Committee criticises Government’s inaction over women during Covid

A Women and Equalities Committee report says the Government has failed to consider the unequal impact of Covid on women and skewed pandemic and recovery policies towards men.

Factory workers wearing face masks to protect from virus


The Government inaction has repeatedly failed to consider the unequal impact of Covid-19 on women and skewed policies towards men, according to a cross-party parliamentary committee report which says plans for the recovery also seem to marginalise women.

The report, which is based on written and oral evidence from organisations ranging from Maternity Action, the TUC, Gingerbread, the Young Women’s Trust and the Women’s Budget Group, says the Government risks turning the clock back on women’s progress if it doesn’t take immediate action.

It makes 20 recommendations for change, including calling for an Equality Impact Assessment of the furlough scheme and the Self Employed Income Support Scheme as well as the Industrial Strategy and the New Deal. It also recommends that the Government analyse who has benefited from the industrial strategy to date. It says: “Priorities for recovery are heavily gendered in nature, with investment plans skewing towards male-dominated sectors.”

The report further calls for an economic growth assessment of proposals made by the Women’s Budget Group for a care-led recovery.

Other recommendations include a call for the Government to maintain the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit, to review the rate of and eligibility rules around Statutory Sick Pay, to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers and to publish a strategy on pregnancy and maternity discrimination within six months. And it wants to see a review of childcare provision to provide support not only for working parents but those who are job seeking or retraining.

It calls for the reinstatement of gender pay gap reporting [including for 2019 and 2020] and for reporting to include ethnicity and disability [to be considered in the next six months]. It also envisaging reporting on parental leave policies and it criticises the Gender Equality Office and the Minister for Women, saying they should be more ambitious and proactive. It says the Committee was “deeply concerned” at the dismissive attitude of the Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, about the impact of Covid on people with protected characteristics.

Committee Chair Caroline Nokes said: “As the pandemic struck, the Government had to act quickly to protect jobs and adapt welfare benefits. These have provided a vital safety net for millions of people. But it overlooked the labour market and caring inequalities faced by women. These are not a mystery, they are specific and well understood. And yet the Government has repeatedly failed to consider them. This passive approach to gender equality is not enough. And for many women it has made existing equality problems worse: in the support to self-employed people, to pregnant women and new mothers, to the professional childcare sector, and for women claiming benefits. And it risks doing the same in its plans for economic recovery.”

She added: “The message from our evidence is clear: Government policies have repeatedly skewed towards men – and it keeps happening. We need to see more than good intentions and hoping for the best. The Government must start actively analysing and assessing the equality impact of every policy, or it risks turning the clock back.”

A coalition of groups, led by the Fawcett Society, has written to the Government, urging it “to ensure that the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Select Committee on the unequal economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women are implemented urgently”.

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