Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Why it's women who are first hit hard by a recession

Karren Brady
Karren Brady

Well might Karren Brady say it's no bad thing for a woman to go back to work after having a baby, and it might be more sensible anyway.

If they can afford the childcare and deal with the mental wrench, they would be wise to do so. Because the recession is hitting women in particular and those in work should probably not consider rocking the boat. This is not special pleading. It is simply the case.

A Radio 4 documentary I have made looks at how the so-called 'squeezed middle' across the country is coping.

My interviewees were not claiming poverty; in their words, they were 'skint', with no cash to spare, no savings, and fears about the future. They were indignant that it seemed to be the middle class – and its women in particular – suffering most.

"It is a female issue. It is a feminist issue," says Anna, who works at a literacy development agency and has adopted two children.

"It is something which curtails women's ability to invest in their career."

Childcare costs, in particular, she feels, are a hindrance.

"I wonder if it's because of the career choices we made," says her friend Suzy, who runs a book festival and assures me she is dressed completely in charity shop gear.

"We didn't go and work in insurance.

"We didn't go and do whatever you should to get into a 'proper job', that gives you pensions and a salary."

Indeed, it would seem that 'female jobs' – arty, creative, inessential – are the first casualties of a global recession.

Caroline believes she now leads a life of drudgery unknown by her mother and grandmother. "I was part of a generation of young women who went to university in the early 1980s. I was told I could have it all.

I thought I could have a cleaner and go out occasionally. Let me tell you what I do now... I can save a huge amount of money by making bread and having no cleaner and lurking by the checkout in the Co-op and seeing what I can do with spinach today."

Helena says: "It's not such a hardship, but it just makes me really angry, cleaning the house. I think, 'I didn't go to university for four years in order to do this'."

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