The huge changes sweeping the UK labour market in the wake of the pandemic came under scrutiny at a parliamentary committee this week at which Professor Jill Rubery, Director of the Work & Equalities Institute, gave evidence via a weblink. The Women and Equalities Select Committee looked at a range of topics related to the current crisis and at the effectiveness of various government support schemes that have been introduced, especially in terms of female workers.
In particular it discussed the design and implementation of the furlough scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). One specific problem that Jill, Professor of Comparative Employment Systems at Alliance MBS, raised during the session was that those who had to look after children in the lockdown did not have the right to take parental leave. Although they could request to be furloughed in the UK the employer did not have to agree the request. However in 16 member states in the European Union parents did have a right to take some leave.
The hearing also investigated temporary changes to the welfare system and how the design of the system could be adapted to avoid unequal impacts on men and women, and at how to reform statutory sick pay.
She added: “There are many people having their lifetime careers disrupted by the pandemic and having to think again about where they want to work. For instance many women are having to deal with increased domestic responsibilities because of school closures or issues with childcare provision, while also having other care responsibilities.
“In such circumstances it becomes very difficult for women looking for a job to spend all their time searching for jobs that may not exist or may not be the right ones for them. We actually need a change of mindset that looks at a more holistic approach to what is going on in their lives, what kind of support they need to retrain and find out about new jobs, and whether they need to go back and complete their education. These are just some of the things we need to think about if we want to build back better and do it with gender equality.”
Working from home
Also discussed at the hearing was the national lockdown and the move to working from home, and what the government should do differently in the event of further lockdowns and sector shutdowns from a gendered perspective.
In particular it looked at how to ensure the fair treatment for employees and workers if some people are returning to the office and others aren’t, and how well flexible working is working in the current context. The committee also looked at longer term challenges around economic gender equality.
Alongside Professor Rubery, also giving evidence at the hearing was Monica Costas Dias, Deputy Research Director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and Dr Duncan Brown, Principal Associate at the Institute of Employment Studies.
You can listen to the hearing in full at this link.