Women write just a quarter of accredited stories in our national newspapers

Bithia Large studied the number of women writing for eight different newspapers in 2013 and found some depressing results.

While we wait for Britain’s daily newspaper editors to get back to Harriet Harman about how many female journalists they employ (I wouldn’t hold your breath), the New Statesman has decided to take matters into its own hands regarding the lack of women in journalism. Over the two weeks between the 22 July and the 2 August, I recorded the numbers of articles written by women in eight national newspapers: the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Daily Mirror, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Guardian, and the Sun. Ten days, 80 newspapers, 9,258 articles. The results are in and it’s not looking good for the girls (or the Independent).

The average percentage, across the eight newspapers, of accredited articles written by females was a mere 25.30 per cent. The newspaper in last place was the Independent with female journalists contributing just 15.28 per cent of its accredited articles. The most proportional of the bunch – though not by much – was the Daily Express with 32.94 per cent and the Guardian, the purportedly progressive, upstanding member of the media community, was in third place with just 28.72 per cent.

Info graphic by: Héctor Crespo González

These percentages provide a blunt insight into the glaringly obvious inequalities that exist in the newspaper journalism industry. They call into serious question the supposed balance of our national press, particularly concerning topics of real substance, such as politics or the economy which require a range of perspectives to be articulated. While articles relating to "Westminster Politics" scored in just above the overall average with 23.96 per cent of articles being written by females, the "Foreign Affairs" and "Business and Economy" topics were below average at 15.91 per cent and 19.54 per cent respectively. In fairness, the picture isn’t quite so bleak at the broadsheets; The Times was almost proportional on "Westminster Politics" and the Guardian on the topic of "Business and Economy", totting up 43.68 per cent and 41.91 per cent respectively. However, these stats demonstrate the fact that not only is our government dominated by men, but also the industry which sets out to scrutinise it is too.

The three topics which women were trusted to write about over men were "Property", "Lifestyle" and "Fashion". Our daily newspapers are perpetuating the gender stereotype that a woman’s place is in the home, preferably a well-decorated one and if you’re lucky, she’ll be wearing a size 8 Topshop dress and kitten heels.

Due to the prolific number of articles concerning the Royal Baby, my data is actually skewed in favour of female journalists, as the "Celebrity/Showbiz" topic had a much higher number of female-written articles (42.12 per cent) than the average topic. This suggests the reality could in fact be worse than my figures suggest. An explanation as to why the Daily Express is the most proportional newspaper is simply that just under a third of its articles relate to celebrities. Frankly, quibbling over percentage points is pointless – there was no day or newspaper in which the number of articles written by women came close to the number written by men. It was never even close.

Unsurprisingly, the Sport sections of all newspapers were the most male-dominated: a negligible 3.64 per cent of sports articles were written by women, with the Daily Express not having a single female sports journalist for the entirety of the two weeks. Women were often limited to writing about athletics (occasionally this expanded to include cricket). Moreover, their articles usually related to Jessica Ennis-Hill, rather than Usain Bolt or Mo Farah, for example. Male writers, on the other hand, were allowed the luxury of choice. Perhaps it’s the fact that she’s pretty, recently married and has contracts with the likes of Olay, but the controversy over Ennis-Hill’s current fitness level is about the deepest female sports journalism gets at the moment.

It’s not that women shouldn’t be writing about Ennis-Hill - she’s an inspiring and responsible role-model for young people all over Britain and deserves plenty of coverage. Much as it is annoying, there are currently more male sports stars and more male sports fans (although actually more women are watching football than ever). However, someone’s gender does not inhibit their capacity to report and comment on sport to the extent that during the period surveyed over 96 per cent of sports articles were authored by someone with a Y chromosome.

