The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work’s launch event for its report on women and work heard from several campaigners and MPs.
It is vital that the Government introduces proactive measures to help women in work or progress made on equality in the workplace could go back decades, the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee told a meeting yesterday.
Caroline Nokes was speaking at the launch of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work report and employer toolkit on women and Covid. Nokes, whose Committee published its own report two weeks ago which overlapped in several places with the APPG report, praised the APPG’s idea of setting up a taskforce on women’s employment. She said this was “a glaring omission” from the Committee’s report and that Covid had exacerbated existing inequalities, with sectors where women predominated – such as retail, hairdressing and hospitality – being the first hit and the last out of lockdown – and people on temporary or part-time contracts being more likely to miss out on Statutory Sick Pay.
She added that the Committee had also seen how little consideration appeared to have been given to women during the pandemic and called for concrete policies to help them back to work, including investment in childcare and enforcement of gender pay gap reporting so it is clear what the impact of the pandemic has been on women’s salaries and progression.
She also noted the importance of flexible working being a day one right, but said she would like to see more imagination over how to encourage different ways of working, for instance, only 0.4% of roles are currently job shares, she said. She suggested National Insurance breaks for job shares so that employers didn’t feel out of pocket having to pay two people’s NI contributions. Nokes said there were opportunities for employers and Government to think differently as we come out of lockdown, for instance, supporting back-to-work STEM programmes or apprenticeships aimed at women.
Seema Malhotra, Labour’s minister for employment, said she was interested in seeing international comparisons on how women had fared during the pandemic to see what we could learn. She highlighted that women were more likely to be in low paid, insecure work and said action on employment status issues was key to making a difference. And she called for more focus on using gender neutral language when talking about the recovery so that it felt more inclusive. Malhotra spoke about the need for innovative solutions to childcare issues, for instance, childcare cooperatives, and said: “Covid will bring community-led responses aimed at building local resilience and recovery.”
Claire Barnett from UN Women praised the whole life course focus of the report and the various gaps it highlights, from the gender pay gap to the gender investment and the gender pensions gap.
Speaking about childcare, she said a UK survey by UN Women showed a quarter of women did all the domestic and care work during the early part of the pandemic as well as high levels of anxiety about being able to feed their children. Barnett said the government has been slow to address even short term needs and the longer term impact was yet to be seen. This year UN Women is focusing on women in leadership and she said women leaders had taken preventive action more quickly than many of their male counterparts and reduced deaths. She also called for a redoubling of efforts to provide data on the impact of policies and on the need for action.
Finally, Felicia Willow of the Fawcett Society praised the report, but said she would like to see more action on issues like flexible working with not just a day one right, but a right to have all jobs advertised as flexible unless there was a good business reason for them not to be. On gender pay gap reporting, the Fawcett Society would like to see gender pay gap reporting extended to employers with 100 employees or more, for there to be similar legislation around reporting on the ethnicity pay gap and for actions plans on how to address pay gaps to be made mandatory. Fawcett Society would also like to see wholesale reform of parental leave rights with more rights for dads to take time off and not have to feel they were taking leave away from women.
Other actions favoured by the Fawcett Society included making it compulsory for larger companies to report on the gender of people being made redundant and greater protections from redundancy for pregnant women and those on or coming back from maternity leave. Willow also issued a call for care workers to be paid at least the living wage and for greater investment in childcare through showing the clear return on investment it afforded. She asked how women could return to work without childcare. “Childcare is a necessity for equality,” she stated, adding that women also needed to have greater representation at the decision-making table to ensure issues of concern to them were addressed. Nokes added that Universal Credit conditionality should be eased for women with young children, given they could not fully commit to jobseeking without childcare.