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2023 was a bleak year, says charity supporting women into employment

The Smart Works Unemployment Index provides an analysis of 3,784 conversations with those it supported in 2023 (Alamy/PA)
The Smart Works Unemployment Index provides an analysis of 3,784 conversations with those it supported in 2023 (Alamy/PA)

Women found it harder to get work last year and felt pressure to accept any job amid the cost-of-living crisis, according to a report from a charity helping people into employment.

More than two thirds (68%) of women spoken to by Smart Works, which dresses and coaches unemployed women for success at job interviews, said that in 2023 they had applied for lower paid and lower skilled work than they are qualified for.

This is up from 62% in the organisation’s report the previous year.

The Duchess of Sussex during a visit to Smart Works in London in 2019
The Duchess of Sussex during a visit to Smart Works in London in 2019 (Clodagh Kilcoyne/PA)

The charity said its unemployment index showed an analysis of 3,784 conversations with those women it supported in 2023.

Smart Works, which has the Duchess of Sussex as a patron, said those it worked with reported feeling a pressure to accept any job amid the current cost-of-living crisis.

In the report, its chief executive Kate Stephens said: “To put it simply, 2023 was a bleak year.

“Our clients, all of different ages, ethnic backgrounds and communities, told us that they found it harder to secure work, despite applying for more jobs and attending more interviews.

“We have also heard about the pressure of the cost-of-living crisis and the desperation it is creating.

“More women are applying for lower skilled and lower paid jobs that they are overqualified for, because they simply have to secure something to make ends meet.”

The report found that clients spent less time unemployed before their appointment with the charity than in the 2022 pilot study – with 40% unemployed for more than a year, compared with 45% in 2022.

But Smart Works said clients reported that the pressure to accept any job ultimately meant people did not end up having the stability they had hoped for and sometimes found themselves quickly out of work again.

Just under two thirds (65%) of clients spoken to for the report went on to secure a job within a month of their appointment with the charity.

This figure rose to 68% among white women and fell to 63% for women from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Among people aged 50 and above, 60% got a job within a month of their appointment with the charity, while for those under 50 this rose to 67%.

The charity set out recommendations to employers which it said could help make the job market more accessible to women.

These included clear job descriptions with salary, location and options for flexibility listed upfront, an offer to reimburse costs associated with applications, and provision of useful and objective feedback to unsuccessful job applicants.