A new report by the Women and Equalities Committee states that governmental policies linked to COVID support has consistently overlooked the labour market and caring inequalities faced by women. 

New research conducted by the Women and Equalities Committee, a group appointed by the Government, has stated that pandemic policy response has “ignored and sometimes exacerbated” gendered inequalities in the economy.

The report tracks pre-pandemic trends and how the pandemic and policy response worsened these patterns.

Data showed that, in 2019, the gender pay gap for median gross earnings (excluding overtime) amongst all employees was 17.3 per cent.

In addition, women were more likely than men to work part-time, and made up the majority (58 per cent) of those in involuntary part-time employment. This group also made up the majority of those on temporary contracts (53 per cent) and on zero hours contracts (55 per cent).

When the pandemic occurred, falling employment amongst women was concentrated amongst part-time workers – with women already being more likely to be working part-time.

In addition, the IFS estimated that women were a third more likely to be employed in sectors that were “shut down” over the first national lockdown, and thus particularly at risk of job loss.

The report also highlights that, generally, women took on a greater amount of care responsibilities. It was recorded that women increased the number of hours devoted to care by more than men, putting an additional burden on working mothers.

In addition, the furlough scheme was also criticised as the Committee felt it was not clearly articulated as a right for those with caring responsibilities, something which was “at odds with the majority of EU member states which made parental leave for care reasons a right over the pandemic”.

As such, the report outlined various recommendations which would help to improve support women and working mothers more effectively. This included:

  • Reforming the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to account for labour market and caring inequalities faced by women – this would be achieved through setting up an Equality Impact Assessment
  • Amending regulations around flexible working to make it accessible and eradicate the need to request this type of working
  • Ensuring the Department for Work and Pensions expands and tailors its offer for mothers seeking employment, so that it encompasses retraining and re-skilling for jobs in the most viable sectors
  • Examining the adequacy and eligibility surrounding Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and allowing workers on zero-hour contracts to be eligible to claim SSP
  • Maintaining mainstream equality into the design of apprenticeships and worked-based learning and actively challenging occupational segregation by gender
  • Introducing legislation to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers

Committee Chair Caroline Nokes said:

As the pandemic struck, the Government had to act quickly to protect jobs and adapt welfare benefits. These have provided a vital safety net for millions of people. But it overlooked the labour market and caring inequalities faced by women. These are not a mystery, they are specific and well understood. And yet the Government has repeatedly failed to consider them. This passive approach to gender equality is not enough. And for many women it has made existing equality problems worse: in the support to self-employed people, to pregnant women and new mothers, to the professional childcare sector, and for women claiming benefits. And it risks doing the same in its plans for economic recovery.

We need to see more than good intentions and hoping for the best. The Government must start actively analysing and assessing the equality impact of every policy, or it risks turning the clock back. Our report sets out a package of twenty recommendations for change, and a timescale. Taken together, these will go a long way towards tackling the problems and creating the more equal future that so many women – and men – want to see. The Government should seize this opportunity.


*This research can be found in the Women and Equalities Commitee’s report ‘Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact’.