Pandemic widens gender inequality in the workplace

Disproportionate impact on women ignored says government committee

The crisis may be easing, but Covid-19 continues to have a devastating impact on lives, and according to reports, more so on women than men. A parliamentary select committee is warning that the Government risks “turning the clock back” on equality by overlooking the labour market and gender inequalities during the pandemic.

The report by the Women and Equalities committee has issued twenty recommendations on inequality for the Government to tackle. It claims that while support packages have provided a vital safety net for millions, the pandemic has made existing inequalities worse for many women, highlighting specifically pregnant women, new mothers, the self-employed, women claiming benefits and those working in the childcare sector.

The committee heard evidence from several organisations, including the TUC. And, in its own survey, the TUC found that more than seven in ten women who applied for furlough following the most recent school closures had their requests turned down. General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said the pandemic had “set back women’s equality,” adding that women are often expected to work and look after children at the same time. She continued, “If ministers don’t act, women will be pushed out of the labour market, and that means women and children’s poverty will soar.”

The Fawcett Society, a charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, claims the pandemic has had a “devastating” impact on gender equality in the workplace with women more likely than men to lose work or be burdened with childcare in the crisis. The society found a third of working mothers it surveyed had lost work or hours during the pandemic and this figure rose to 44% amongst Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) mothers. Describing the UK as being at a “coronavirus crossroads” that could impact the progress of workplace equality for years, the Fawcett Society did say there are positive signs too, as many fathers claim they now spend twice as much time with their children than before the crisis.

Labour says progress on closing the gender pay gap has slowed “significantly” under the Tories, and at current pace will not be closed until 2052, meaning working women now in their mid-30s will never know equal pay in their working lives. The Government, however, says it is “fully committed” to ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to progress in the workplace.

What our surveys show 

Regardless of what the Government or opposition parties may claim, a clear majority of us believe we are a long way from achieving gender equality in the workplace. In our survey, 52%, answered “No” to our first question, and that figure was, very understandably, higher when divided between men and women. While 36% of the men surveyed said “No”, the number rose to 69% amongst women. Only 29% overall said they think there is gender equality in the workplace, and 19% were “don’t knows”.

And even though there have been numerous “we’re all in this together” claims from our leaders during the pandemic, a significantly higher majority of us, 63%, believe the situation has made things worse for working women than men. Again, the female/male split was higher, with 44% of men saying they believed the pandemic has had a “negative” effect on gender equality in the workplace and 79% of women saying the same. Overall, 9% of those surveyed said they thought the pandemic has had a “positive’ effect on workplace equality, with 19% saying a “neutral” effect and a further 9% saying they “don’t know.”

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