish parliament. This amounted to a 40% increase from the election of 2011, where 15% of the successful candidates were women. While some attributed this to gender quotas, an early analysis of the results suggested that it may take one or two more election cycles to determine the full impact of quotas on Irish elections.

Role models for the future?

Increased representation for women in politics is important for the positive impact it can have on both gender equality issues and social policy more broadly. But might the presence of female politicians also inspire interest in political participation among young women?

Studies into the effectiveness of women politicians as role models have produced a mixture of conclusions:

  • A 2006 study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, found that increased visibility of women politicians increased the likelihood of adolescent girls’ intention to be politically active.
  • In 2012, research from the University of California, Berkeley, reported that the election of additional women in US state legislative elections had “no discernible causal effects on other women’s political participation at the mass or elite levels.”
  • Research published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2015 suggested that role models are important for improving women’s representation, but only in its early stages.

Final thoughts

Time will tell whether we ever see a woman elected to the role of American President. But while it’s important and exciting to see more women winning political office at the highest level, equal representation for women across the board, from grassroots and local council level upwards is as vital. And, as a recent Holyrood magazine article underlined, the presence of women in political life is not only important for women:

“…if we cannot yet manage equal representation for half the population, how are we to achieve real representation for other parts of society such as BME people and those with disabilities who are actually in a minority?”


Further reading

Women in public life: breaking the barriers – conference highlights

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

What’s going on in our universities … and what does the crisis around campus sexual harassment say about our society?

by Stacey Dingwall

One of the most worrying elements of Donald Trump’s election campaign was his apparent attitude towards women. Critics have highlighed a wide range of sexist comments made by the now President-elect over the years – comments he now claims to regret and has apologised for.

The continuing problems of ‘isms’

Sexism is just one of the ‘isms’ that we seem unable to get rid of, despite efforts to create a more tolerant and diverse society. We’ve highlighted this several times on the blog this year; from the persistent gender pay gap to an increase in hate crime. Yet it seems we are still frustratingly far from living in an equal society.

Trump’s critics have suggested that it is in fact insecurity that has driven him to make some of his remarks. Although it is true that large numbers of (white) women voted for him, it has also been argued that part of his success is down to “angry white men” who feel threatened by the progress made by women, ethnic and other minorities towards the creation of a more equal society.

Sexual violence on campus

The all too frequent accounts of sexual harassment on university campuses around the world represent a particularly ugly aspect of enduring inequality within our society. While the media may focus on incidents occurring within the fraternity system in American campuses, the problem is just as bad in Britain. In September, a poll conducted by the charity DrinkAware indicated that 54% of the female students they surveyed had experienced some form of physical or verbal sexual abuse.  15% of male students reported similar experiences.

It’s not only male students who are subjecting their peers to this abuse, or female students who are on the receiving end. Last month, more than 100 women – students and academics – shared their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of male university staff.  The stories depict a culture dominated by the male voice, in which women are frightened into silence rather than taking action against their abusers. Many of the victims indicated feelings of futility in terms of reporting their experience, due to the perpetrators’ power and status. Those who did have the courage to make a complaint reported their frustration at the limited action taken.

How is this being addressed?

Recent reviews by the National Union of Students (NUS) and Universities UK have made recommendations to universities on how to tackle sexual harassment on their campuses. A particular focus has been on implementing policies to prevent and deal with the issue: both reviews found that institutions sometimes didn’t have a sexual harassment policy at all, or it was ineffectively tied in with an overarching policy on bullying and harassment.

Universities UK’s review highlights several examples of good practice from universities in terms of improving the reporting process (the University of Cambridge), implementation of policy (SOAS, University of London), and establishment of taskforces to both raise awareness of and deal with sexual violence on campus (Durham University Sexual Violence Task Force).

More prevention work needed

While it’s encouraging that universities are taking action to respond to this problem, and work is also being done in terms of communicating that campuses should be a safe space for all, the majority of initiatives are focused on dealing with the aftermath of abuse rather than prevention. This is similar to the message often communicated by the media and others that people (predominantly women and girls) should take steps to ‘avoid’ being attacked or raped, rather than communicating to men and boys that they shouldn’t perpetrate these crimes in the first place.

While girls are fed these messages from an early age both at home and at school, there is no similar onus placed on their male peers to learn about consent at the same time. The fact that the debate over the provision of a sex education that is appropriate for the society in which we currently live remains unresolved unfortunately means that these depressing statistics on sexual violence in our universities are unlikely to improve in the near future.

