Review of 2020 part three

The last part of’s review of 2020 covers the September to December period of multiple changes and rising infection rates.

Christmas decorations


In the final part of the review of 2020, we track the period from September to December with multiple school closures and regional and national lockdowns amid rising infection rates.


In a month marked by local lockdowns and pressure to go back to the office, with trust a central issue, the Chancellor outlined a short-lived Jobs Support Scheme, an extension of the Self Employment Income Support Scheme, a VAT cut for the hospitality and tourism and help for businesses to repay government loans. The Health Secretary announced that care arrangements – both formal and informal – would be exempt from local lockdown measures in England and the Government announced that employers who force or allow staff to come to work when they should be self-isolating will be liable for fines of up to £10,000. Meanwhile, amid all the pressure to get back to the office, a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said the shift to home working over the pandemic has been a positive experience for most employers, who report people’s improved work-life balance, enhanced employee collaboration and improved focus. It also found employers are less open to other forms of flexible working.

On childcare, researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the University of Birmingham, Frontier Economics, Coram Family and Childcare and the University of Surrey said some childcare providers could close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing financial pressures, meaning a shortage of places once demand returns to “normal” levels. A group of organisations representing businesses, parents, children, childcare providers and workers called on the Treasury to take urgent action to prevent nurseries and childminders from closing due to coronavirus as providers point to a lack of provision of Covid testing for the childcare sector. The Federation of Small Businesses says childcare is vital for return to work and calls for more government support, the Early Years Alliance said many local authorities in England were ignoring government guidance instructing them to fund childcare providers as if coronavirus wasn’t happening until the end of the year and the TUC says 41 per cent of working mums with children under 10 can’t get – or are unsure whether they will get – enough childcare to cover the hours they need for work in September. Meanwhile, the County Councils Network warned that childcare in rural areas could be impacted the most by childcare closures due to the pandemic, with local authorities believing up to one in 10 providers in England’s counties are at risk of closure this winter. And ASK Research reports that thousands of special needs pupils in England are unlikely to return to school in September.

On gender equality, the Chartered Management Institute said more than double the number of managers believe childcare issues during the pandemic will have a negative impact on women compared to men. Cranfield University’s School of Management said voluntary targets have boosted gender diversity on UK boards, but mainly through non-executive directors rather than more women being in senior leadership positions. Meanwhile, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said the earnings return for women who do master’s and PhDs is higher than for men and a Scottish banker becomes the first woman to run a Wall Street bank. Insurance company Zurich announced that more than three quarters of its new dads take at least three months of paternity leave, with the company offering 16 weeks’ leave at full pay. Meanwhile, the Government was criticised by the Petitions Committee for its response to a Parliamentary report on how new parents are supported during the coronavirus pandemic and figures suggested low take-up of Shared Parental Leave continues.

On flexible working, Zurich also spoke about its flexible working offer to employees, including the option to select a ‘fully flexible persona’ and change the location of their working week to suit what works for them. As Spain considered legislation to protect remote workers, think tank Autonomy said a four-day week in the public sector could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and reduce the costs of burnout.

In other news, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development and the Equality and Human Rights Commission published new guidance for employers, setting out how to recognise and support staff experiencing domestic abuse after a surge in cases since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. And, amid warnings of NHS staffing shortages, the Confederation of British Industry and Pertemps warned that a two-speed jobs market is emerging with 51% of firms expecting to maintain or increase their permanent recruitment in the next 12 months and 46% planning to either reduce permanent recruitment or not recruit at all. The Women’s Budget Group called for a care-led economic recovery and said there is widespread public support for prioritising investment in social care, health and education over money for transport and technology.

And, as experts warned of a looming jobs crisis as the original furlough scheme comes to an end and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched a national employment campaign, a report by Human Rights Watch said the Government’s Universal Credit system is flawed due to a poorly designed algorithm which is pushing people to the brink of poverty.


