Table of contents
- 1. Introduction: The government’s gender equality roadmap
- 2. Economic wellbeing
- 3. Welfare
- 4. Safety
- 5. Opportunities
- 6. Read more
On 14 July 2022, the House of Lords is due to debate the following motion:
Baroness Gale (Labour) to move that this House takes note of the status of women and girls in the United Kingdom since 2010 with regards to their economic wellbeing, welfare, safety and opportunities.
1. Introduction: The government’s gender equality roadmap
In July 2019, the government announced the publication of its policy paper ‘Gender equality at every stage: A roadmap for change’. This paper detailed eight issues around gender inequality that the government had pledged to tackle, including limiting attitudes to gender and the gender pay gap. The policy paper noted that commitments in the roadmap would be “absorbed” into departments’ 2020/21 single departmental plans “as necessary”. In addition, the government stated that it would provide an annual progress report to Parliament, alongside yearly reporting against the Gender Equality Monitor. The monitor gathers several indicators into a single place to monitor gender equality across five areas:
- economic participation and progression
- attitudes and leadership
- education and skills
- crime and justice
- health and wellbeing
Announcing the launch of the roadmap, then Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt stated:
I want everyone in our country to be able to thrive in life. That means being able to be in control of the choices you make and have the opportunities you have to seize. We must be honest that many women do not have those choices or opportunities, and as a consequence are not able to be as financially resilient or independent […] This inequality is faced at every stage of a woman’s life—from how she is treated in the classroom, to the caring roles she often takes on, and the lack of savings or pension she accumulates.
As of July 2022, a progress report has not been published.
2. Economic wellbeing
2.1 Has economic wellbeing improved since 2010?
Since 2010, the number of women in employment in the UK has increased in absolute and percentage terms. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that there were 15.61 million women aged 16 and above in employment in the UK from February to April 2022. This represents increases of 201,000 compared to the same period in 2021 and 1.98 million compared to the same period in 2010. Since 2010, the employment rate for women aged between 16 and 64 has also increased from 65.5% to 72.3% in 2022. Over the same period, employment rates also increased for men aged between 16 and 64 from 75.0% to 79.0%.
Chart 1: Employment rates for people aged between 16 and 64, February–April 2010 to February–April 2021
(Office for National Statistics, ‘A02 SA: Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity for people aged 16 and over and aged from 16 to 64 (seasonally adjusted)’, 14 June 2022; figures have been rounded)
A similar pattern is demonstrated for women in full-time employment. The number of women in full-time employment increased by 1.9 million between February–April 2010 and February–April 2022 (from 7.8 million in 2010 to 9.7 million). The number of men in full-time employment also increased over the same period from 13.5 million to 14.8 million. In contrast, the number of women in part-time employment remained at 5.9 million in both 2010 and 2022. However, men in part-time employment saw a slight increase over the same timeframe, rising by approximately 200,000.
Chart 2: Full-time and part-time workers, millions, February–April 2010 to February–April 2022
(Office for National Statistics, ‘EMP01 SA: Full-time, part-time and temporary workers (seasonally adjusted)’, 14 June 2022; figures have been rounded)
Women have also experienced an increase in their nominal earnings since 2010. However, average wage levels for women remain lower than for men. In its latest analysis on employee earnings in the UK in 2021, the ONS reported that female employees working full-time received median weekly earnings of £558 in April 2021. In contrast, male full-time employees received £652. As of April 2021, median weekly earnings for female full-time employees were £119 higher (27%) than in 2010, while median earnings for men were £114 higher (22%). These are in the context of increases in inflation of 23.2% over the same period.
Chart 3: Median gross weekly earnings for full-time employees, 2010 to 2021, April 2021 prices
(Office for National Statistics, ‘Annual survey of hours and earnings time series of selected estimates’, 26 October 2021, table 2; figures have been rounded)
Gender pay gap
Despite the higher average earnings enjoyed by men, the ONS reports that the gender pay gap has narrowed since 2010. The gender pay gap is calculated as the difference between average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men and women as a proportion of men’s average hourly earnings (excluding overtime).
