Gender inequality still “systemic” in modern Britain – The Young Foundation calls on innovators and investors to step up

Date: 16 July 2015

The Young Foundation (1) has today published a major new report “UNEQUAL NATION – the case for social innovation to work for a gender equal future” (2). UNEQUAL NATION presents overwhelming research evidence not only of remaining large inequalities between women and men in the UK but also their systemic nature. Constituting the first such across the board (3) review of the state of UK gender relations for many years it delivers a robust retort to those who claim that gender equality has been achieved.

Resources: Women still earn and own much less than men and are more likely to be in poverty. The gender pay gap remains at 19% and since 2006 the UK has fallen from number 9 to number 26 in the World Economic Forum’s global ranking of countries. 27% of women (compared to 16% of men) are paid less than the living wage. Women are bearing the brunt, over 70%, of cuts to welfare benefits. Low and limited paternity pay still precludes many fathers who want to play a greater role in their children’s lives from doing so.

Attitudes: An incident of gender based violence and abuse is reported to the police every minute, largely perpetrated against women by men. 7 women are killed every month by partners or ex partners. Bullying and harassment of girls and boys who don’t fit gender norms is still prevalent in our schools. Men are 20% less likely to seek help from their GP. Young people are facing unprecedented cultural and media pressures to “fit in”. We are seeing a major increase in eating disorders, particularly amongst young women who make up around 90% of reported sufferers.

Power: Decision making in the powerhouses of politics, business, the media and civil society organizations is still overwhelmingly dominated by white men. Only 29% of MPs are women, 5% of national newspaper editors and 8.6% of FTSE 100 Executive Directors. Men make up 73% of board members of charities with the largest assets. The way that resources are divided, and our attitudes about what is expected of women and men, mean that too often gender also limits individuals’ power and choices in their everyday lives.

Taken together, the cumulative impact this inequality is having on millions of individuals lives and on society makes it one of the greatest social challenges of our time. The report highlights the significant (but largely untapped) potential of the burgeoning Social Innovation (4) and Social Investment (5) movements to deliver new solutions to this challenge. The report calls for policy makers, social investors and social innovation leaders to recognise gender equality as a key social challenge and put their weight behind finding new solutions. (6)

Ceri Goddard, The Young Foundation’s Director of Gender, said

“social innovation and investment combine the power of the state, businesses and communities to effect change but have yet to be harnessed to advance gender equality. Gender equality remains a fringe concern to social innovators and investors despite global acknowledgement that economic and social development that does not address gender inequalities will neither achieve major impact nor be sustainable.”

“ Public innovation support bodies such have Unltd and private companies such as Deloitte have pioneered great work to support individual women entrepreneurs but whilst this is important it is not enough. We need to go a step further and support and stimulate many more social ventures whose explicit purpose is to advance gender equality.”

“ at local, national and international level, the tremendous work of existing and emerging gender equality innovators needs far greater acknowledgement and support from policy makers, innovation support bodies and investors.”

“ the social and financial returns from investing in gender equality are clear, but social investors will only reap the benefits if they stimulate greater supply.”

Baroness Glenys Thornton CEO of the Young Foundation, who worked closely with Michael Young, said

“over 50 years since Michael Young first wrote about value of tackling inequality between the sexes I am sure he would wonder why the social innovation movement he lead the birth of has not done more.”

The report’s lead researcher, Freya Johnson Ross, said,

“our research reflects wider international findings (7) that new forms of social finance, that is increasingly being relied upon to supplement state spending, is not reaching the gender equality innovators who could effect change.”



(1) The Young Foundation is a leading independent centre for social innovation, working to harness social innovation to tackle the root causes of inequality. We believe that inequality is not inevitable and that bound by our shared humanity we collectively have the power to shape the societies and communities we want to live in. UNEQUAL NATION is the first report from our Gender Futures initiative which is dedicated to harnessing social innovation to advance gender equality. We work with the public and private sectors and civil society to effect change. The Young Foundation has been instrumental in leading research, driving public debate, and implementing social innovation in the UK and abroad.

A “think and do” tank The Young Foundation has created over 60 organisations, including the Open University, the Consumers’ Association, WHICH, the Economic and Social Research Council, and the School for Social Entrepreneurs.

We take our name from our founder Michael Young who is recognised as one of the world’s most creative and influential social innovators and visionaries. In 1954 Young set up the Institute of Community Studies from which he built and fostered organisations, initiatives and movements to combat unmet social needs; That same year he published the hugely prescient “rise of the meritocracy” where he paints a picture of a dystopia where inequalities of power and resources become so great the classes whom society have decreed have little merit – led by women – revolt.

(2) Report available on request.

(3) The report brings together and synthesises recent evidence from a wide range of sources, including academia and government statistics, to show remaining inequalities cutting across the three broad domains of resources, attitudes and power. Typically research of this kind focuses on specific gender inequality issues such as the impact of austerity, the gender pay gap, male suicide or eating disorders etc. By stepping back and looking across these different areas we can see a wide range of different social and economic issues are interconnected, forming a systemic problem.

(4) The Social Innovation movement seeks to produce novel solutions to social problems that are more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than existing solutions, and from which the value created benefits society as a whole rather than just private individuals. Its roots are in the adaption by social actors of business ‘innovation’ for use in creating social change or value rather than profit.

(5) The Social Finance movement includes those providing both repayable and non-repayable finance for social ventures. Social investment is the use of repayable finance to achieve a social as well as a financial return. During its presidency of the G8 the UK government established the Social Impact Investment Taskforce with David Cameron saying in 2013 “I want to use our G8 presidency to push this agenda forward. We will work with other G8 nations to grow the social investment market and increase investment, allowing the best social innovations to spread and help tackle our shared social and economic challenges.”

(6) The report identifies that there is currently no dedicated social innovation supports for gender equality innovators nor any targeted social investment funds in the UK. It also highlights that amongst UK social financers there remains low understanding of the relevance of gender equality to wider social challenges.

(7) Research by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) found:

  • Vast resources are becoming available under the broad umbrella of ‘women and girls’. AWID mapped 170 related initiatives that collectively committed USD 14.6 Billion.
  • Mechanisms and sources of development financing and philanthropy are becoming increasingly diversified, but economic growth and return on investment are principle drivers for many of the ‘new actors’ supporting women and girls, with human rights taking a back seat
  • Women’s organisations are key change agents: when supported strategically and over the long-term, they achieve significant impact in gender power relations.
  • Despite this, the current spotlight on women and girls has had relatively little impact on improving the funding situation for a large majority of women’s organizations around the world. In 2010, the median annual income of over 740 women’s organizations around the world was just USD 20,000.

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