The hard-hitting report, Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact, was published today by the Women and Equalities Committee to which Rubery gave evidence last October. That hearing looked at a range of topics related to the COVID-19 crisis and the effectiveness of various government support schemes that have been introduced, especially in relation to female workers. In particular it discussed the design and implementation of the furlough scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).
Effect of lockdown
Today’s report cites IFS estimates that women were a third more likely to be employed in sectors that were shut down during the first national lockdown, and thus particularly at risk of job loss. Witnesses to the inquiry also reported how the gendered impacts of the pandemic were predictable given that women, particularly BAME women, were disproportionately employed in less secure, low quality work arrangements.
A number of studies have also found that those in insecure work, including zero-hours arrangements and temporary employment, suffered greater falls in earnings and hours over the pandemic than those on more secure contracts.
Among the key recommendations and conclusions in today’s report are:
- The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and SEISS have provided a vital safety net to millions of people. However, the design of these schemes overlooked, and in some respects continues to overlook, the specific and well-understood labour market and caring inequalities faced by women.
- Schemes to support employees and the self-employed should be informed by an Equality Impact Assessment, drawing on evidence of existing inequalities. This approach would better protect those already at disadvantage in the labour market, including women, and could inform more effective responses to future crises.
- Concern that the government’s priorities for recovery are heavily gendered in nature. Investment plans that are skewed towards male-dominated sectors have the potential to create unequal outcomes for men and women, exacerbating existing inequalities.
- That the government amend the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 to remove the 26-weeks’ service threshold for employees to request flexible working arrangements. The pandemic has “clearly demonstrated that it is unhelpful and unnecessary”.
- That the Department for Work and Pensions commit to maintaining the increases in support that have been provided during the pandemic until the end of the pandemic, including the £20 increase in standard allowance for Universal Credit.
- That the government conducts a study to examine the adequacy of, and eligibility for, Statutory Sick Pay.
- That the government introduce legislation in this parliamentary session to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers.
- That the government publish by June this year an early years strategy which sets out how childcare provision can best support not only working parents, but also those who are job-seeking and re-training. The review must also consider the feasibility of extending eligibility for free childcare provision for children under the age of three.
Commenting on the report, Rubery, Professor of Comparative Employment Systems at Alliance MBS, said: “It is really important that the report calls for Gender Impact Assessments of both lockdown support measures and the recovery plans post-COVID. If these had been implemented from the start of the pandemic then parents who are home-schooling might have had rights to be furloughed, and it could still lead to a recovery based on investments not only in construction but also in care.
“The report also highlights the inadequacies of the statutory sick pay scheme and the fact that this very low benefit is preventing many care staff from self-isolating as they cannot afford not to work.”