In percentage terms, the ONS reports that the gender pay gap among full-time employees was 7.9% between women and men in April 2021. In contrast, the gender pay gap for part-time employees was minus 2.7%, showing women are paid a higher average wage than men for part-time work. The gender pay gap for all employees, full and part-time, was 15.4% less for women than men in 2021. The gender pay gap is higher for all employees than it is for full-time employees or part-time employees. This is because women fill more part-time jobs, which in comparison with full-time jobs have lower hourly median pay.
Since April 2010, the gender pay gap has declined by approximately a quarter (from 19.8% to 15.4%) amongst all employees.
Chart 4: Gender pay gap for median gross hourly earnings (excluding overtime), April 2010 to April 2021
(Office for National Statistics, ‘Gender pay gap in the UK: 2021’, 26 October 2021)
2.2 How has the government sought to improve conditions for women in employment?
The government has stated that it is committed to promoting gender equality and supporting women in the workplace. In recent years, it has proposed and introduced measures to work towards this. Measures include consulting on proposals to support employed parents, plans to introduce neonatal pay and leave and the launch of a fund to support women’s wellbeing in the workplace.
Consultation on proposals to support employed parents
From July to November 2019, the government consulted on possible options to support employed parents. This included:
- parental leave and pay: potentially moving to a single ‘family’ set of leave entitlements or seeking to reform existing entitlements
- neonatal leave and pay: parents would receive one week of neonatal leave and pay for every week that their baby is in neonatal care, up to a maximum number of weeks
- transparency: examining whether large employers (with 250-plus employees) should publish their family related leave and pay policies on their website
Responding to the feedback from the consultation, the government stated that it would be publishing a response on parental leave and pay “in due course”. Turning to neonatal leave and pay, the government stated in response to feedback that it would:
- introduce leave for parents of babies in neonatal care
- introduce statutory pay for parents of babies in neonatal care
- legislate to implement the entitlement in a forthcoming Employment Bill (although no bill was announced in the 2022 Queen’s Speech)
In the 2020 budget, the government announced that the entitlement for neonatal leave and pay for employees “whose babies spend an extended period of time in neonatal care” would be introduced by the 2023/24 financial year.
On transparency, the government stated that it would not be introducing a “one-size-fits-all approach to publishing a flexible working statement or policy, enforced by a legislative requirement”. Instead, it stated that it intended to continue to support flexible working on a “voluntary basis”. The government also said that it believed that making the right to request flexible working a “day one right” would “better help deliver the culture change which could lead to flexible advertising becoming the norm”.
In September 2021, the government consulted to reform flexible working regulations, including making the right to request flexible working a day one right. The consultation ran until December 2021. As of July 2022, the government is still analysing responses to the consultation.
Other notable commitments
In May 2022, the government launched a fund to support women’s reproductive wellbeing in the workplace. The fund would provide grants of up to £600,000 for organisations in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector who specialise in women’s wellbeing services. Announcing the fund, the government stated that this would ensure women experiencing reproductive issues, such as the menopause or pregnancy loss, were “better supported” to remain in or return to the workplace throughout their careers.
In the same month, the government committed to bringing forward measures to “further improve” women’s rights in the workplace “as soon as parliamentary time allows”. These measures would include extending redundancy protections for women returning from maternity leave and introducing a new duty on employers to “take steps” to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
2.3 Do women in employment feel supported by the government?
Several organisations and charities have praised the government’s commitments relating to reproductive wellbeing and neonatal leave and pay. However, others have criticised the government for failing to legislate on such measures in the 2022 Queen’s Speech or introduce new arrangements for flexible working.
A number of charities welcomed the government’s launch of a grant fund to support women’s reproductive wellbeing in the workplace. The charity Sands, which focuses on stillbirth and neonatal death, stated that the fund gave women’s health the “acknowledgement and awareness it deserves”. Similarly, Wellbeing of Women, a charity focused on improving women’s health, said that the funding would “benefit not only women and their families, but also employers, businesses, and wider society too”.