The Chancellor outlined extra financial support for businesses and the self employed who have been hit by Covid while Wales announced a temporary national lockdown, Northern Ireland extended half term and tiered systems were unveiled across the UK. Meanwhile, the Chancellor announced the extension of the Job Support Scheme for local lockdown areas – the scheme seemed very similar to the original furlough scheme, with the Government paying two thirds of salaries of employees who can’t work due to Covid up to a maximum of £2,100 a month. The Government also announced a scheme to help those out of work for three months back to work based around investment in work coaches and MPs debated calls for new parents to be granted extra parental leave this year due to the impact of coronavirus.

Amid interest in long-term flexible working trends following Covid, a study from the Office for National Statistics found the majority of industries experienced no loss in productivity due to staff working from home as a result of the coronavirus while 24 per cent experienced a decrease in productivity. A poll by the British Council for Offices found significant support for a move to a ‘mixed’ working style, with time in the office balanced with time at home. And Aviva and Standard Life Aberdeen announced that they have become the first accredited Living Hours employers, guaranteeing hours as well as a living wage.

On the gig economy, a study by the Centre for Progressive Policy called for labour market reforms to tackle increasing job insecurity, a ban on zero hours contracts, greater clarity on employment status and a minimum income for self employed workers. Meanwhile, a report by think tanks Compass and Autonomy said Covid-19 has exacerbated rising work-related mental ill health with e-presenteeism extending the working day and working mums suffering the most. And evidence emerged that many employers are failing to top up low-income earnings of furloughed workers.

On childcare, a Working Families survey said a fifth of working parents in the UK feel they have been treated less fairly at work because of their childcare responsibilities since the onset of Covid-19. Meanwhile, a leading professor said the 500 pounds announced for people who are forced to self isolate should be available to parents whose children are sent home from school and who cannot work as a result. And a TUC and IPPR report said investing in childcare could provide a “family stimulus” which could boost the economy, alleviate child poverty and help childcare providers survive the pandemic.

On gender equality, the TUC called on the government to implement the Equality Act in full on its 10th anniversary, including restoring protections on harassment and publishing equality impact assessments. And ahead of the introduction of the Equal Pay Implementation and Claims (EPIC) Bill 2020 into Parliament by MP Stella Creasy, a poll by the Fawcett Society found only three out of 10 working women agreed that their employer would tell them if their male colleagues earned more for the same work. Meanwhile, a report from the Fawcett Society and the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London said the UK adopts a light touch when it comes to what it asks employers to do to address gender pay gaps when compared with other countries.

Amid criticism that many self employed people are missing out on government support, King’s Business School study found women-led businesses fared worse in lockdown than those led by men and highlights the extent of the Covid-related pressures facing SMEs.

And a report by the National Employment Savings Trust said women face extra challenges when saving for retirement. Systemic issues – like greater numbers of women working in lower-paid and part-time jobs, often due to caring responsibilities – mean they have less to put into their pension. It also points out that women also live longer than men – on average by 3.7 years – so need their pension savings to last longer.

In other news, trust was again highlighted as vital to boosting Covid productivity and a report from the RSA said Covid had accelerated the move to automation while a McKinsey survey said Covid had accelerated trends towards automation, digitisation and increased demand for independent contractors and more remote work. A study by PwC and the CBI found nearly three quarters of UK financial firms are reviewing their current office space requirements, particularly in insurance, finance houses and banking. And a new guide was published by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development laying out key advice, options and considerations for people professionals to bear in mind when having conversations about race in the workplace.

Meanwhile, Citizens Advice raised concerns that a ‘perfect storm’ is brewing in the tribunal system, with rising demand at a time of restricted capacity. And a report by the British Business Bank and Oliver Wyman found BAME women business owners face the biggest barriers to success, with systemic disadvantage playing a key role.


In a month marked by a national lockdown in England followed by a tier system, the Chancellor delivered his Spending Review. He announced a three-year £2.9 billion Restart scheme which he says will help more than one million long-term unemployed people in England and Wales find work. Meanwhile, childcare campaigners labelled the Chancellor’s announcement of extra funding for providers as “insulting” as they published a report showing a quarter may go under if Covid-related support is not increased. The Government did a u-turn following a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford to ensure disadvantaged children get access to food over the Christmas holidays and announced that furlough would be extended until March and that the Self Employment Income Protection Scheme would rise to 80% of profits for November.

