Why women are falling through the Covid-19 cracks?
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are already statistics that show the impact on women shining a light on gender inequality. Historically, women have been left in a similar position following pandemics due to the disproportionate impact on working mothers.
- Women are the majority of health and care workers (77% of health care and 83% of social care)
- Women are the majority of workers with the highest exposure to Covid-19 (of the 3,200,000 workers in high-risk roles are 77% women)
- 69% of low paid earners are women
- 90% of lone parents are women (45% of whom are living in poverty)
- On average women carry out 60% more unpaid work than men
Why are women falling through the cracks?
Disproportionate job losses
It has come to light more than usual during the pandemic that there is a mass overrepresentation of women who work in social care and health sectors (which is mostly frontline work for the purposes of the pandemic). This means that more women than men have been put at risk of contracting the coronavirus and have had increased difficulty trying to find childcare.
The job sectors that are largely carried out by women have been the hardest hit during the pandemic, such as, the travel business, hospitality, retail, tourism and beauty. As a result of these industries suffering more than others, a disproportionate number of women have either lost their jobs or have been left in extremely difficult financial situations.
The coronavirus job retention scheme has been put in place to try and encourage employers to avoid redundancies and instead allow the government to pay 80% of their employee’s wages. However, this scheme is optional, and employers are allowed to make employees redundant instead. As the jobs which are largely carried out by women have suffered to an extreme during the pandemic, it is likely that more women have not enjoyed the benefits of the furlough scheme and have instead been made redundant.
The individuals in the UK who are part-time and self-employed are also disproportionately women because usually it is a woman who has the primary childcare responsibilities and this type of work is, therefore, more suited. Due to the working circumstances of part-time and self-employed women, income is usually non-uniform and can vary from month to month. As a result of this and Covid-19, many women run into restrictions when claiming sick pay and government grants and are not entitled to furlough.
The government have introduced a self-employed support scheme, which means that 80% of earnings up to £50,000 a year can be given in a grant by the government. This scheme did not begin until June, which meant that many self-employed people needed to use universal credit as of March when the UK went into lockdown.
Universal credit can be problematic for women, who make up 59% of all part-time and self-employed people. One reason is that universal credit is a single household payment, so if there is a “male breadwinner” in the house then the woman cannot claim. This has also led men to perpetuate economic abuse because a woman’s financial independence is removed. It should be noted that this can also happen to men, but because it is predominantly a woman that is responsible for childcare and/or part-time/self-employed, consequentially this has a disproportionate impact on women. Universal credit is also problematic for women because there is usually a wait to receive it, which will add financial pressure to single mothers who are the primary carer of their children.
Self-employed women who have been on maternity leave in the last 3 years will also be disproportionately impacted as this is not taken into account when calculating the grants awarded to those who are self-employed, instead, they simply receive about 1/3 less than their male counterparts.
The above issues are compounded by a woman’s probability to be a primary carer for children and their own parents, which will also pressure many women to stop working, which will affect the women’s labour market equality for a sometimes post lockdown.
Limited support for working women
This pandemic is likely to exasperate the inequality of working women because there is little support for women who require childcare to be able to go to work when social distancing is in place.
More particularly, BAME communities have suffered and have even more limited support because firstly, they have been found to be more at risk during the pandemic. Additionally, BAME communities (again a lot of women who are the primary carers of their children) have been affected because Covid-19 has reiterated the harsh realities of pre-existing racial inequalities. There is a disproportionate social and economic impact on BAME mothers who are reporting that they are struggling to feed their children, compared to white women. The redundancy and recruitment decisions in businesses have also disproportionately affected BAME women because of racial inequality, but also because women are more likely to have childcare responsibilities which lead employers to think it is ‘easier’ to let them go or not employ them in the first place. This means that BAME women have twice the struggle as white women within employment.
Women will continue to be in a weak labour market position even once Covid-19 is over because they are disproportionately in low paid, highly precarious and socially unprotected sectors of employment.
By Jodie and Bella