On the government’s intention to bring forward measures to introduce neonatal pay and leave, the charity Bliss, which supports families of babies born either premature or sick, said it was “delighted” with the commitment. However, it was disappointed to hear that it would not come into force until April 2023. The Smallest Thing, a premature baby charity, also criticised the government for failing to include the Employment Bill—which would include neonatal leave and pay in its provisions—in the 2022 Queen’s Speech. It stated that “the continuous delay” in implementing neonatal leave and pay was “costing parents time with their babies”.
Focusing on support for women in employment during the Covid-19 pandemic, the union Unison had criticised the government for “failing women on flexible working” and warned that the pandemic has “highlighted the need” for new arrangements. Reporting the findings of its survey of 46,894 women key workers in February 2021, the union reported that 54% of respondents felt that they were failing to spend enough quality time with their families, whilst 21% of women performed a caring role for an adult. Unison argued that the findings revealed that the pandemic had an “unequal impact on women”. Therefore, it called on the government to give women a “greater ability” to work flexible hours and from home where possible, which would “help them manage their responsibilities”.
3.1 Have health outcomes improved for women in recent years?
A study by Manual, a wellbeing platform for men, found that the UK had the 12th largest female health gap in the world. It concluded that female health gaps were “proof that patriarchy can afford better healthcare” and that women were “less studied, misdiagnosed, and taken less seriously by the health system”.
The ONS examines and publishes data on health inequality, including trends in life expectancy and disability by sex. In the UK, females have longer life expectancies than men. Between 2018 and 2020, life expectancy at birth for females was 82.9 and 79.0 for men. However, females also spend a greater proportion of their lives living with disability than men. The ONS reported that between 2015 to 2017 and 2018 to 2020, females spent approximately a quarter of their lives with disability, compared to around one fifth for men.
However, life expectancy and disability are not the only indicators towards measuring health outcomes. The following sources provide further information and statistics on some of the factors affecting women’s health outcomes:
- House of Lords Library, Women’s health outcomes: Is there a gender gap?, 1 July 2021
- Breast Cancer UK, ‘Facts and figures’, accessed 6 July 2022
- Cancer Research UK, ‘Cervical cancer statistics’, accessed 6 July 2022
- Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK (MBRACE-UK), ‘Saving lives, improving mother’s care: Lessons learned to inform maternity care from the UK and Ireland confidential enquiries into maternal deaths and morbidity 2017–19’, 11 November 2021
- Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, ‘Reproductive health: 2021 update’, 2 November 2021
The women’s mental health taskforce—which was set up by the government in 2017—contends that women were more likely to experience common mental health conditions than men. The taskforce noted that whilst rates remained relatively stable in men, the rate was increasing in women. It also noted that young women were a particularly high-risk group, with 26% experiencing a common mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression, compared to 9.1% of young men. Additionally, the latest ONS data on suicides in England and Wales found that between 2010 and 2021, suicide rates had increased amongst females in the following age groups:
- 10 to 24 years: 2.1 to 2.5 per 100,000 females
- 25 to 44 years: 4.7 to 5.7 per 100,000 females
- 45 to 64 years: 5.9 to 6.4 per 100,000 females
Despite such increases, 75.1% of registered suicide deaths in 2020 were for men (3,925 deaths).
3.2 What action has the government taken to improve women’s health outcomes?
Women’s health strategy for England
On 8 March 2021, in a statement in the House of Commons, the then minister for patient safety, suicide prevention and mental health, Nadine Dorries, announced that the government would be creating the first government-led women’s health strategy for England. In her statement, Ms Dorries said that “we must acknowledge that for generations women have lived with a healthcare system that is designed by men, for men”. She also stated that despite women making up 51% of the population, “we still know little about some female-specific issues”.
