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Women in the Economy

Women in the Economy is a new work stream for the financial year 2010 – 2011.  The new subgroup focussed on women’s participation in the informal economy. This includes their occupation, the potential benefit or disadvantage to women economically and socially and the potential loss to the UK GDP.  We aim to examine and promote the issues to see what contribution is made informally to the economy by women, engaging with wide-ranging, diverse, and representative stakeholders.  Women in the Economy was also identified as a priority by WNC partners at the All Partners Conference in November 2009. 

Defining the Informal Economy - WNC Definition PDF Print E-mail

What do we actually mean by the informal economy? This work can take many forms and arrangements are usually made between individuals on an informal and flexible basis. This includes cash-in-hand type arrangements (generally well below the minimum wage) irregular payments (as and when possible), payment–in-kind or sometimes no payment at all [1]. There are often blurred lines between the informal economy and volunteering as payments can take many forms.


WNC define the informal economy as follows, drawn largely from the Need not Greed report, as referenced below.

The informal economy highlights the link between gender and poverty and the lack of a gendered anti – poverty strategy which suggests that women are forced to participate in the informal economy. ‘Informal paid work is defined as work that involves the paid production and sale of goods or services which are unregistered by, or hidden from, the state for tax/benefit and /or labour law purposes but which are legal in all other respects.[2] (People in Low Paid informal work, Need not greed, 2006 Dennis Katungi, Emma Neale and Aaron Barbour.) Click here to see the WNC Women in the Informal Economy definition and narrative paper. 

Women and the Informal Economy

Across the ‘informal economy of exchange’ within communities and regions, women have often been at the forefront. This involves a wide range of activities including laundry services, cooking, shopping, childcare, private Care Home assistance, and, since government policies in the 1980’s - increasing care within communities, and a greater degree of care-giving to the elderly or disabled people. Women have often also been involved on providing informal financial services of borrowing and lending and trading in home-made goods, such as clothes or food production.


In some circumstances these arrangements develop into more formal settings of co-operatives or dedicated projects which could eventually be funded by government through social enterprise initiatives. But for the most part, the initiatives develop from the standpoint of self-help groups to meet a particular individual or community need.


Women have historically also tended to help other women such as asylum seekers and those women who perhaps live in the margins of the informal economy itself (usually through extended families or communities). In some cases cultural norms within certain minority communities require women to work within ‘informal associations’ to make ends meet. In some communities, those who have settled in the UK from the global South, the economy is traditionally less regulated and a formal economy is not recognised as a concept at all. 


Women in the Informal Economy Forum


The Women in the Informal Economy forum was held on 28 October at the House of Lords.  Baroness Joyce Gould chaired the forum.  The forum aimed: The minutes from the forum are available here.

  • To bring experts and activists together from all parts of the UK to stimulate thought and discussion.
  • To identify the key issues and the contribution made by women informally to the economy and the relationship between the formal and informal economy and between the so called core and the periphery.
  • To establish links with existing activity on women in the informal economy and to increase understanding of women’s participation in it.
  • To gather the views and research findings from experts regarding women in the informal economy.
  • To establish a way forward for work in this area.
  • Consider the intended or unintended consequences of the Comprehensive Spending Review in particular the Bill on welfare reform and the link with the informal economy.
  • To establish a plan of action with recommendations and policy interventions.


Keynote speakers included Aaron Barbour (Community Links), Lucy Brill (Oxfam) and Janet Veitch (Women’s Budget Group) who presented a short talk on the key issues relating to women’s participation in the informal economy focussing on completed research findings and statistics.  The event proved to be a huge success.  The outcome document will be progressed in the WNC Legacy document. Please see the discussion papers below.

Briefing paper for WNC 28oct10 v2
Women in the Informal Economy 28 October 2010
Women and Volunteering CDF
Oxfam women informal economy Oct25th 2010 
Homeworkers and the informal economy

[1] Joseph Rowntree Foundation Findings ‘People in low-paid informal work’ June 2006

[2] (People in Low Paid informal work, Need not greed, 2006 Dennis Katungi, Emma Neale and Aaron Barbour


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