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Gender pay gap – will it ever close?

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By Heather Cameron

Last Thursday was labelled ‘Equal Pay Day’ – the last day of the year women effectively stop earning relative to men – just one day later than the previous year.

According to the Fawcett Society, this means women are in effect ‘working for free’ until the end of the year as a result of the gender pay gap.

Given that it is 46 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced ‘to prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women’, it is dispiriting that considerable inequalities remain between men and women’s pay.

How much of a gap?

The Fawcett Society has calculated the current gender pay gap for full-time workers at 13.9%.

Recent research by Deloitte suggests that the gender pay gap will not close until 2069 unless action is taken to tackle it now. It shows that the hourly pay gap between men and women is closing at a rate of just 2.5 pence per annum, and in some cases is even widening.

The study also notes that men receive considerably higher average pay even in female-dominated occupations, such as teaching and caring.

And new research from New Policy Institute (NPI) found that, although things have been improving with higher employment rates and increases in earnings, the formal employment rate for women is still lower and female weekly earnings are still less than 70% of male weekly earnings.

The research also highlighted that significant barriers continue to prevent women entering the labour market, particularly when it comes to high-paid, secure, quality jobs.

The overall global situation would appear even worse as the most recent Global gender gap report from the World Economic Forum indicates that the gap could take 170 years to close.

In terms of the economic impact, the gender pay gap has been highlighted as a particular issue in relation to the UK’s low productivity problem.

It has been suggested that equalising women’s productivity could add almost £600 billion to the economy, and that 10% could be added to the size of the economy by 2030 if the millions of women who wanted to work could find suitable jobs.

Causes

The gender pay gap has been attributed to four main causes by the Fawcett Society:

  • Discrimination – often women are still paid less than men for the same job and unfair treatment remains common, especially around maternity
  • Unequal caring responsibilities – women continue to play a greater role in caring for family
  • A divided labour market – women are more likely to be in low-paid and low-skilled jobs
  • Men in the most senior roles – men continue to make up the majority of those in the highest paid and most senior roles

Deloitte’s research similarly highlights that women are disproportionately more likely to enter low paid industries or sectors.

However, it emphasises that one contributory factor to the gender pay gap occurs before labour market entry, when boys and girls decide what to study at school and in further education. Three times more boys than girls take computing and 50% more boys than girls study design and technology.

This is significant because the gap in starting salaries between men and women who have studied Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, and who go on to take jobs in these sectors, was found to be far smaller.

Way forward

Deloitte’s research therefore suggests that increasing the participation of females in STEM subjects and careers could help reduce the gender pay gap.

Nevertheless, it also notes that as there are several causes, no single measure will be enough to eradicate it.

The government’s policy to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting for all large companies employing more than 250 employees has been welcomed as a step forward. But there are concerns this is not enough. The NPI research suggests that it could go further, with extension of the duty to companies employing 50 people.

In addition, encouraging take-up of the voluntary living wage and boosting pay in sectors that have been traditionally low paid and have predominantly employed women are suggested as ways to help speed up the reduction of the gender pay gap.

The NPI report calls for ‘a multi-dimensional policy response, sitting underneath a clear gender focused employment strategy’ to reduce gender inequalities and the subsequent pay gap.


If you enjoyed reading this, why not take a look at some of our other posts on equalities issues

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Apprenticeships – inclusive and accessible to all?

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By Heather Cameron

The government is “committed to making apprenticeships inclusive and accessible to all”. But, unfortunately, this is not currently the case. Just 10.6% of the starting apprenticeships in England in 2014/15 came from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, compared to 14.6% of the general population. And while women are well represented overall, there are significant disparities across sectors.

In response to a recent Ask a Researcher enquiry, we looked into the topic of diversity in apprenticeships and, in particular, the barriers that face some groups such as women and ethnic minorities.

Occupational gender segregation

Occupational gender segregation in apprenticeships was found to be a particular issue. Research has shown that, despite women apprentices having outnumbered men since 2010, young women miss out on certain opportunities as a result of this issue. For example, women comprise 94% of childcare apprentices but under 4% of engineering apprentices. And these figures have hardly changed in the last decade.