To support the strategy, Ms Dorries announced a call for evidence, with the government seeking to “hear from as many women as possible, from all ages and backgrounds, about what works well and what we need to change”. The call for evidence also sought to examine women’s experiences of the whole health and care system, including: mental health; addiction services; neurological conditions; gynaecological conditions; menopause; pregnancy; and post-natal support. The call for evidence was based around six core themes:
- placing women’s voices at the centre of their health and care
- improving the quality and accessibility of information and education on women’s health
- ensuring the health and care system understands and is responsive to women’s health and care needs across the life course
- maximising women’s health in the workplace
- ensuring that research, evidence and data support improvements in women’s health
- understanding and responding to the impacts of Covid-19 on women’s health
The call for evidence ran until June 2021. The government published its analyses of the call for evidence in two separate reports, published in December 2021 and April 2022.
In December 2021, the government published its policy paper ‘Our vision for the women’s health strategy for England’. The policy paper outlined the government’s next steps, including the priority areas for the forthcoming strategy, such as: menstrual health and gynaecological conditions; the menopause; and fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and post-natal support.
In June 2022, the government said that it aimed to publish the strategy in summer 2022.
Sexual and reproductive health strategy
In June 2019, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee published a report into sexual health. In its report, the committee made several recommendations, including calling for a new national strategy for sexual health to be developed.
In its response to the committee, the government agreed with that recommendation. It stated that the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) would lead the development of an updated sexual and reproductive health strategy, working in partnership with Public Health England, NHS England and Improvement, local government and other partners. The government also said that in the meantime the aims and objectives of its ‘Framework for sexual health improvement in England’ (published in 2013) remained “valid” and were supported by existing programmes of work at national and local level.
In June 2022, the government stated that it was continuing to engage with stakeholders, including local authorities and commissioners, NHS England and Improvement and integrated care systems in the development of the plan.
Women’s mental health taskforce
In response to evidence of deteriorating mental health amongst women and poor outcomes experienced by some women in mental health services, the women’s mental health taskforce was set up by the government in 2017. It was established to identify priorities for improving the mental
health of women and their experiences of mental health services. The taskforce published its final report in December 2018. The report made several recommendations, including calling on DHSC and its arm’s length bodies to lead on “explicitly considering women’s needs” in all future mental health policy development.
3.3 Reaction to the government’s proposals
The government’s commitments to creating new health and sexual health strategies were well-received by some charities and organisations but concerns were raised over funding and whether the strategies would take into consideration the needs of all women.
The King’s Fund initially welcomed the health strategy. However, it expressed concern that the government in its call for evidence did little to acknowledge the “significant health inequalities” that exist between different groups of women. It further stated that it was often the most disadvantaged groups that were least likely to “have their voices heard”. Similarly, the British Medical Association also called for the strategy to take into consideration the healthcare needs of “those who have been historically marginalised”.
Turning to the sexual and reproductive health strategy, the membership organisations the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a joint statement welcoming the government’s commitment to develop such proposals. Despite this, they raised concerns that “sustained cuts to the public health budget” would prove a “major challenge” to the delivery of the strategy. Additionally, the National Aids Trust was critical of the government’s response to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee’s report on the strategy, particularly on funding for sexual and reproductive health services, which it described as “weak”.
4.1 What is the prevalence of violence against women and girls in England and Wales?
Violence against women and girls includes a variety of types of crime such as domestic abuse, harassment and domestic homicide. It is sometimes hidden and not limited to physical violence, including abusive treatment such as coercive and controlling behaviour or exploitation.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that 1.6 million women aged between 16 and 74 years in England and Wales had experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020. This represented approximately 7% of the female population. The survey also estimated that 3% of women aged 16 to 74 years in England and Wales experienced sexual assault (including attempts) and that 5% had experienced stalking. The ONS stated that these trends had “remained similar over the last 10 years”.
In July 2021, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) published its latest annual data. The data revealed that 62.9% of rape suspects had been charged in 2020/21. This represented a 4.2% increase on 2019/20 (58.7%). Despite the increase in charging volume, the CPS reported that prosecutions had fallen by 26% (1,557 in 2020/21 compared to 2,102 in 2019/20). The CPS attributed the fall to the impact of Covid-19 on the criminal justice system.
