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A new report on the impact of the furlough scheme on women in the early part of the pandemic says the Government has failed to recognised the likely implications of the policy for equality.
The UK government’s furlough scheme may not be doing enough to address the economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis on women, according to new analysis, which says more targeted support which recognises the gendered and sectoral impact of the pandemic is needed.
The report by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London looked at experiences of furlough during the early months of the pandemic, between April and July 2020. It concludes that the Government has failed to consider the likely implications of the furlough policy for equality in the UK. The Women and Equalities Committee has recently called on the Government to conduct an Equality Impact Assessment of the furlough scheme and the Self Employed Income Support Scheme.
The analysis found that women who were furloughed were more likely to be furloughed for longer periods. In July 2020, 31% of women who had been furloughed at any point during the pandemic had worked zero hours since March, compared with 20% of their male peers.
Moreover, furloughed women had worse perceptions of their job security than had furloughed men. Women who had been on furlough were 8 percentage points more likely than their male counterparts to put their chance of losing their jobs at greater than one in five. For comparison, among all workers, the situation is reversed, with men (51%) less likely than women (62%) to say they have no chance of losing their job in the next three months.
Furloughed women had worse projected financial security than had furloughed men. Among workers in general, men and women were equally likely to say they would have no trouble paying their usual bills in the next three months. Among workers who had been furloughed at any point between April and July 2020, however, women were 12 percentage points more likely to say they had a greater than one in five chance of struggling to pay their usual bills.
The report says these gender disparities are likely down to the long-term use of furlough in the hardest-hit sectors of the economy, in which women make up the majority of workers, and also to women’s greater likelihood of being low-paid and on insecure contracts and childcare and home-schooling demands. It says childcare issues may have contributed to some women remaining on furlough for longer.
It adds that remaining on furlough for long periods, on low levels of pay, is likely to be damaging for women’s long-term prospects, employability, wellbeing and living standards. It calls for alternative approaches such as retraining programmes and additional support for low-paid workers in the hardest-hit sectors.