Moving on to the differing stature of the articles written by men and women, I also recorded the gender of journalists writing the main frontpage story in the newspaper each day. This is the most prestigious slot in a newspaper - the frontpage is a newspaper’s selling point and the main medium for it to make bold statements about the world. Therefore, the fact that only 21.84 per cent of these articles were written by women displays the fundamental inequality that exists in the newspaper business. Once again, the Times compares favourably, with more women than men writing their main frontpage story in the two weeks we recorded. In contrast, at the Telegraph fewer than one in ten main frontpage articles were written by women. I also discovered that there was very little difference in the percentages of women writing differently sized articles: of all the "short" articles women wrote 27.57 per cent, whereas women wrote 24.78 per cent of "large" ones.

Info graphic by: Héctor Crespo González

It's no secret that men dominate British public life. But it doesn't have to be this way. The media industry is, or at least should be, the voice of the nation, and if half of the nation aren’t being heard, that's not good enough. So girls, pick up your pens and get writing, because the days of the brief-case carrying, be-Trilbied swarms of men walking down Fleet Street should be well and truly over.

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We're racing towards another private debt crisis - so why did no one see it coming?

The Office for Budget Responsibility failed to foresee the rise in household debt. 

This is a call for a public inquiry on the current situation regarding private debt.

For almost a decade now, since 2007, we have been living a lie. And that lie is preparing to wreak havoc on our economy. If we do not create some kind of impartial forum to discuss what is actually happening, the results might well prove disastrous. 

The lie I am referring to is the idea that the financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent “Great Recession,” were caused by profligate government spending and subsequent public debt. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The crash happened because of dangerously high levels of private debt (a mortgage crisis specifically). And - this is the part we are not supposed to talk about—there is an inverse relation between public and private debt levels.

If the public sector reduces its debt, overall private sector debt goes up. That's what happened in the years leading up to 2008. Now austerity is making it happening again. And if we don't do something about it, the results will, inevitably, be another catastrophe.

The winners and losers of debt

These graphs show the relationship between public and private debt. They are both forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced in 2015 and 2017. 

This is what the OBR was projecting what would happen around now back in 2015:

This year the OBR completely changed its forecast. This is how it now projects things are likely to turn out:

First, notice how both diagrams are symmetrical. What happens on top (that part of the economy that is in surplus) precisely mirrors what happens in the bottom (that part of the economy that is in deficit). This is called an “accounting identity.”

As in any ledger sheet, credits and debits have to match. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine there are just two actors, government, and the private sector. If the government borrows £100, and spends it, then the government has a debt of £100. But by spending, it has injected £100 more pounds into the private economy. In other words, -£100 for the government, +£100 for everyone else in the diagram. 

Similarly, if the government taxes someone for £100 , then the government is £100 richer but there’s £100 subtracted from the private economy (+£100 for government, -£100 for everybody else on the diagram).

So what implications does this kind of bookkeeping have for the overall economy? It means that if the government goes into surplus, then everyone else has to go into debt.

We tend to think of money as if it is a bunch of poker chips already lying around, but that’s not how it really works. Money has to be created. And money is created when banks make loans. Either the government borrows money and injects it into the economy, or private citizens borrow money from banks. Those banks don’t take the money from people’s savings or anywhere else, they just make it up. Anyone can write an IOU. But only banks are allowed to issue IOUs that the government will accept in payment for taxes. (In other words, there actually is a magic money tree. But only banks are allowed to use it.)

There are other factors. The UK has a huge trade deficit (blue), and that means the government (yellow) also has to run a deficit (print money, or more accurately, get banks to do it) to inject into the economy to pay for all those Chinese trainers, American iPads, and German cars. The total amount of money can also fluctuate. But the real point here is, the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else must be. Austerity measures will necessarily lead to rising levels of private debt. And this is exactly what has happened.

Now, if this seems to have very little to do with the way politicians talk about such matters, there's a simple reason: most politicians don’t actually know any of this. A recent survey showed 90 per cent of MPs don't even understand where money comes from (they think it's issued by the Royal Mint). In reality, debt is money. If no one owed anyone anything at all there would be no money and the economy would grind to a halt.