4.2 What action has the government taken?
In recent years, the government has introduced several measures to tackle domestic abuse and protect women and girls from harm and violence. This includes the passing of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the introduction of an online safety bill to Parliament and the publication of strategies to tackle domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.
Online Safety Bill
Introduced by the government in the House of Commons in March 2022, the Online Safety Bill was carried over into the 2022–23 parliamentary session. The bill aims to improve the regulation of potentially harmful content on the internet. It would seek to do this by requiring all platforms within the scope of the bill, such as social media companies, to proactively remove priority illegal content. This would include offences that could harm women and girls, such as those relating to sexual images—for example, revenge and extreme pornography—and harassment and cyberstalking legislation. The bill is scheduled to have its report stage in the House of Commons on 12 July 2022.
Tackling domestic abuse plan
In March 2022, the Government published its ‘Tackling domestic abuse plan’. The plan outlined the government’s approach to tackling domestic abuse by “prioritising prevention, supporting victims, pursuing perpetrators, and building a stronger system”. The government stated that the plan was informed by the violence against women and girls call for evidence (detailed below) and would be “closely aligned” with the tackling violence against women and girls strategy. Some of the measures detailed in the plan included:
- the Department for Education providing support to teachers delivering the relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) curriculum to ensure children “know about healthy relationships”
- increasing spending on support services for domestic abuse victims and survivors, including: £81mn of funding for independent domestic and sexual violence advisers; £47.1mn over three years for community-based services; and up to £3.3mn to fund the rollout of Domestic Abuse Matters training to police forces which either have yet to deliver it or do not have their own specific training
- investing £75mn of funding over three years towards tackling domestic abusers through perpetrator interventions that “directly address domestic abusers’ behaviours”
Pages 87 to 94 of the plan detail all of the government’s commitments.
Tackling violence against women and girls strategy
From December 2020 to March 2021, the government launched a call for evidence to help inform the development of its tackling violence against women and girls strategy for 2021 to 2024. The call for evidence had several aims, including to enable the government to understand the:
- true scale of violence against women and girls crimes and their impact
- measures which may help identify and prevent such crimes
- extent to which current legislation and services are being used to tackle these crimes
In July 2021, the government published its strategy. The strategy set out action in several areas, which included prioritising prevention, supporting victims, pursuing perpetrators, and helping to make sure the police, education, local authorities, prison and probation services and others work together more effectively.
In the strategy, the government also detailed the progress that it contended that successive governments had made since 2010 following the publication of the ‘Call to end violence against women and girls’ in 2010. This included:
- introducing new offences for controlling or coercive behaviour, stalking, ‘revenge porn’ and ‘upskirting’
- raising the maximum penalties for stalking and harassment
- ending the automatic early release of violent and sexual offenders from prison
- introducing new orders for stalking, preventing sexual harm and female genital mutilation (FGM) to better protect victims and those at risk
- introducing a mandatory duty for frontline professionals to report cases of FGM in children to the police
- strengthening the tools available to frontline professionals, such as putting in place a range of statutory guidance, training and online resources
Domestic Abuse Act 2021
In March 2020, the government introduced the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020–21 in the House of Commons. The bill sought to increase awareness of domestic abuse, strengthen support for victims and improve the effectiveness of the justice system. The bill contained several measures, including:
- a legal definition of domestic abuse which incorporated a range of abuses beyond physical violence, such as emotional, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse
- new protections and support for victims to ensure that abusers will no longer be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims in the family and civil courts, and giving victims better access to special measures in the courtroom to help prevent intimidation, for example, protective screens and giving evidence via video link
- new powers for police including domestic abuse protection notices, which provide victims with immediate protection from abusers
The bill gained royal assent on 29 April 2021 to become the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.
Safer Streets Fund
In 2020, the government launched the Safer Streets Fund in England and Wales. This fund sought to enable police and crime commissioners (PCCs) to fund initiatives aimed at tackling burglary and theft. The fund initially allocated £25mn to PCCs—with successful areas receiving grants of up to £550,000—and could be used to improve neighbourhoods, for example, by increasing street lighting and gating alleyways. In June 2022, the minister of state at the Home Office, Kit Malthouse, reported that the government had allocated over £70mn to the fund and would be investing a further £150mn over the next three years.
