Theresa May: If equality matters, we must support women in this recession

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There is no "typical" woman, and women will be affected by the downturn in different ways: as both employers and employees, as small business owners and entrepreneurs, as mothers, carers, home-owners, pensioners – women in all parts of the country will feel the effects on them and their families. This is the human face of recession, and it is essential that we take the right action to see people through it.

We all see the alarming unemployment figures which are affecting families in all parts of the country. There is certainly reason to believe that women will fare much worse in this recession than they did in previous ones. Whereas in the last recession, industries where women's jobs dominate – such as retail, and hotels and catering – fared quite well compared to manufacturing and construction, this time it is clear that all sectors of the economy are being hit.

This is shown by the fact that, although men's redundancy rates remain higher than women's, the growth in redundancy for women is double that of men. The effects of redundancy can be particularly harsh on women, who tend to earn less and have fewer savings. Lone parents with children can particularly be at risk of hardship, with evidence showing that women with dependent children are more likely than other women to be unemployed. And the effect on a family of a woman becoming unemployed could be greater in this recession than in the past because women's contributions to family income are higher than they have been previously.

There is also concern that women's aspirations will be hit as they pass up opportunities for promotion, concerned that "last in, first out" arrangements might make it not worth their while. So this recession will directly impact women in ways that previous ones have never done.

It is right to talk about fairness in the economy. But equality should never be the enemy of common-sense. Equality should not get in the way of businesses, but should help them to work better. To those who suggest that equality can be swept aside in a recession, I say that equality should be for all times, not just good times.

This is an edited extract from Shadow Minister for Women Theresa May's speech in Parliament yesterday

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