The Government’s response to a report on the gendered impact of Covid rejects many of the recommendations, but says flexible working will be reviewed ‘in due course’.
The Government continues to reject request to publish its equality impact assessments, but says it is considering extending flexible working legislation and redundancy protection for pregnant women, according to its response to a Women and Equalities Committee report on the gendered impact of Covid.
The report says that the Government believes that Equality Impact Assessments “should not routinely be made public as Ministers need to be able to have full and frank discussions about the potential impacts of their decisions as they make decisions to ensure no one is left behind”.
On flexible working, it says the Flexible Working Taskforce”, launched in February, will work with business and other groups to consider how to remove obstacles to more flexible working and deepen the Government’s understanding of what is happening ‘on the ground’ within businesses”.
It adds that it will “reflect on how Covid-19 has presented opportunities to think differently about ways of working”. However, it says that cultural changes that have come about as a result of the pandemic will be built on in the Employment Bill, which was not included in the Queen’s Speech. The report says instead that the Bill will be brought forward “in due course”. It was originally announced in 2019 and employment experts have been angered that it appears to have been dropped for this session of Parliament.
Tony Wilson, Director of the Institute for Employment Studies, said: “No Employment Bill means no overhaul of our enforcement bodies, no right to request a predictable contract, no extension of redundancy protections to pregnant women, and no reforms to protect working carers. It seems very unlikely that government will find space or have competence to include any of these measures in other bills announced today. Our research has shown clearly that good enforcement and regulation is better for firms, workers and society. Far from ‘levelling up’, this Queen’s speech risks levelling down on jobs.”
Another part of the Bill concerns plans to extend redundancy protection for pregnant women and new mothers which the report says will be brought forward “as Parliamentary time allows”.
The report rejects several of the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee report, for instance, any sense of looking at taking special measures to boost sectors traditionally dominated by women, including hospitality and childcare. The Women’s Budget Group called, for instance, for a care-led recovery. The report says: “Building Back Better is not about providing support for entire sectors because they provide what are traditionally considered ‘women’s jobs’ but ensuring everyone is able to benefit from the new opportunities opening up in growth areas such as STEM.”
Also rejected are calls for a review of the gendered impact of Universal Credit design; for a rise in legacy benefits [the report says the 20 pounds a week uplift in Universal Credit was designed to help people through Covid and so would not apply to people on legacy benefits]; for an increase in Statutory Sick Pay.
While it says it is considering calls for ethnicity pay gap reports, it rejects those for similar work on disability.
Instead, there is a big focus on STEM and getting more women into STEM-related careers. It says the Department for Education is focussing on engaging with STEM employers to better understand what barriers they face in reaching out to women, as well as seeking examples of where women are effectively being brought onto STEM apprenticeships and retained successfully. The report also mentions work on STEM bootcamps for young people and apprenticeship diversity champions.
On childcare, there is nothing on any extra cash for the sector, although the report refers to the spending review announcement last year of £44 million for local authorities to increase hourly rates paid to childcare providers for the government’s free childcare offers. Childcare providers noted that this was a significant reduction in the sum of £66 million allocated in the 2019 Spending Review announcement and said that it would not cover all the increase in costs of providing the places.
Caroline Nokes MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, welcomed the Government’s response and said: “We are pleased that the Government has accepted our recommendation to amend the current flexible working regulations, removing the threshold for employees to request flexible working arrangements. The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that it is unhelpful and unnecessary.
“In its Response, the Government states it wants to make it easier for people to work flexibly and commit to further encouraging flexible working by consulting on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to. We welcome the launch of the consultation as soon as possible.”
She added: “Our report clearly showed that Government policies have been repeatedly skewed towards men, which is why we set out a range of recommendations that we felt would go a long way towards tackling the problems and creating the more equal future for women. We are encouraged to see that the Government has taken the oppourtunity to listen and work towards improving the situation.”