‘Cumulative impact of Covid childcare deficit needs recognition’

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work heard calls for action to help women, who have been particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

working mum sits at desk, stressed


It is time to ring the alarm bells for women at work, with the cumulative effect of months of childcare meaning many parents are entering the summer holidays exhausted with ongoing childcare issues, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work heard yesterday.

In addition to the childcare issue, Charlotte Woodworth, Gender Equality Campaign Director at Business in the Community [BITC], highlighted several areas of concern. The first is domestic abuse. Woodworth said many employers had not seen it as an issue for them in the past. Now that women’s workplace was their home and there had been a lot of reports of increases in abuse during lockdown more were beginning to focus on what they could do. Woodworth said the lockdown should galvanise employers to support staff facing domestic abuse. Meanwhile, the Government has said it will launch an inquiry into domestic abuse in the workplace.

The second area of concern, said Woodworth, is equal pay. She was shocked by how few of the large corporates had reported their gender pay figures this year now that they were not legally obliged to. She urged employers to report their figures to show their commitment to gender equality and said the Government needed to remind people to report.

The third issue was how lockdown was impacting women financially and increasing the burden on them, with black women worst affected than most due to being more likely to have less savings or support than other women and black women doing a lot of low paid, frontline jobs. Woodworth said the Government needed to address the funding crisis in nurseries. She called on employers to do more to promote Shared Parental Leave, including encouraging senior managers to role model shared care and encourage other dads to do so, given many gave negative assumptions by employers and a fear of the impact on their career as a reason not to do so.

Laura Farris MP, co-chair of the APPG, said the offer of support for families was not clear enough and families with young children in particular needed help. She pointed out that the easing of lockdown and the return to work are happening at a bad time for parents with the school holidays looming. Holiday clubs are reduced and many grandparents are still not able to help out, she added. As women seemed to be shouldering most of the childcare and the sectors where they predominate are the most badly hit, the future for women at work was very uncertain, she stated. “Six weeks of holiday will most likely impact on women’s work,” she said.

Jess Phillips, co-chair of the APPG, said the Government’s announcement on its job creation plan needs to ensure the sectors where women work most are not missed out of the recovery and that no-one is left behind. Training is really important, she said. Farris believes that the job creation strategy will focus on construction, IT and green jobs, with young people being a focus.

Baroness Helena Kennedy raised the issue of agency workers, particularly given concerns that Brexit might mean a watering down of their employment rights. Phillips said she expected agency workers would be more popular in the next months as employers hire people on an as and when basis in response to a rapidly changing panorama. They therefore needed protection.

On the positive side, Woodworth also brought up the issue of flexible working, saying lockdown had shown it could work. She hoped it would change attitudes and that employers would look more closely at job design so any responsiveness to changes in the pandemic would not just be temporary and about hours, but also about tasks done.

Other speakers at the online session included Damilola Ojuri from the Federation for Small Businesses who spoke about the negative impact of Covid-19 on female-led businesses, in part due to greater fears about risk when it comes to taking out loans; and Lizzie Walmsley from UK Youth who spoke of how young women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with many losing their jobs and some having to miss meals. The Government needed to understand young women’s experiences, acknowledge the gender problems they faced and listen to them.

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