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Improving women's access to work and wages

Our Women United Programme

Tracy found new confidence after being part of the Women United Programme. She found it hard to find work after raising her son at home for many years. Now she works as the laundry assistant for a care home. She says it is just the right job for her, with little stress, flexible hours to allow her to work while her son is at school, and a decent monthly salary that allows her to budget. She also loves the atmosphere at work, saying it is a safe and supportive environment.

"I'm in a very good place now. The fact that I'm earning something takes a lot of stress off. The project was just what I needed to get out of my shell and boost my confidence"

Women face a double burden of poverty and discrimination, and continue to be paid less than men, even at the top, often struggling to find roles that allow them to earn a living while also coping with the lion's share of domestic work and childcare.

Our Women United Programme supports women struggling with poverty to make progress towards a more secure life for themselves and their families.

As part of Women United, Future Skills is a project based in our network of Oxfam shops. Women gain on the job volunteering experience, supported by a series of workshops and coaching. They can develop useful skills, as well as build their confidence.

We work with a range of partners and reach women in different circumstances, including geographical or social isolation, those seeking refuge in the UK, and those facing challenges and crises that have forced them into poverty. Whatever the reason, we help women build skills, confidence and networks to support them on the next step of their journey out of poverty.

But this isn't just another employability programme. By combining a focus on community engagement with an ambitious programme of personal development, we work with women as they develop their confidence and skills to take the lead in the drive toward social change. It isn't just about overcoming personal barriers - it's about finding the voice to demand those barriers are torn down completely, for everyone. And it's about using that voice in concert with others in a powerful movement for change.

Research with low-paid workers, and women in work

Oxfam thinks work because it should provide a route out of poverty, but more than half of working age adults and two thirds of children in poverty live in working households. This 'in-work poverty' is partly a result of low-pay, but it is also due to other factors including job insecurity and the lack of enough, regular or predictable hours. Our research project looked at what low-paid workers prioritise in terms of work quality, and how far the labour market delivers.

Decent Work for Scotland's Low-Paid Workers: A Job to be Done is the culmination of a study by Oxfam and the University of West of Scotland with the support of Warwick Institute for Employment Research. More than 1500 low-paid workers gave their views about what 'decent work' means to them.

The top priorities were modest- and what most would consider quite basic expectations: a decent hourly rate; job security; paid leave; a safe working environment and a supportive line manager.

The research also shows that these expectations are much too often not being met. Decent work is something too many people hope to experience, or experience only partially, rather than a reality in their daily lives.

Our work in Wales has specifically focused on the need to create decent work for women. In Wales, the vast majority of part-time and low-paid workers are women and we know that women face a different set of barriers when trying to move into decent work. We are specifically researching the experience of women in low-paid jobs and influencing the Welsh Government to ensure that their experiences are reflected in economic and anti-poverty work.

We know that women are more likely to be experiencing poor quality work. Research commissioned by Oxfam by the New Policy Institute (NPI) found that women across the UK are more likely to be undertaking this kind of work, more likely to be low paid and more likely to be working in zero hours contract jobs than men.


Oxfam is using its research and policy expertise to put pressure on employers and Governments at all levels to provide decent work. The research has fed into the work of the Scottish Government's Fair Work Convention and Labour Market Strategy; the London Mayor's proposed Good Work Standard, Greater Manchester's forthcoming employment charter; and the Welsh Government's Fair Work Commission. In addition, through our involvement in the Living Wage Foundation, we're supporting the campaign to get more employers to adopt decent pay.