This essay provides a context for the discussion of women’s social exclusion in contemporary Britain. It begins with an overview of the way in which social exclusion is defined. By weighing up the relevant literature the essay will then move on to discuss whether women’ social inclusion is possible in modern Britain. In order to do this the essay will begin with a discussion of social inclusion in terms of state intervention and legislation. The other areas of interest that have been explored and studied in great depth and which the essay will discuss in detail include the following, Employment, Housing, and Politics.
In relation to these areas the essay will attempt to argue that although inclusion of women is desirable by many groups, for example feminists, men and the state, achievement still seems very unlikely. Despite the very many gains of women over the last two centuries gender differences and the persistence of inequalities between men and women still exist in modern Britain. Therefore, women, on the whole continue to be socially excluded and subordinate to men within contemporary society. On the one hand Social inclusion conveys a right to belong.
On the other, social exclusion creates a group of people who are excluded from exercising the rights enjoyed by other citizens. The following, quite comprehensive, definition of social exclusion comes from the European Commission: ‘Social exclusion refers to the multiple and changing factors resulting in people being excluded from the normal exchanges, practices and rights of modern society. It also refers to inadequate rights in housing, education, health, and access to services’. (Saraga, 1998: 20-21).
What impact, if any has the government and equal opportunities policies had upon achieving women’s inclusion? On the one hand it can be argued that the government emphasises equality of opportunity and intervenes in trying to achieve full inclusion of women in modern society. In responding to the social exclusion of women and the problems they face, the government has built upon legislation, which provides women with a firm basis for pursuing equality of opportunity. The Equal pay Act 1970 eliminates discrimination between men and women in regard to pay and other terms of their contracts of employment.
The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 makes discrimination between men and women on the grounds of sex unlawful in employment and training, education, provision of goods and facilities. The Sex Discrimination Act 1986 lifted legal restrictions on women’s hours of work which prevented them from working shifts at night, stipulated the maximum number of hours that they could work, and curtailed overtime working. Furthermore, the Employment Protection Act 1975 gives important rights to a working woman expecting a baby; they have a right not to be unfairly dismissed because of pregnancy.
They are also entitled to return to work not later than 29 weeks after the birth of the baby. These developments ensure that women enjoy equality of access to jobs at every level. There are a number of other positive policies that have been enacted on behalf of women. These include, the extension of maternity leave to women employed for six months, the extension of family credit to part time works who are predominantly women, the introduction of child-care vouchers for nursery school age children, (Smith, 2002: 184-200).
Furthermore, it can be argued that in the past several years’ developments in the social security system have benefited women. All women can now claim for a partner on the same terms as men under the income support scheme, the housing benefit scheme, and the community charge benefit scheme, (Payne, 2000: 55-90). In terms of education the government has also provided more opportunities for women, particularly for mature students with domestic responsibilities.
Measures have been designed to encourage female recruitment; these include the improvement of guidance and information about opportunities and the promotion of more flexible forms of provision such as open learning schemes. One-year access course’s, run by further and higher education establishments have enabled older women with non-standard entry qualifications to gain entry to higher education. Some access courses cater exclusively for women, the growth of access courses has been very rapid in recent years, and there are now hundreds of courses on offer in Britain.
An example of one includes the Open University (1969), a development which bought higher education within the range of large numbers of women. These home based educational schemes are particularly suited to women’s needs with their flexible study hours and course arrangements, enabling students to organise study around their normal working and domestic circumstances, (Central Statistics Office: 1991: 34-44). Alternatively, according to Janie Percey Smith (2002) although inclusion of women is desirable difficulties have arisen with the way in which equal opportunities policies have been implemented in practice.
The impact of equal opportunities legislation has been patchy and practice varies dramatically within organisations, which describe themselves as equal opportunities employers. She states that despite more than 30 years of equal pay act, designed to ensure that women and men earn equal wages, still women working full time on average earn just 80 pence for every pound that a full time working man earns. The problem is even more acute for women who earn just 59 % of the hourly rate of full time male workers, (Smith, 2002: 184-200).
Moreover, Gilroy and Woods (1994) tell us that legislation is not based on consideration of the differences between men and women in terms of their role in the family-they are gender blind. Encouragement for women to participate in the employment field takes no account of the difficulties women face in everyday life. Ardener (1993) suggests that when thinking of the impact of government policies to include women in employment, we need to bear in mind the particular failures.
The failure to recognise the needs of women, the difficulties faced by women in combining home and family life, the failure to achieve equal pay, the failure to protect the rights of part time workers and the failure to address the lack of adequate and affordable childcare, (Ardener, 1993: 93-104). Unemployment is both a key characteristic and a primary economic cause of social exclusion. Feminists continue to socially interfere, they attempt to promote greater equality between men and women in employment. This interference has had substantial effects on women’s position in society, (Walker and Walker, 1996: 99-111).