According to recent research, occupational gender segregation contributes to women losing out at every level with apprenticeships:

  • Women tend to work in fewer sectors
  • Women receive lower pay than men
  • Women are less likely to receive training as part of their apprenticeship
  • Women are more likely to be out of work at the end of their apprenticeship

In terms of the barriers facing women specifically, a lack of awareness of the careers advice and information services available, or of the funding available for training; formal entry qualifications; and child care and other caring responsibilities have all been cited.

Under-representation

The other significant issue highlighted by the research is the under-representation of BAME groups. The overwhelming majority (88.5%) of apprenticeship starters in 2014/15 were White and the provisional figures for 2015/16 are similar at 88.1%. This compares to just 10.6% of apprenticeship starts from BAME groups in 2014/15, with provisional figures for 2015/16 down slightly at 10.4%.

Similarly to women, BAME apprentices are also under-represented in specific sectors. Fewer than 3% of apprentices in construction, land based industries, science, engineering and manufacturing, building services engineering, and hair and beauty came from a BAME background.

Barriers facing ethnic minorities include a lack of awareness around the benefits of apprenticeships and parental influence. A study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has therefore called for action to increase the awareness of apprenticeships among ethnic minority young people and their parents.

Progress

Despite the issues of occupational gender segregation and ethnic minority under-representation, it should be noted that progress has been made.

The most recent statistics on apprenticeships in England show that: there were 12% more apprenticeship starts in 2015 than in the previous year and that achievements increased by 1% over the same period; overall, between 2013/14 and 2014/15 the number of apprenticeship starts increased across all age groups except for people aged under 16 and those aged 18 to 24; the number of apprenticeship starts for learners with learning disabilities and/or difficulties was up by 12%; and although an overwhelming number of apprenticeship starters were White, the number of non-White apprenticeship starters increased by 17%.

Way forward

The government ambitiously aims to deliver 3 million quality apprenticeships by 2020, to reflect the widest spectrum of society. And it has pledged to increase the proportion of apprentices from black and minority ethnic backgrounds by 20% from 10% to 11.9%. However, no specific targets have been set for gender diversity.

The research suggests that formal entry criteria should be removed where not necessary to encourage better uptake of different apprenticeships by women, and awareness of apprenticeships should be increased with initiatives targeting ethnic minority young people and their parents. Other recommendations include introducing diversity targets within organisations, providing more part-time and flexible apprenticeships and providing better advice and support to apprentices at all stages.

Perhaps if such additional actions are taken, the government will move closer to its commitment of making apprenticeships truly inclusive and accessible to all.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in our previous blog on higher apprenticeships.

Our popular Ask-a-Researcher enquiry service is one aspect of the Idox Information Service, which we provide to members in organisations across the UK to keep them informed on the latest research and evidence on public and social policy issues. To find out more on how to become a member, get in touch.

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Women in public life: breaking the barriers – conference highlights

By Rebecca Jackson

With Scotland’s now famed “all female leadership” heading the main political parties in Holyrood (excepting Willie Rennie’s leadership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats) and the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s recently reshuffled shadow cabinet containing 17 women and 14 men, it is no surprise that the extent of women’s participation in public life is being debated. Has the tide turned, or are there still barriers in local government and in politics?

Delegates came from across Scotland to an event held by COSLA last month to discuss the issue. Bringing together council representatives and those from the third sector, private sector, and academia, the conference explored what action can be taken to advance the contribution of women to public life in Scotland.

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Image by blog.willis

 “Catcalling in the chamber left me in tears….”

Delegates were, at times, highly critical of the council environment for women, in particular in Scotland. Based on some of the personal anecdotes being presented by panellists and delegates, it is unsurprising that only 25% of councillors in Scotland are women, the lowest proportion in the UK.

The day’s events were tinged with a strong undertone of scepticism and frustration at the inaccessibility of council life to some women. Barriers include working hours, child care provision, work-life balance and the idea of merit, as well as the “archaic systems” in place in some political parties which do little to promote, let alone advance, the active participation of women in local politics in Scotland. There was also a lengthy discussion about the culture of council chambers, with the attitudes of some men within them being seen as less than encouraging – although this was robustly rebutted by some women (notably Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale), who emphasised the positive impact that men had had on their political development.

Willie Rennie, one of the session panellists, acknowledged his party’s poor record on female representation, which he called “embarrassing and shameful.” He set out plans to reform party structures to implement frameworks for elections which are similar to those used by other parties.

Clear barriers … but no straightforward answers

There was a long discussion during a panel session with female councillors from the COSLA Women’s Task Group about the possibility of setting up a forum in order to create a space for women in local government seeking advice and support. This was widely supported by conference delegates.