Other measures introduced to tackle domestic abuse and violence against women and girls since 2010 include:
- 2020 and 2022: launched the #YouAreNotAlone campaign and Ask for ANI (Action Needed Immediately) codeword scheme to increase awareness among victims and survivors of how to safely access help and support
- 2020–21: in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government provided over £28 million to support domestic abuse organisations in delivering vital services to victims and survivors
- 2020: the Department for Education made relationships education mandatory in all primary schools and relationships and sex education mandatory in all secondary schools
- 2015: the then coalition government introduced the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour through the Serious Crime Act 2015 to “clamp down on these insidious forms of behaviour, underscoring that domestic abuse goes well beyond only physical violence”
- 2011: the then coalition government commenced the domestic homicide review process so lessons can be learnt to reduce the number of domestic homicides
4.3 Has the government done enough to protect women and girls?
Several charities have welcomed the government’s policies aimed at protecting women and girls from violence and abuse. However, some stakeholders have criticised the government for not going further in its commitments.
In a joint statement on the government’s domestic abuse plan, the charities Respect and Women’s Aid stated that they were pleased that the government had “explicitly recognised” domestic abuse as a form of violence against women and girls. Additionally, they “warmly” welcomed the government’s commitment to ringfence £15.7mn for community-based services and double funding for the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. The charity Rise also welcomed the strategy, particularly the government’s commitment to further rollout RSHE in schools. However, it stated that it was “not convinced as yet” that the government had a “clear plan to address the abysmal charging and conviction rates for domestic abuse”.
Responding to the publication of the violence against women and girls strategy, Michelle Lee-Izu, the corporate director of the charity Barnado’s, stated that the violence against women and girls strategy was “timely and welcome”. However, she warned that the success of the strategy would be dependent on multi-year funding for specialist services for victims and those at risk. Sharing similar concerns, the charity Refuge criticised the government for missing an opportunity to “act boldly”, stating that the strategy contained “minimal funding commitments and some glaring omissions”. The charity was also critical of the government for publishing a separate domestic abuse strategy, instead of combining the two strategies. Refuge argued that this separation could “spell disaster for ensuring a cohesive response” to domestic abuse and other forms of violence and lead to a “piecemeal approach”, with “reduced impact”.
Additionally, Anna Birley, the founder of Reclaim These Streets—which was created following the murder of Sarah Everard in 2021—said that whilst the violence against women and girls strategy included “some important promises”, it “fails to engage with the scale of the problem facing women”. For example, she noted that the strategy allocated £3mn towards police forces “getting a better understanding of what works to prevent male violence”, which she argued “pales in comparison” to the £45mn that was previously allocated to the Safer Streets Fund. She further contended that the focus on street lighting was “short-sighted and miss[ing] the point”, when “it isn’t a matter of dark corners but the attitudes and behaviour of some of the men who occupy them”.
Discussing crime prevention more generally, some organisations and charities have criticised the government for not going far enough in preventing violence against women and girls. In an article in the Guardian in December 2021, the head of the Violence Against Women Coalition, Andrea Simon, stated that “many of the solutions and the responses from government, and in the criminal justice system, have missed the mark”. She also argued that “we haven’t moved as quickly in terms of making things better for women and girls who report abuse”. Similarly, the chief executive of the charity Rape Crisis England and Wales, Jayne Butler, stated that the criminal justice system was “categorically failing rape victims and survivors” and that “steps from the government to rectify the situation lack ambition […] they must do more”.
There are many indicators detailing opportunities that an individual may have. This section examines access to higher education and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. It also provides further reading on other opportunities, such as participation in politics and sport.
In recent years, more women and girls are accessing higher education. Similarly, the number of women and girls studying STEM subjects has also increased.
5.1 Access to higher education and STEM.
The Office for Students reports that women (56%) are now more likely to enter higher education in England in 2020–21 than men (44%). Additionally, women that are full-time students are also more likely to complete their qualification and gain a first or upper second-class degree.