In Britain Divided, Walker and Walker (1996) make the point that women are no longer excluded in employment to the extent that they were in the past, there have been some very important developments in this field. The restructuring of the labour market means that there are more jobs available for educationally low-achieving young women, (Walker and Walker, 1996: 45-66). Writing in 1995 Lisa Adlans argued that more husbands want their wives to participate in the labour and more parents are encouraging daughters to do well in terms of education and employment.
In the last thirty years the number of women in the labour force has risen from 10 million to 13. 2 million, from 47% in 1959 to 70% in 2000, and there were 5. 8 part-time workers in spring 2001, of which 4. 8 million were women. Social Trends of 2002-3 show state that job tenure has risen dramatically among women with children. It is evident that more women are employed or seeking employment in Britain today than ever before. It has also been predicted that the gender gap in economic activity will continue to narrow, (Open University Press: 2003: 3).
Furthermore, greater numbers of women are beginning to rise to the most senior positions. Large corporations have appointed women either to their boards of directors or to take charge of subsidiary forums, (Adlans, 1995: 114-50). Referring to Janie Percey Smith (2002) she states that the changing character of the British economy, with the expansion of service sector industries such as banking and insurance, and the growth in part time employment, has given women wider working opportunities.
Moreover, the department of employment wants full participation of women in employment as it is broadening opportunities for women to train for jobs involving high skill or high responsibility through special grant and scholarship schemes. It also funds research into problems facing women in employment so that they are not excluded, (Smith, 2002: 23-42). On the other hand, Duncan and Edwards (1999) assert that most employers still discriminate against female employees. Research was conducted in ‘Global hotel’.
Once employed, women in all occupations were obliged to conform to a plethora of standards relating to their personal appearance in ways, which men were not. They were subject to different forms of regulation, more women are likely to be subject to intervention in relation to their appearance. According to this finding it can be argued that some workplaces deliberately exclude women employees by tightly controlling and regulating their appearance. (Adlans, 1995: 122-3). In Women and Poverty in Britain, Glendinning and Miller note that employers clearly have a view of what is appropriate work for women.
Women are placed in relatively powerless positions, which are based on specific forms of control and appropriation of women’s labour or work. Many female occupations are clearly regarded as using the ‘natural abilities’ women are seen as requiring in the private sphere, caring for young children, nursing, preparing and serving food, and in general securing the needs of others-emotional labour’. Characteristics associated with men are said to be necessary for management positions within non-manual occupations and for skilled positions within the manual classification.
Although there have been several developments women still find it difficult to obtain employment in traditional male occupations and men continue to be reluctant to move into traditional female ones, (Glendinning and Miller, 1987: 28-53). Despite evidence that there are more female head teachers, vice chancellors, women professors and managers, they still remain in the minority. There are only 14% of solicitors and barristers that are women, only 3% of high court judges, less than 10% Orthopaedic surgeons, less than 30% airline pilots and only 8% of the populations women are MPs.
Analysis of the labour market has also shown that women typically earn less than men (Beechey 1987). Furthermore, In 1996 women in full time employment still earned only 72% of men’s average weekly earnings and 80% of their average hourly earnings. Moreover, women have less secure employment than men, are segregated into limited range of occupations, are excluded from access to labour market resources (such as particular skills) and have unequal access to promotional/career ladders, (www. socialexclusionunit. gov. uk) .
It has also been noted that women participate in waged work to a lesser extent than men, it can be argued that women’s employment options are constrained by inadequate childcare provision. This finding supports the view that inclusion of women although desirable, is not achievable. Formal childcare is still largely unavailable, either because it does not exist or is beyond the means of low-income mothers. Without accessible childcare women are forced to either leave work altogether or to take jobs that suit their demands.
Often these jobs are part time and in sectors that have low pay, low status and very little training or career progression. They are concentrated in sectors such as cleaning, caring, catering and retail, (Central Statistical Office, 1991: 28-34). Housing is relevant to social exclusion because of the connection with education, employment prospects, and health. It can be argued that the government wants women to have equal access to housing, as do these women themselves.
Under the housing, goods, facilities and services Act, with certain exceptions, it is unlawful to discriminate against a man or a woman when selling or letting land, housing, flats, and business premises. Gilroy and Woods (1994) have argued that despite legislation exclusion of women still exists, men and women entering the housing market have differential choices and bargaining power. It is possible to argue that women will continue to be excluded in housing because inequalities still remain.
