No ‘New Deal’ for women?

What will the Government’s ‘New Deal’ mean for women, given the sectors where they dominate have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic? For now the focus is on construction, a sector where women are underrepresented.

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The Government’s “New Deal” announcement came after an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Work and Women session on the impact of lockdown on women’s jobs. Speakers expressed concern that women-dominated sectors had been worst hit, such as hospitality and retail and there were some concerns that the recovery package would be aimed mostly at male-dominated sectors.

Sure enough, the next day I looked at the Number 10 website and the title of the Prime Minister’s announcement was ‘Build, build, build’. The announcement was almost totally focused on construction – one of the sectors with the biggest gender pay gaps due mainly to the lack of women in it. Several construction firms are doing all they can to right this and attract more women, but there is a long way to go. You could also argue that from big construction jobs come lots of other support jobs.

But so far, and it is early days, there is little to suggest the ‘New Deal’ is going to do much for women – it seems more linked to addressing some of the problems created by previous recessions – and bolstering the ‘blue wall’ – rather than this one and a lot of it seems to be money that is being brought forward rather than anything new. At the very least it would be good to hear the Prime Minister acknowledge the likely gendered impact of the recession.

Not only are women-dominated sectors most likely to be hit – as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated and the ILO announced yesterday – but research shows women are shouldering most of the burden on childcare and homeschooling. Many are looking at the school holidays with a degree of despair. They’ve used up all their annual leave, can’t afford unpaid leave and many holiday clubs are either not opening or opening with reduced spaces. The Prime Minister may have made an announcement about holiday schemes recently, which was covered in the regional press, but politics and reality are often two different things and we have had parents coming to us worried about the prospect of no places.

The APPG highlighted how some employers seem to think that we are back to business more or less as normal and saying parents would normally have had to cover holidays so there is no excuse. For parents, normality – even if it is normality with distancing – feels a long way off.

The upshot is that many women are likely to lose – or have already lost – their jobs. With childcare organisations virtually begging for investment [and not mentioned yet again in yesterday’s announcement], it feels like this could be a massive backwards step for women, with many potentially ending up back in unpaid carer roles. They need creative approaches, but most of all they need the Government to promote a recovery package that is inclusive of everyone impacted by this pandemic.



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