The cost of barriers to paid work for women


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New analysis by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) has found that the cost of the barriers to paid work encountered by women – such as caregiving responsibilities, gender bias in recruitment and attitudes towards aging – has risen by 7% in the last year, meaning that nearly £100bn GVA is lost to the economy in England, Scotland and Wales annually – more than the contribution of the entire financial services sector in the UK.

The analysis was released to coincide with the publication of findings from a joint research project from the two organisations, which was launched today at an event in Leeds. At the event, West Yorkshire Mayor, Tracy Brabin, shared her thoughts on the report, Women’s Work.

Women’s Work has seen CLES and WBG partnering with Leeds City Council to conduct quantitative analysis on the outcomes for women in the city. This was supplemented by focus groups and interviews with diverse groups of women to better understand their lived experiences and the ways in which they can be prioritised in the development and implementation of economic strategies.

Dr Zubaida Haque, Deputy Director and Head of Research and Policy at WBG said:

“Women are often overlooked in local economic decision making and the local labour market. This report not only highlights the economic and social cost of this exclusion, but also how a gender inclusive approach to local economic decision making improves both the economic prospects of women and the local and national economy. 

“Recent reports and data on gender and economic inactivity, and gender and insecure work also underscore the importance of taking into account the type of work available to women, especially those who are carers. Low pay, the lack of guaranteed hours and flexible work and ill-health are holding back women’s labour market participation, taking a toll on their mental health, wellbeing and on the economy. You can’t have a healthy economy without healthy people.”

Dr Sarah Longlands, Chief Executive of CLES, said:

“For too long we’ve been talking about gender equality as if it wasn’t relevant to the question of how we build strong local economies. This report is about asking a simple question: what more could we achieve in terms of economic inclusion if we put the needs and potential of women at the heart of our decision-making processes?

“The analysis we have released today speaks for itself – progress on gender equality has stalled and we need a national effort to reverse the growing level of economic exclusion for women and their families, particularly for women with disabilities, women living in poverty and women of colour. There is still some way to go on addressing the multiple causes of economic exclusion for women. However, through this work we have been witness to powerful examples of what local authorities and their partners can do, even despite the current challenges they are dealing with. 

“We hope that this is the start of a new conversation about how we put the needs of, not just women but all marginalised communities, at the centre of economic policy.”

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Economy, Culture and Education, added:

“We are pleased and proud to have partnered with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and the Women’s Budget Group on this important project, which will help ensure that Leeds has an economy which is not only thriving but also works for everyone. The Council has long been determined to tackle the employment challenges that many women face, with our Inclusive Growth Strategy and existing initiatives such as the Future Talent Plan and Innovation@Leeds funding programme underlining our commitment to removing social, cultural, political and economic barriers of all kinds.

“We recognise, however, that there is still much to do when it comes to closing the gender pay gap. Women in Leeds earn an average of £10,000 less per year than men and are seven times more likely than men to be economically inactive due to family caregiving responsibilities. These issues are not unique to Leeds, but that does not lessen the need to address them. By taking the findings of today’s report and using them to inform our future actions and decisions, we aim to do exactly that.”

The paper makes a number of recommendations for local and regional authorities, focussed on the strategic approaches needed to underpin an agenda for change, including to commit to placing gender equality at the core of their economic approach, to underpin strategies with detailed baseline analyses and measures of success on gender equality and to establish mechanisms for meaningful engagement with, and accountability to women. To deliver on these strategic aims, the paper recommends actions on caregiving support, flexible employment, education and progression, community connections and wellbeing support, wealth and autonomy, and representation in leadership. Finally, the report looks to Westminster and points to the significant additional powers to narrow gender inequalities that sit with national government, from ending austerity budgets to making fundamental reforms to hostile refugee and migrant policies and the cost of living crisis response.


Full data from CLES and WBG’s analysis can be found here (2024) and here (2023). Analysis was conducted through calculating the lost GVA in £bn to local economies (ITL2 sub-regions), as a result of the higher rate of economic inactivity of women compared to men in each area. This was used to estimate (for each local economy in the UK) the total additional economic output (GVA) that would be added if the same percentage of women were “economically active” as men,£GVAworker


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