Other suggestions to increase accessibility and change perceptions around women in public life included:

  • promoting a cross party consensus on encouraging women candidates to stand in local and parliamentary elections;
  • creating a mentoring scheme to encourage more young women to participate and give them an opportunity to learn, but also potentially to help change the culture of others;
  • using negative comments to drive participation and improve the contribution of women, through a desire to enact real fundamental change in the current system;
  • remembering that it is not just in local authorities that women need to have more presence – it was stressed by a number of delegates that numerous public bodies should be encouraged either to attend events like this, or to host their own;
  • considering and using, if necessary, statutory measures to advance the role of women (this does not necessarily mean the use of quotas, although it was felt that there should be a robust discussion concerning women and quotas).

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Building on positive steps

The day’s discussion highlighted that there are already a large number of women involved in public life in Scotland, but there are far more who leave it or are put off contributing because of the barriers which exist and the difficulties many women have in overcoming these barriers.

Nicola Sturgeon has already committed her party to promoting greater equality on the boards of public bodies through the introduction of quotas if the SNP wins in the Scottish Parliament election in May. It is clear that, while this is encouraging, much more needs to be done. Equalities issues are broader than gender – other groups are also seriously under-represented.

All political parties and public bodies need to seriously consider what steps need to be taken to achieve lasting, positive change.


Read some of our other blogs on equalities issues:

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Increasing participation in sport and physical activity

by Stacey Dingwall

Our latest member briefing focuses on increasing participation in sport and physical activity in the UK, looking at successful examples of increasing activity and ways in which policymakers are trying to overcome the barriers to participation in sport and physical exercise. You can download the briefing for free from the Knowledge Exchange publications page.

Physical activity levels in the UK

Despite the longstanding and valued position in British society of sport, getting people of all ages involved in sport and physical activity has become increasingly challenging. While current UK guidelines for aerobic activity recommend that adults aged 19 and over should spend at least 150 minutes per week in moderately intensive physical activity, the latest statistics on physical activity from the British Heart Foundation indicate that:

  • Only 67% of men in England and Scotland report meeting recommended levels of physical activity, and only 59% in Northern Ireland and 37% in Wales;
  • Women are less active than men in all UK countries, with 58% reporting meeting recommended levels in Scotland, 55% in England, and 49% in Northern Ireland and 23% in Wales;
  • Physical activity levels vary by household income; in England in 2012, 76% of men in the highest income quintile reached recommended levels, compared to 55% of men in the lowest income quintile.

The implications of inactivity

Low levels of physical activity not only have health implications, but also economic – in the UK, inactivity has been estimated to cost the NHS £1.1billion (Allender, 2007) with indirect costs to society bringing this cost to a total of £8.2billion.

Government action

Our briefing highlights the range of policies and interventions implemented by the UK and devolved governments to try and increase participation in sport and physical activity among the population. These include the Department of Education’s £150m per year Primary PE and Sport Premium Fund; and Scotland’s sport strategy for children and young people, Giving Children and Young People a Sporting Chance.

Good practice – home and abroad

In addition, the briefing profiles successful interventions at the community level, such as Let’s Get Fizzical, a physical activity programme for young people delivered by StreetGames in collaboration with Birmingham City Council. International examples of good practice are also highlighted, including the Active Healthy Kids Canada programme and the North Karelia Project in Finland.


 

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Female entrepreneurship – making it happen!

By Donna Gardiner

On Sunday 8th March, people around the globe will come together to celebrate the economic, social and political achievements of women as part of International Women’s Day. The day also presents an opportunity to call for greater gender equality.

One of the great success stories for women’s equality has been the increase in women’s employment rates over the past forty years. Indeed, women’s employment levels are now higher than at any other time since records began.

However, despite this great progress, rates of female entrepreneurship have not matched this pace. A recent report by the Ambassador for Women in Enterprise, Lorely Burt MP, notes that only one in five businesses in the UK are majority-owned by women, and that women are significantly less likely than men to start their own business.

The report looked at the ways in which the government could help to address the barriers faced by female entrepreneurs and increase the opportunities available to them. It makes a number of recommendations, in particular:

  • Making available support, including networking and finance, more accessible to women;
  • Being more inclusive in communications with potential female entrepreneurs;
  • Tackling unconscious basis in the presentation of services to women;
  • Making greater, and better, use of the Great Business website, particularly the section targeted at women.

