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Cross-cutting disadvantage

This section contains research resources that consider various combinations of disadvantage. It is not possible to overcome inequality without understanding its multi-faceted nature. This section starts to address some of the issues relating to cross-cutting disadvantage. It is easy to fall into the familiar pattern of discussing equality issues in terms of gender, ethnicity or disability. This is problematic in three ways, it:

  • Does not deal with many other types of disadvantage.
  • Fails to take into account that much inequality cross-cuts a number of dimensions.
  • Suggests that these groups are homogenous, therefore potentially crossing the fragile line that separates helpful generalisations which can enhance understanding to unhelpful stereotyping which can be oppressive.

In this section you will find materials relating to the broader context of understanding inequality, implications of this for practice, together with additional resources. The material outlined here is not intended to be comprehensive, rather it offers some alternative ways of examining some issues relating to cross-cutting disadvantages.

In this section you will find materials relating to the broader context of understanding inequality, implications of this for practice, together with additional resources.

Interaction of gender, ethnicity disability and age

An extract from the publication 'Improving the participation of women in the labour market (2003)', considering cross cutting themes of disadvantage. The report considered women's participation in the labour market in terms of the interaction with dimensions of ethnicity, disability and age respectively. The full text is available here, go to sections 10-12. In summary, key points are:


  • The position of women from ethnic minority groups in the labour market is markedly different and unequal to that of men
  • Some ethnic groups display distinctive patterns of segregation by occupation and industry - for example, the concentration of Asian women in the distribution sector
  • Some Black women are strategically choosing careers such as nursing and social work that are considered to be gendered because these jobs offer a greater possibility of entry to courses, access to employment opportunities, qualification and promotion
  • Young Asian from Muslim groups have a low participation rate in employment, education and training
  • Pakistani and Bangladeshi women have a higher risk of being economically inactive and are the most disadvantaged.


  • Disabled people are more likely to have no qualifications, face unemployment, to work part-time and be under-represented in senior positions than the non-disabled
  • There are significant differences in the economic activity rates of men and women with disabilities
  • 45 per cent of disabled women are in employment
  • Disabled women in the region are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled women
  • Employed disabled people have lower average hourly earnings than the non-disabled and this pay gap is increasing
  • Research has shown that there is too much emphasis on disabled people changing to accommodate employers rather than employers changing to accommodate disabled people.


  • For the female 20-24 year and 25-34 year age groups economic activity rates and employment rates rise, and peak in the 35-49 year age group
  • Nationally, women's employment rates decline steeply after the age of 45 years
  • Educational attainment is a key factor in underlying variations amongst women participating in the labour market within the same age group.

Reference: Bimrose, J., Green, A., Orton, M., Barnes, S., Scheibl, F., Galloway, S., & Baldauf, B., (2003) Improving the Participation of Women in the Labour Market: Coventry and Warwickshire, Institute for Employment Research ,University of Warwick.

Other web resources

Roberts, K. & Harris, J. (2002) Disabled People in Refugee and Asylum-seeking Communities, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The presence of disabled people in refugee and asylum-seeking communities in Britain is frequently overlooked and information about their particular experiences is rarely available. The report provides data on the numbers and social characteristics of disabled people in refugee and asylum-seeking communities and interviews with disabled people and service providers on their experience. One key recommendation is a call for greater disability awareness and equality training for those working with refugee and asylum-seeking communities.

Bignall, T., Butt, J, & Pagarani, D.(2002) Something to do: The Development of Peer Support Groups for Young Black & Minority Ethnic Disabled People, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The report highlights how for young disabled people of Asian, Caribbean and African origin, peer support groups provide a forum for emotional and practical support, enabling them to discuss issues around race, ethnicity and religion, and to share experiences with others from the same background.

Government Equality Office (2007) Factsheet: Ethnic minority women in the UK. Factsheet comprising statistical information about ethnic minority women in the UK.

Equality and diversity in local government, a literature review (2004): Full report summary report leaflet This report provides an overview of recent literature, which examines how local authorities in England have dealt with issues of equality and diversity. Three themes are covered in relation to equality and diversity: representation and participation; employment; services. The majority of local authority employees are women, at just under three quarters of the workforce. In contrast, ethnic minority employees are, on average, under-represented in local authority workforces relative to their population size in England. Both women and ethnic minority local authority employees report more barriers in climbing the career ladder, compared to men and white colleagues.

The literature identifies a 'glass ceiling’ through which many women and ethnic minority employees in local government find it difficult to pass through. There are very few women or ethnic minority chief executives and there is also under-representation at chief officer level. In addition, problems remain if promotion is secured: the evidence cited here is that senior women and ethnic minority staff do face discrimination, including direct discrimination. This has a negative impact on those who have not broken through the glass ceiling: for women there is evidence that the attitude of male senior staff and elected members towards senior women staff is a factor in deciding against applying for promotion.

Both vertical and horizontal segregation (lack of promotion; over-representation in particular departments) is apparent across the different sectors of local authority employment. For part-time women manual workers, there is a tendency for neglect in the implementation of equal opportunities policies, and flexible working may be something which is imposed rather than chosen.

Overall, it should be noted that local government has achieved much that neither the private employment sector nor national government have achieved. However, the gains made by women and ethnic minorities in local authorities have been made at a relatively slow pace. Having said that, the equal opportunities policies of local authorities and their commitment to implementing them meaningfully are obviously still attractive features of local authority employment for women and ethnic minority people.

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Implications for practice References and resources