Submission from the Women's Budget Group
The Women's Budget Group, and
Baroness Margaret Prosser, Chair of the Women and
Baroness Joyce Gould, Interim Chair, Women's National
Baroness Haleh Afshar, Professor of Politics and
Women's Studies, York University, Chair of the Muslim Women's
Professor Liz Kelly, Director of the Child and Woman
Abuse Studies Unit London Metropolitan University, Chair of the
End Violence Against Women Campaign
Fay Mansell, Chair, National Federation of Women's
Dr Katherine Rake, Director, Fawcett Society
Fran Bennett, Senior Research Fellow, Department
of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Oxford; UK independent
expert on social inclusion for the European Commission
Professor Claire Callender, Professor of Higher Education
Studies, Birkbeck, University of London
Professor Diane Elson, Professor of Sociology, University
Professor Damian Grimshaw, Professor of Employment
Studies and Director of EWERC (European Work and Employment Research
Centre), Manchester Business School
Professor Susan Himmelweit, Professor of Economics,
Professor Heather Joshi, Institute of Education,
University of London
Professor Hilary Land, Emeritus Professor of Family
Policy, University of Bristol
Professor Ruth Lister, Professor of Social Policy,
University of Loughborough
Professor Marjorie Mayo, Director of the Centre for
Lifelong Learning and Community Engagement, Goldsmiths, University
Professor Jane Millar, Director, Centre for the Analysis
of Social Policy, University of Bath
Professor Diane Perrons, Director, Gender Institute,
London School of Economics
Professor Shirin Rai, University of Warwick, Professor
of Politics and International Relations
Professor Jackie Scott, University of Cambridge,
Director of the ESRC Research Centre on Gender Inequalities
Professor Holly Sutherland, Institute for Social
and Economic Research, University of Essex
Professor Sylvia Walby, Professor of Sociology, Lancaster
The Women's Budget Group (WBG) is a think tank
dedicated to the promotion of gender equality through appropriate
economic and social policy. Our primary function is to advise
government and others about the gender implications of policy,
particularly about the impact on gender equality of different
proposals for the use of resources. We assess not only policies
targeted specifically at women and girls but also those that are
apparently "gender neutral", raising awareness that
because of women's and men's different social and economic positioning
many such policies will have a differential gender impact. Such
analysis of the differing gender impacts of policies has become
particularly important since the introduction of the duty on public
sector bodies to promote gender equality (the "gender equality
The Women's Budget Group and its members have
worked with and been consulted by various departments of government
including HM Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions, Department
for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Department for
Communities and Local Government.
Supporting signatories are members of the WBG
or otherwise have expertise in the field of women's equality,
education, employment, social care and child poverty.
The WBG would be willing to give oral evidence
to the Committee.
1. The proposed withdrawal of funding for
ELQ students is likely to have deleterious consequences on women
(and men) seeking to retrain after a period spent out of the labour
market or in part-time employment because of caring responsibilities.
Such interruptions or reductions in employment can result in severe
and long-term labour market disadvantage. This is an important
cause of the gender pay gap which the government is committed
to reducing. It is the main reason why many women work below their
potential with consequent loss of productivity to the economy.
2. Taking further qualifications is one
route out of this trap. People contemplating retraining to enter
into employment or move out of low grade part-time employment
are at a stage in their lives when they are unlikely to be in
a position to pay higher fees. Reducing subsidies will therefore
reduce the numbers doing such training.
3. These students are also most likely to
study part-time, as are those in similar circumstances but without
previous qualifications. Reducing the numbers of ELQ students
will impact on the availability of part-time education for all
students, including those without previous qualifications. These
are the less privileged students, those from backgrounds that
have not traditionally considered higher education, about whose
access and opportunities the government is rightly concerned.
Over three fifths of part-time students are women.
4. If access to retraining for women returners
and carers is restricted or becomes unaffordable there are also
likely to be deleterious effects on:
Children and especially those living
Good employers willing to provide
high quality part-time employment for returners.
5. We recommend that:
An equalities impact assessment of
this policy be carried out before it is implemented.
The results of such an assessment
be assessed as part of the 2009 review of higher education funding
when the funding of part-time education as a whole will be considered.