As well as promoting greater equality and choice for women, the report argues that improving support for female entrepreneurs could have significant economic benefits. For example, it cites research by the Women’s Business Council, which estimates that, if women were setting up new businesses at the same rate as men, there would be one million more female entrepreneurs. Indeed, raising the level of women’s employment to the same as men’s could lift GDP by as much as 10% by 2030.

Signs of progress

There are some promising signs of progress. Since 2008, the proportion of Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) run mainly by women has increased from 14% to 19%.

Recently there has also been an increased focus on broadening young women’s aspirations and understanding of career options while they are still in education, partially as a result of recommendations put forward by the Women’s Business Council in 2013.

In 2014, a follow-up report assessed the progress that had been made against these recommendations. Successful initiatives included a pilot project to help female students develop entrepreneurial skills, and use of the Speakers for Schools scheme to enable successful female entrepreneurs to discuss their experiences with pupils and act as positive role models. We also wrote last year about the importance for girls of having female role models within science and technology, when considering career choices.

The government has also stepped up its support for existing and new female entrepreneurs, recently announcing a £1million challenge fund to help women grow their business online, the introduction of Start Up Loans, the Enterprise Allowance and local growth hubs, and the provision of £1.6 million to support women entrepreneurs in rural areas.

Mentoring can help

Karren Brady, a top female entrepreneur, known for her role on the BBC’s The Apprentice, and as vice-chair of West Ham Football Club, is passionate about female entrepreneurs and SMEs. She suggests that “fear and a lack of confidence can stand in the way of women” and recommends that budding entrepreneurs should find a mentor to help guide them.

She is not the only one to recognise the benefits of mentors for women entrepreneurs.  The government recently announced additional funding for a series of ‘Meet a mentor’ events which are aimed solely at women.

The issue of female entrepreneurship has even found its way into popular women’s magazines such as Elle and Red, both of which have recently been promoting female entrepreneurship, through dedicated sections and discussions on business start ups and highlighting advice and guidance from strong female role models.

There are clearly many facets to tackling the low rates of female entrepreneurship. As well as ensuring that potential women entrepreneurs can access practical support and services, there is a need to tackle the underlying notion held by many that business is a ‘male activity’.

By doing so, women who want to run their own business will be better placed to obtain both the resources and the confidence required to “make it happen”.


Further reading

Whether you are interested in entrepreneurship or equalities, the Idox Information Service can help.

The Burt report: inclusive support for women in enterprise Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2015

Maximising women’s contribution to future economic growth: one year on Women’s Business Council, 2014

Realising the potential (under-representation of women in Scottish entrepreneurship), IN Holyrood, No 314 17 Mar 2014, pp73-74 (A49229)

Women and the economy: government action plan Government Equalities Office, 2013

Entrepreneurs: what can we learn from them? Inspiring female entrepreneurs Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2013

Women in business: female entrepreneurship – creating growth and dispelling the myths Federation of Small Businesses, 2011

Sharing the caring – tackling the cultural and financial barriers to Shared Parental Leave

Baby hand in father's palmBy Donna Gardiner

New Shared Parental Leave legislation came into force in England, Scotland and Wales on the 1st December 2014.

The legislation provides much greater flexibility in regards to how parents care for their child over the first year of his or her life. Specifically, a new mother can opt to curtail her maternity leave (subject to a minimum of two weeks), and have the child’s father or her partner take any of the remaining weeks as Shared Parental Leave.

Anticipated uptake and impact

The aim of the legislation is to encourage more men to share childcare, drive greater gender equality in the workplace, and eliminate discrimination around maternity leave. The government estimates that around 285,000 couples will be eligible to share leave from April 2015, and that take up will be around 8%.  However, it is not clear whether significant numbers of fathers will take up Shared Parental Leave in practice.

On one hand, there does appear to be evidence that fathers will welcome the new proposals. Research conducted by Working Families found that many fathers wanted to increase the amount of time they spent at home with their children. Indeed, many fathers, particularly those in the 26-35 age group, felt resentful towards their employers because of their poor work-life balance.

These findings are echoed by the IPPR, which found that one in five fathers wanted to change their working patterns, and another one in five wanted to spend more time with their baby, but couldn’t because of financial or workplace reasons. Another report found that over half (57%) of fathers working full time wanted to reduce their hours to spend more time with their children.

Cultural and financial barriers

However, despite the apparent desire among fathers to spend more time with their children, considerable barriers remain. Continue reading