A new report by Welsh charity, Chwarae Teg, provides an insight into the experiences of women on low incomes across Wales, revealing that many women are living on a knife-edge and are at significant risk of poverty.
Chwarae Teg worked with the Bevan Foundation to gather evidence of the lived experience of women in poverty. Currently, the extent of women’s poverty in Wales is largely hidden or masked due to data being collected at household level, assuming that money and resources are equally distributed within a household.
The research reveals that women’s experience of poverty is different and distinct compared to men’s, and the risk and impact of poverty is being worsened by the failure of public policy to recognise these differences.
Within the current system there is a culture of financial dependency – due to the social security system, childcare and housing – where women are forced to rely on partners to supplement their income due to their position as carers and within low paid sectors. The report found that being in a couple significantly reduces the risk of poverty for women, roughly halving it.
Loss of housing and relationship breakdown were the biggest causes of women being in poverty; amongst women who are homeless, relationship breakdown with violence was a root cause for nearly a quarter of women who were in priority need.
While work is still a primary route out of poverty, this is not such a straightforward option for women who often experience low wages, and are forced to trade off pay and progression in favour of flexibility around caring needs. The report found that; ‘Based on median earnings, women need to work full time to avoid poverty, whatever her household status, and if she has children she needs to not only work full-time, but be in the best paid half of earners’.
This research is far-reaching in considering not only traditional measures of poverty, but also considering women’s assets and debts, material deprivation, housing and access to food.