Some may argue that what follows has little to do with social enterprise or the wider third sector. I disagree. Inequality is of critical interest to all organisations that are committed to giving practical expression to equality both in what they do and in the employment practices they operate.
And this is why Making Devolution Work for Women: West Midlands Data Report, new research just published jointly by BVSC, The Fawcett Society and West Midlands Women’s Voice, is so important. Focusing on the West Midlands, one of the ten devolution deals so far struck with the government, the report looks at devolution through the lens of gender equality and finds that judged against any measure you might care to choose — employment levels, skills, pay, caring responsibilities and, yes, even transport (such a prominent feature of the WM deal) — devolution is not delivering for women.
The report finds that women in the WM are paid on average 13.9% less than men. They are also less likely to be employed than men — there is a gender ’employment gap’ of 12.4%, wider than the UK, and widening while the UK gap is gradually closing. Only 10% of better paid jobs in the WM are advertised as flexible and thus more likely to accommodate women with caring responsibilities. And perhaps needless to say, all of these factors hit women from BME backgrounds hardest. White women have an employment rate of 67.8% across the WM, but amongst women from all BME groups the employment rate is only 48.5%. Black and Black British women have an employment rate of 56.8% while amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi women this tumbles to only 35.7%.
We also know from TUC research published in 2015 that the West Midlands has a major problem with low pay, including entrenched low pay hot-spots across the region.
But this research is important for other reasons too. While the WMCA is making substantial efforts to engage more widely in developing policies that will meet its inclusive growth agenda this research offers a practical starting point to anyone who might be struggling — like me — to work out what priorities one should expect to see “inclusive growth” addressing. It also performs a further huge service. For too long ‘devolution’ has been the preserve of local government policy anoraks; the publication of this data gives us a much needed critical framework in which to assess devolution, and the importance of this cannot be overstated.
If we are to have economic growth policies in the West Midlands capable of promoting inclusive growth then this surely has to mean policies that actively reduce inequalities rather than widen them, as seems so often to be the outcome when economic growth is the primary or over-riding consideration.
I think it’s fantastic to see BVSC, The Fawcett Society and West Midlands Women’s Voice working together on this and everyone involved should be congratulated.
One final point must be made, however. If this report is treated only as a stick with which to beat the WMCA, its impact will be limited. The task now is surely to try and ensure that its concerns are embedded not just in every aspect of the WMCA’s policy-making apparatus but also in its politics.