If the policy is implemented, exemptions
be given for the education of those whose employment opportunities
have been reduced through taking on caring responsibilities.
6. In December 2006 Lord Leitch published
the conclusions of his review of skills in the UK economy. Lord
Leitch had been tasked by the Chancellor with examining the optimal
skills mix to maximise economic growth, productivity and social
justice. The Leitch Review concluded that the UK should aim to
be "world class" in skills by 2020 benchmarked against
the top quartile of OECD countries. This implies a massive step-change
in skill acquisition across all levels within the economy, more
than doubling at most levels. It also places huge emphasis on
qualifications as the way of measuring progress towards the ambition
of world class skills. There are of course huge costs to meeting
the ambition for world class skills, but these are easily outweighed
by the benefits.
7. In order to deliver this ambition government
policy will have to reach out to groups of individuals and employers
who have not traditionally been involved in life-long learning.
The decision to focus resources on first time learners and employer
supported training by removing funding for students studying for
an "Equivalent and Lower Qualification" (ELQ) appears
to be consistent with these priorities of the Leitch agenda.
8. However, it must be remembered that the
overarching goal is to maximise economic growth, productivity
and social justice. The Leitch Review has been justifiably criticized
for lacking systematic analysis of the impact of its recommendations
by gender. In particular its focus on training in the workplace
and on those without previous qualifications ignores the particular
needs of women re-entering the labour market after a period of
caring where re-skilling will be just as important to deliver
productivity and social justice. These needs and their connection
to raising women's productivity have been clearly documented in
research commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry.
9. Further, the Government accepted the
conclusions of the Women and Work Commission that reskilling is
crucial to addressing the gender pay gap. In response to their
report, Shaping a Fairer Future,
the Chancellor announced in Budget 2006 a £40 million pilot
on re-skilling women to be delivered in London and in partnership
with Sector Skills Councils.
10. Following the Comprehensive Spending
Review the Government announced a new Public Service Agreement
for Equalities (PSA15), that it would "Address the disadvantage
that individuals experience because of their gender, race, disability,
age, sexual orientation, religion or belief (The Equalities PSA)"
and adopted a measure of the gender pay gap "Reducing the
pay gap between men and women which currently stands at 12.6%,
and doing more work on understanding pay gaps for those who are
disabled or from BME backgrounds" as one of the key indicators
against which it will be held to account. This is the first time
that a PSA has committed to reducing the gender pay gap.
11. Education later in life, often more
focused than at earlier stages on particular employment related
qualifications, has been of great significance in updating the
skills not only of those in employment but also of those currently
out of the labour force, for whom new qualifications can open
up a route to productive employment and unleash individual potential.
Such a route back into worthwhile employment has been of particular
benefit to women and others who have taken time out of employment,
or reduced their hours of work, in order to care for others. In
a changing world of work, skills can rapidly deteriorate while
out of employment or in jobs where they are unused. Many people
with caring responsibilities, even if they remain in employment,
seeking hours which are compatible with those responsibilities,
take jobs where their existing skills are underused. The part-time
pay penalty is notoriously high, partly for that reason.
12. The longer-run employment and career
penalties of periods out of employment are heavy. Periods of part-time
work can be equally if not more damaging to long term prospects.
Women who have spent just one year in part-time work, and then
worked full-time, can still expect to earn up to 10% less after
15 years than those who have worked full-time for all 15 years.
Many women never return to full-time employment after a period
in part-time work and many more remain trapped in jobs working
below their potential as a result of periods spent out of full-time
There is, of course, a long-term cost to the Exchequer, and hence
to the tax payer, of the lack of access to more productive and
higher paid work consequent on the loss of access to education.
This is in both a loss of tax revenues and the higher cost of
Pension Guarantees for women in later life who have been less
able to build a decent pension.
13. Taking further qualifications is one
route out of this trap. Using the NCDS survey, Jenkins found that
among women not in employment in 1991, the percentage making a
transition into employment by 2000 was more than double for those
who had obtained a new qualification in this period.
