The Women’s Budget Group told the Women & Equalities Committee yesterday that the focus on a construction-based recovery is evidence the Government has failed to understand the gendered impact of the pandemic.
The Government should have focused on a care-led recovery rather than a construction-led one, according to the Women’s Budget Group.
Mary-Ann Stephenson from the Women’s Budget Group told the Women & Equalities Committee yesterday that the Chancellor’s summer statement was insufficient to deal with the scale of the jobs crisis facing the UK and that the Government’s focus on construction failed to recognise that women, particularly those in retail and hospitality, were likely to be the hardest hit by job losses.
Asked if it was sexist to suggest that construction was more about men than women and if she was saying care jobs were more for women, Stephenson said she was not saying this. Investment in a care-led recovery would create more jobs – for men and women – in the long term, she said. “We need a recovery plan that addresses the crisis in care as well as the climate change crisis,” she stated, adding that it would have huge benefits for society.
Professor Abi Adams-Prassl from Oxford University added that, while it was important to get more women into construction and more men into social care, the unemployment crisis is happening now and unemployment would have a long-term negative impact. Job creation plans should help those who are currently unemployed with the skills they currently have and that should be backed up with training in new skills, she stated.
Both were speaking at the first session the Committee has held on the gendered impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Stephenson said it was vital that the Government recognised the gendered impact of the crisis, but that there was little evidence at the daily briefings that it did.
Both speakers agreed that the evidence showed that it is impossible to view inequality at work separately from inequality at home, with women carrying the majority of the domestic burden – something that is very much apparent during the pandemic. Women are also more likely to be in lower paid, more insecure roles, including zero hours jobs and have increasingly been moving into solo self employment work, making them more vulnerable at times of economic crisis, and have also been disproportionately affected by public sector cuts, the speakers agreed.
Adams-Prassl said there was grassroots evidence of women on zero hours contracts simply being given no work or told not to come in during the pandemic, since it was easier to do so than to furlough them. She said people on zero hours contracts were, however, more likely to be furloughed, but less likely to have had their furlough pay topped up by employers. They are also more likely to have lost their jobs and to be forced to take leave.
Stephenson said the gender earnings gap, as opposed to the gender pay gap, is “really large” due to women being more likely to work in lower paid jobs and part time. Black and ethnic minority women and disabled women are worse affected than other women.
Adams-Prassl spoke of the disproportionate impact of childcare problems on women’s jobs and said the Government should have been more sensitive to the timing of the easing of the lockdown and the end of furlough and school issues. Stephenson simply stated: “We are yet to see any coherent childcare strategy around Covid-19.”
Adams-Prassl added that there should not be a tension between public health and the economy as the two go hand in hand. Stephenson expressed concern about the level of Statutory Sick Pay and said it worked as a disincentive for people with symptoms to self isolate.
Adams-Prassl also raised the issue of the Government’s failure to publish a detailed equality impact assessment which she said makes it difficult for researchers to have the data they need to understand how specific policies are affecting different groups.