But of course debt has to be owed to someone. These charts show who owes what to whom.

The crisis in private debt

Bearing all this in mind, let's look at those diagrams again - keeping our eye particularly on the dark blue that represents household debt. In the first, 2015 version, the OBR duly noted that there was a substantial build-up of household debt in the years leading up to the crash of 2008. This is significant because it was the first time in British history that total household debts were higher than total household savings, and therefore the household sector itself was in deficit territory. (Corporations, at the same time, were raking in enormous profits.) But it also predicted this wouldn't happen again.

True, the OBR observed, austerity and the reduction of government deficits meant private debt levels would have to go up. However, the OBR economists insisted this wouldn't be a problem because the burden would fall not on households but on corporations. Business-friendly Tory policies would, they insisted, inspire a boom in corporate expansion, which would mean frenzied corporate borrowing (that huge red bulge below the line in the first diagram, which was supposed to eventually replace government deficits entirely). Ordinary households would have little or nothing to worry about.

This was total fantasy. No such frenzied boom took place.

In the second diagram, two years later, the OBR is forced to acknowledge this. Corporations are just raking in the profits and sitting on them. The household sector, on the other hand, is a rolling catastrophe. Austerity has meant falling wages, less government spending on social services (or anything else), and higher de facto taxes. This puts the squeeze on household budgets and people are forced to borrow. As a result, not only are households in overall deficit for the second time in British history, the situation is actually worse than it was in the years leading up to 2008.

And remember: it was a mortgage crisis that set off the 2008 crash, which almost destroyed the world economy and plunged millions into penury. Not a crisis in public debt. A crisis in private debt.

An inquiry

In 2015, around the time the original OBR predictions came out, I wrote an essay in the Guardian predicting that austerity and budget-balancing would create a disastrous crisis in private debt. Now it's so clearly, unmistakably, happening that even the OBR cannot deny it.

I believe the time has come for there be a public investigation - a formal public inquiry, in fact - into how this could be allowed to happen. After the 2008 crash, at least the economists in Treasury and the Bank of England could plausibly claim they hadn't completely understood the relation between private debt and financial instability. Now they simply have no excuse.

What on earth is an institution called the “Office for Budget Responsibility” credulously imagining corporate borrowing binges in order to suggest the government will balance the budget to no ill effects? How responsible is that? Even the second chart is extremely odd. Up to 2017, the top and bottom of the diagram are exact mirrors of one another, as they ought to be. However, in the projected future after 2017, the section below the line is much smaller than the section above, apparently seriously understating the amount both of future government, and future private, debt. In other words, the numbers don't add up.

The OBR told the New Statesman ​that it was not aware of any errors in its 2015 forecast for corporate sector net lending, and that the forecast was based on the available data. It said the forecast for business investment has been revised down because of the uncertainty created by Brexit. 

Still, if the “Office of Budget Responsibility” was true to its name, it should be sounding off the alarm bells right about now. So far all we've got is one mention of private debt and a mild warning about the rise of personal debt from the Bank of England, which did not however connect the problem to austerity, and one fairly strong statement from a maverick columnist in the Daily Mail. Otherwise, silence. 

The only plausible explanation is that institutions like the Treasury, OBR, and to a degree as well the Bank of England can't, by definition, warn against the dangers of austerity, however alarming the situation, because they have been set up the way they have in order to justify austerity. It's important to emphasise that most professional economists have never supported Conservative policies in this regard. The policy was adopted because it was convenient to politicians; institutions were set up in order to support it; economists were hired in order to come up with arguments for austerity, rather than to judge whether it would be a good idea. At present, this situation has led us to the brink of disaster.

The last time there was a financial crash, the Queen famously asked: why was no one able to foresee this? We now have the tools. Perhaps the most important task for a public inquiry will be to finally ask: what is the real purpose of the institutions that are supposed to foresee such matters, to what degree have they been politicised, and what would it take to turn them back into institutions that can at least inform us if we're staring into the lights of an oncoming train?