This applies for all levels of previous qualifications, including
the highest level. Interestingly only one third of those new qualifications
were of a higher level than previous qualifications, so two thirds
of these were students studying for an `Equivalent and Lower Qualification'
although not all at HE levels.
14. While some may retrain by going into
full-time education, for most the same caring responsibilities
that have restricted their availability for full-time employment
mean that they choose to study part-time. The availability and
affordability of part-time education at all levels has therefore
been of crucial importance to women returners and those currently
employed in jobs which do not use their potential.
15. Such people are unlikely to be in a
position to pay higher fees, since this is a time at which family
budgets are often at their most stretched. Institutions that specialise
in part-time education are not restricted in the fees that they
can charge, suggesting that their students are already paying
what the market can bear. An inevitable result of raising fees
for ELQ students would be to reduce the affordability and hence
the demand for higher education from women returners and others
not using their skills in low paid employment.
16. Reduced access to second chance education
will therefore impact particularly heavily on women and others
who take time out of employment, or reduce their hours of employment
to care for others. In effect those with existing qualifications
will be denied the choice that many now take of using higher education
as a way of restarting a career after a period spent caring for
others. Since degree-level technical and vocational education
is increasingly required for employment, this will be a severe
blow to their life chances.
17. This in turn will have knock-on effects
On adults needing care, because carers,
aware that this path to return to worthwhile employment later
will be closed to them in the future, may feel less able and willing
to devote themselves to caring for others in the present. Given
the increasing need for social care, most of which is provided
unpaid, this should be of particular concern to the government
at the moment. It seems perverse to worsen the potential career
opportunities of carers.
On children and especially those
living in poverty. Enabling mothers as well as fathers to have
reliable careers is the best route out of poverty for children.
While fathers' incomes are important, for the many children whose
parents split up it is their mothers' ability to have reasonably
paid employment that is crucial to avoiding the myriad developmental
disadvantages of living in poverty.
On good employers willing to provide
high quality part-time employment for returners. Such employment
will become riskier for employers. If pre-employment education
becomes unaffordable, employers will have a restricted pool of
skills on which to draw and will no longer be able to rely on
the signal of commitment and abitly that those with previous qualifications
but currently out of the labour market could give, through undertaking
18. Further, cutting subsidies for ELQ students
will have knock on effects on those without previous qualifications
trying to use higher education as a way to re-enter employment,
by reducing provision and driving up unit costs. This will be
particularly true for part-time employment-related courses in
higher education, for which ELQ students form a sizeable proportion
of the market. The proposed policy therefore risks reducing the
availability of high quality accessible part time higher education
for first-time degree students while increasing its costs. Such
an unintended consequence could undermine the whole purpose of
the policy. For a saving of just £100 million, less than
1.4% of the total higher education budget, this is a big risk
19. Any such effects on the provision and
cost of part-time education will be felt most acutely by those
for whom such education is their first, and often only, choice,
and for whom it is particularly crucial in giving access to worthwhile
employment. These are the less privileged students, such as those
from disadvantaged, minority or migrant communities and from backgrounds
that have not traditionally considered higher education, about
whose access and opportunities the government is rightly concerned.
Among these, women returners and carers figure highly. Over three-fifths
of all part-time students are women.
20. Before implementing any change in the
funding of institutions for ELQ students the government should
conduct and publish an equalities impact assessment, which takes
account of the direct and indirect impacts of the proposed change
on both ELQ and first-time students, paying particular attention
to the interaction with the new gender pay gap target.
21. The results of such an impact assessment
should be used to inform the higher education funding review due
in 2009, when the funding of part-time education is to be considered.
It is only in this context that the effect on part-time higher
education as whole can be assessed and any deleterious effects
on widening participation in the sector be compensated for.
22. If a change in funding of institutions
for ELQ students goes ahead, exemptions should be given for the
education of those whose employment opportunities have been reduced
through taking on caring responsibilities. It is important that
such exemptions include those who have taken low grade part-time
employment as well as those who have been completely out of the
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Manning, A and Petrongolo, B (2005) The Part-time Pay Penalty,
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workers, Manchester: EOC Working Paper Series No 19. Back
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Employment", Work, Employment and Society, 20/2, 309-328,
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study in higher education in the UK: A quantitative data analysis
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