The government’s attempts to reduce the budget deficit through extensive austerity cuts is having a disastrous effect on gender equality in the workplace, it has been claimed.

A new report by women’s rights charity the Fawcett Society argues that the cuts are “turning back time” on gender equality at an unprecedented rate, both in the workplace and wider society.

The report, entitled Life Raft for Women’s Equality, claims that the cuts have disproportionately affected services and benefits used by women, while jobs cuts have tended to come in industries that employ a greater number of women, such as the public sector.

“Women have not faced a greater threat to their financial security and rights in living memory. Decades of steady, albeit slow, progress on equality for women is being dismantled, as cuts to women’s jobs and the benefits and services they rely on turn back time on women’s equality,” said Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society.

“Women up and down the country are experiencing greater hardship; for those families affected the cuts to women’s jobs, services and benefits will represent a personal loss.”

According to the charity, this has led to a rising rate of unemployment among women as well as increased the gender pay gap.

Furthermore, it is having consequences outside the workplace, with “women being forced into a position where they must increasingly rely on a main breadwinner or the state for financial subsidy”, said Ms Bird.

The report calls on the government to make a number of policy changes to address the issue.

This includes restoration of support for childcare costs for low-income families to pre-April 2011 levels, ring-fencing of funding for Sure Start children’s centres and stopping local authorities from treating violence against women services as “a soft touch for cuts”.

“Our report identifies a series of targeted and achievable policy measures that could be adopted by or at the 2012 budget, which together offer a life raft for women’s equality – and never has the need been so great,” commented Ms Bird.