Cuts in support for women entrepreneurs risk undermining the region’s recovery, it has been claimed, at a time when female unemployment reaches heights not seen since the peak of the recession.
The boss of the Women’s Business Development Agency – which has lost out in public funding worth £2 million over the last six months – believes the West Midlands’ ability to bounce back could be jeopardised without adequate support for women who want to run their own companies.
With women disproportionately represented in sectors like health care, social care, education and clerical work, the female jobless figures look set to worsen as more cuts kick in.
The latest unemployment figures confirm that women are already bearing the brunt of the public sector cutbacks.
While male unemployment rates in the region have been steadily falling since last June, female unemployment rates have started to rise again over the last few months.
The number of unemployed women in the West Midlands now stands at 96,000 – almost as high as the 100,000 recorded at the height of the recession in the West Midlands.
Overall in the UK, female unemployment is at its highest since 1988.
Sally Arkley, director of the Women’s Business Development Agency, said it was important gender-specific business support continued, as women faced particular barriers in terms of caring responsibilities, access to finance and confidence issues when setting up a company.
“Last year in Coventry and Birmingham alone we were able to support 1,800 women – but we had to turn away large numbers of women in Birmingham in particular.
"At the same time as all these funding cuts where women are actually losing their jobs, the business support mechanisms that help women grow their businesses are being cut.”
“The fact that women’s unemployment is the highest since 1988, while there is a slight downturn in men’s unemployment suggests to me that there is a problem that we need to address.
"Institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank and Goldman Sachs are saying that women’s business development is the sleeping tiger of nations in terms of economic recovery.
“There’s an enormous economic premium in supporting women into business.”
But budgets have been slashed across the board for regional business support through bodies like Advantage West Midlands and Business Link, and funding for women’s business development is no different.
WBDA recently fell victim to the Goverment-imposed reductions to Advantage West Midlands’ budget.
It had secured potential funding worth £1 million from the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund, but AWM budget constraints meant it missed out on match funding and the £2 million project was shelved.
But despite this, Ms Arkley, who was recently awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, for services to women’s enterprise in the West Midlands, said the organisation was busier than it had ever been and was seeking other sources of finance to expand its services in Birmingham.
“We are opening a new full-time service in Birmingham in the new year and we are exploring funding possibilities at the moment,” Ms Arkley said.