Government to investigate UK banks’ discrimination against women

Published on Thursday, 10 November 2011 12:22
Posted by Scott Buckler

UK banks are discriminating against women, according to a paper by Professor Noreena Hertz, published by the think tank IPPR today. In her paper, Hertz calls on the British government to investigate

In response, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has tasked the Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone with examining the issue in more detail to assess the extent of the problem and what action is needed to fix it.

In her paper, Professor Hertz presents evidence that banks in the UK, Europe and the United States are:

1. Discriminating against pregnant women and women on maternity leave seeking mortgages:

Cases include instances of women rejected for mortgages when on maternity leave, of banks rejecting mortgage applications from women when they found out they were pregnant, of women being asked about their “family planning” when applying for a home mortgage and of lenders insisting that pregnant women or women who have just given birth be back at work before they can get a loan.

2. Hertz also finds evidence of discrimination by banks against women entrepreneurs seeking loans:

In the UK women on average can expect to pay 1% more on a business loan than men.
Male entrepreneurs in Europe are 5 percent more likely to successfully get a loan for their business from banks than women.
Women entrepreneurs across Europe face more stringent collateral and guarantee requirements than do their male counterparts.

3. Thirdly Hertz finds evidence of gender stereotyping by loan officers. Examples of this include:

Women entrepreneurs being questioned whether they had undertaken sufficient research into their business significantly more often than male applicants.
Pregnant women being assumed by lending officers to not return to work after having a child.

The paper argues that under the terms of the UK Equality Act 2010 as well as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women the UK government has a legal obligation to investigate the claim made in this paper that banks are discriminating against women and a legal duty to eliminate prejudices and practices based on ‘stereotyped roles for men and women’.

Noreena Hertz said:

While certain aspects of banks' behaviour have been interrogated in the wake of the financial crisis, how banks treated and continue to treat women customers is a subject that has received little attention.

“I’ve uncovered evidence which shows that women face discrimination from banks when they are seeking business loans or applying for mortgages. It's as if we’ve gone back in time to the 1950s. Banks need to be put on notice that such behaviour is both unlawful and unacceptable.

“It is also economically damaging to the UK as a whole.

"The Prime Minister has stressed that if the economy is to grow then entrepreneurs need to be able to access credit. It is imperative that women be able to play their full part in the economic recovery.

"I am calling for an investigation into banks' treatment of female entrepreneurs, pregnant women and women on maternity leave, and for banks to publish their lending decisions by gender in a transparent fashion.”


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