Gilroy observes that upon divorce among owner-occupiers, custodial fathers have greater staying power in the tenure compared with custodial mothers, who are more likely to end up renting. Most these women have no choice but to graduate towards the least desirable dwellings and areas. The jobs in these areas are scarce and shops are expensive and hard to get to. The public services in these estates are under severe strain because of the high levels of demand on shrinking budgets.
Poor housing has a substantial effect on the moral and mental health of mothers who have to cope with problems such as dampness day after day, which further leads to their exclusion. Some of these women move into the rented sector while others have no alternative, (Gilroy and Woods, 1994: 58-74). Official statistics based on the view of homelessness dictated by central government also show women as mothers making up the largest group of homeless households. It is estimated that over 1. 3 million older people are living in poor housing conditions in urgent need of assistance, most of these people are women.
For many women headed households there are not, and probably will never be, the income levels to support owner occupation adequately, (Smith, 2002: 100-107). Furthermore, it can be argued that the British form of owner occupation, with mortgages which bear down heavily in the early years, favour high or dual earners and therefore generally not women. In other words, home ownership through the mortgage system is geared towards those in better paid, secure, full time employment- male rather than female patterns of employment.
Therefore, it can be argued that inclusionary housing policies are not effective and housing exclusion still affects women in all tenures. Women’s position in both the labour market and the family still places them at a disadvantage in obtaining (and sustaining) access to housing. There is still evidence of direct discrimination by, for example, treating women’s earnings differently to those of men or not treating women seriously when they apply for a mortgage.
Attaining a mortgage, then, for women may not be the beginning of the happy ending so much as the start of financial misery. For a woman who is left a widow or who retains the marital home after divorce there maybe a struggle either to pay the mortgage and/or to maintain the property. Women who may have interrupted their careers to care for dependant adults may face the same financial problems, (Gilroy and Woods, 1994: 153-172). These findings demonstrate that there is still some way to go in achieving inclusion of women in the housing field.
In terms of public life it can be argued that the government wants more women to enjoy the same political rights as men, vote in parliamentary and local elections, be elected to the House of Commons or to local councils and sit in the House of Lords. The Government has legislated through the Sex Discrimination Act 2002 to allow political parties to take positive measures to reduce inequality in the numbers of men and women elected at local, national and European level. It also led a national campaign, organised by the Women and Equality Unit, to encourage more women onto the boards of national public bodies.
A practical guide was published in December 2002 to help other organisations run their own seminars. The aim is that women should hold 45-50% of public appointments made by the majority of Government departments by the end of 2005, (www. womenandequalityunit. gov. uk). However, it can be argued that it is highly unlikely that this target will be reached. The small number of women entering the House of Commons has been the subject of considerable comment for several years. House of Lords itself doesn’t reflect modern society; there are very few women in the sittings, the major seats are held by white, middle class males.
Women still remain seriously under-represented. Although, the number of women parliamentary candidates has increased, women still continue to experience difficulty in being adopted by political parties as candidates for a parliamentary election, (Gordon and Townsend, 2000: 357-361). In an article entitled ‘Shameful, Britain has fewer MPs than Turkmenistan’, in the Open University Press newspaper evidence is provided to support the point that the inclusion of women in the years to come seems highly unlikely.
The Equal Opportunities commission has described Britain’s records on women MPs ‘shameful’. Only 18% of our MPs are women. Moreover, in the 2001 General Election, the number of women MPs elected to the Commons fell for the first time in 20 years, this clearly demonstrates that inclusion seems rather difficult, (Open University Press, 2002-3 edition: 11). In conclusion, there is evidence that women’s social inclusion is desirable but in terms of achievement there is still some way to go.
The essay has demonstrated that gender is still a key aspect of social divisions in modern industrial societies. Women on the whole continue to be socially excluded and subordinate to men within contemporary society. Female status certainly carries with it many disadvantages compared with that of males in various areas of social life, including employment, education, property ownership, politics, income and so on. Despite new initiatives and commitments, the sad reality is that there are still major barriers, which prevent women from participating fully in contemporary society.
These barriers include inadequate child care provision, lack of adequate training, unequal pay and benefits, and financial disincentives, as well as traditional assumptions about work that men and women do and their respective roles in society. Unless these are dismantled, opportunities for women will not increase and social inclusion will not be achieved. Women’s housing needs are still too often neglected. It is important for those making housing policy or delivering housing services to understand the central significance of the home in women’s lives.
Furthermore, if women are to be helped into owner occupation, more funding is needed for equity share and mortgage rescue schemes. There is, of course, a vital need for more research to be carried out into the housing needs of women. Special measures are also needed to halt the decline in women’s MPs, for example, by developing better childcare provision, and positive discrimination procedures in selection. Legislation existing on paper is only one side of the story, since rights must be put into practice – millions of women still face a daily struggle for their human dignity.