The number of women and girls undertaking STEM subjects in the UK has risen in the past decade. In 2021, the Department for Education reported that there has been a 31% increase in entries from women and girls to STEM A-levels between 2010 and 2019. Additionally, there had been an increase in the number of young women taking mathematics and further mathematics, by approximately 2.8% and 3.9% respectively.
A similar pattern has emerged in higher education. The department found that the number of women accepted onto full-time STEM undergraduate courses increased by 50.1% between 2011 and 2020. Over the same period, the proportion of women entering full-time undergraduate courses taking STEM subjects increased from 33.6% to 41.4%.
5.2 What action has the government taken to improve access to STEM subjects?
In a blog post to celebrate Women in STEM Week in February 2021, the Department for Education detailed how it contends it has been improving access to STEM subjects. It said:
- The department was working with “education innovators” to bring about T-Levels, which are a new technical alternative to A Levels. In 2021, the department stated that they would be rolling out in a phased approach over the next three years and include several STEM subjects, such as engineering and manufacturing.
- It was investing £84mn to create a programme to improve the teaching of computing and increase participation in computer science at GCSE and A level, particularly amongst girls.
- It had also provided funding for the advanced maths premium, which aims to support schools and colleges in tackling some of the financial barriers to increase participation in post-16 maths.
- Lastly, the department had invested and supported Isaac Physics, which is an online platform of GCSE and A level physics materials developed by the University of Cambridge.
5.3 Has the government improved equity in STEM education?
Some organisations and groups have called on the government to go further to ensure equity in STEM education.
In November 2021, the Institute of Engineering and Technology published an open letter it had sent to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, calling on the government to address a skills gap within UK workforces. In the letter, the 167 co-signatories warned that there was a shortfall of 173,000 workers in the STEM sector, which is estimated to cost the economy £1.5bn per year. They argued that “future skills need addressing now” and that the solution “lies in education”. Therefore, they called on the government to collaborate with STEM education supporters, academia and industry to provide teachers “with the tools they need to showcase that science, design and technology and maths all have vital elements of engineering within them” and to proactively encourage the teaching of engineering in our primary schools”.
In June 2020, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM published its final report into equity in STEM education. In its report, the APPG stated that initiatives to attract more girls into physics and computing had received government support which was “welcome” but was “yet to make a significant difference in these subjects at GCSE or A level”. The APPG also made several recommendations for the government, including calling for STEM-specific teaching to be strengthened and a “more joined-up approach” to tackle the causes of inequity in STEM education.
5.4 Further opportunities
The following sources provide further reading on other opportunities for women and girls, for example through participation in politics and sport:
- House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, ‘Equality in the heart of democracy: A gender sensitive House of Commons: Responses to the Committee’s fifth report of session 2021–22’, 17 June 2022, HC 417 of session 2022–23
- House of Commons Library, ‘Women in politics and public life’, 4 March 2022
- House of Lords Library, ‘Representation of women in the House of Lords’, 24 February 2021
- House of Lords Library, ‘Women in elected office in the UK’, 23 February 2021
- Women in Sport, ‘Reframing sport for teenage girls: Tackling teenage disengagement’, March 2022
- Georgia Goulding, ‘Why it’s so important to give girls the opportunity to play football at school’, GiveMeSport, 9 March 2022
- The English Football Association, ‘We have launched a new campaign to give all girls equal access to football by 2024’, 11 October 2021; and ‘We’re pleased to unveil our ambitious new women’s and girls’ football strategy’, 19 October 2020
6. Read more
- House of Lords Library, ‘International Women’s Day 2022: Gender gaps across the world’, 4 March 2022
- House of Commons Library, ‘Women and the UK economy’, 4 March 2022
- World Economic Forum, ‘Global gender gap report 2021’, 30 March 2021
- House of Lords Library, ‘Educational opportunities for children and young people from working-class background’, 5 March 2020
Cover image by Simon Maage on Unsplash.