February 09, 2021

UK coronavirus support “repeatedly skewed towards men,” says new report

UK coronavirus support “repeatedly skewed towards men,” says new report

The Women and Equalities Committee, which holds the UK government to account on equality law and policy, says that government policies on Covid-19 have “repeatedly failed to consider” the labor market and caring inequalities faced by women.   

The government has spent over £200bn on job support schemes during the pandemic. However, Committee chair Caroline Nokes says they “must start actively analysing and assessing the equality impact of every policy, or it risks turning the clock back.”

The report notes that women have spent more time on caring duties than men during the pandemic, yet “furlough was not clearly articulated as a right for those with caring responsibilities.”

Women were also less likely to qualify for statutory sick pay, in part due to caring responsibilities, as their wages, as a result, were too low to be eligible. 

The report makes 20 recommendations, which include making it easier for staff to get flexible working arrangements. Suggestions include:

  • Changing the law to allow employees to request flexible working arrangements when they start a job rather than waiting 26 weeks as currently mandated by law.
  • Maintaining increases in financial support including the £20 rise in Universal Credit.
  • Extending redundancy protection to cover pregnant women and new mothers.
  • Reviewing the availability of sick pay.
  • Conducting an equality assessment of the support measures introduced during the pandemic.
  • Reinstating gender pay gap reporting which was cancelled in March 2020 due to the pandemic.
  • Reviewing childcare provision to provide support not only for working parents but for those who are job-seeking or retraining.

British Chambers of Commerce co-executive director Claire Walker believes that a national focus is required to help parents and carers: “Employers value the skills women bring to the workplace and the evidence shows that businesses with a diverse and inclusive workforce perform better.”

She says, “Economic growth will depend on access to high quality, affordable childcare.”

Daniela Vuri has explored whether childcare policies increase maternal employment for IZA World of Labor. She says, “Childcare services could help encourage parents—in particular, mothers—to take part in the labor force. However, if such services are not sufficient to meet demand, are too expensive, or are incompatible with the needs of parents (usually mothers) who work full-time—for instance, because of inconvenient opening and closing hours, centers being too far away—this could severely affect their work possibilities.”

In their commentary on childcare during Covid-19, Almudena Sevilla and Sarah Smith also write about how “in families where men are now working from home or are not currently employed, the allocation of the additional hours of childcare within couples is more equal than it was in those same couples before the Covid-19 crisis began.”

They are optimistic that “[t]he experience of working from home may help to accelerate a move to more flexible working arrangements. Because when men are working from home, the burden of childcare is more equally shared, this potential shift to additional work performed from home could lead to a longer-term increase in gender equality in childcare.”

Find more IZA World of Labor content on female labor force participation.