On gender equality, BBC journalist Carrie Gracie called the Equality and Human Rights Commission pay discrimination report a ‘whitewash’ after it found no unlawful acts of pay discrimination against women at the BBC. And a Scottish Widows report found many more women and men are saving enough money for their pensions, but women will on average have to keep earning until they are 100 to equal men’s pensions earnings.

On work trends, a report by Rubica and My Confidence Matters found empathy seems to be on the rise in workplaces across the UK during the Covid pandemic. And a Willis Towers Watson report found that, despite the massive shift to remote working since Covid, the way work is structured and pay is managed is still based on roles being fulfilled on-site within geographically organised teams. It anticipates changes to pay and rewards in the near future. Another report highlighted likely changes in HR due to increasing automation, homeworking and other trends, another showed innovation and flexible working as the big winners of Covid-19 and a Zurich study revealed advertising senior flexible jobs could boost applications from women for top jobs by as much as 20%. Meanwhile, a collection of left-wing politicians and trade unions across Europe signed a letter urging governments to adopt a four-day working week to help the UK’s post-pandemic recovery while the TUC found 15 per cent of workers say that monitoring and surveillance at work has increased since Covid-19.

On pregnancy, maternity and working parents, a survey found a quarter of women who have lost their jobs during the pandemic say lack of childcare was the reason. A report from Maternity Action called on the Government to recognise the gendered impact of insecure work and take action to reverse its growth which is having a harsh impact on mothers in the workplace who are often missing out on basic maternity rights. A report from Pregnant Then Screwed showed over half of pregnant women in work do not feel safe, a number that has more than doubled since April and just 1% of those who work outside the home having been suspended from work on safety grounds because of their pregnancy. And a report from Cityparents found over a third of parents who work in corporate roles in the City say their career prospects are worse now than before the pandemic while a report from Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies showed how single parents have been hit much harder by Covid than those in couples and called for more targeted support with childcare and to help them back to work or to retrain.

As a survey noted a rise in freelancing due to a lack of alternative jobs, another by IPSE said a million UK freelancers have been pushed into debt since the pandemic, with women freelancers hardest hit by late payments leading to lack of income and mental health issues. Meanwhile, Office for National Statistics figures showed unemployment rose to 4.8% in the three months to September, mainly driven by decreases in part-time workers and self employment.

On flexible working, a Deutsche Bank paper proposed that employers pay an extra 5% tax on the salaries of staff who work remotely to help support low-income workers whose jobs are under threat.

On inclusion, a report from Business in the Community in partnership with Santander and the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London identified what it says are proven steps organisations can rely on to make their working culture more inclusive.

In other news, a Financial Reporting Council report found some financial services employers are treating the UK Corporate Governance Code including stipulations on boardroom diversity as a box ticking exercise and calls for greater focus on outcomes and impact. The McKenzie-Delis Packer Review said employers need to take action on diversity and inclusion, based on solid data. However, it also highlighted that, for many, there is still a gap between what they say and what they do, particularly when it comes to socioeconomic background. Meanwhile, the Co-op launched a manifesto for night shift workers, a report by the Living Wage Foundation found nearly three-quarters of independent sector care workers in England were paid less than the real Living Wage in the last year and a report found the lowest paid received less than minimum wage on furlough.


There were several high-level Government announcements as Covid infection rates rose, including tougher restrictions in most areas, a partial u-turn on the plan to allow three households to mix for five days during Christmas, and the extension of the furlough scheme to April. This week the Education Secretary announced that the start of Spring term would be delayed for two weeks for most secondary school pupils in England. Most primary school pupils will return except those in the areas of highest infection. This followed Government threats to take legal action against schools in December who said they would close early due to rising infection levels. Meanwhile, the Women and Equalities minister Liz Truss announced a controversial new approach to tackling inequality which will focus on social mobility as she criticised a narrow focus on protected characteristics such as race and gender.

On childcare, 58 per cent of local authorities in England said they believe local childcare providers will permanently close as a result of the withdrawal of Government Covid support in January, according to research by Coram Family and Childcare, which warned that parents may face difficulties finding childcare, particularly affordable childcare. Also nurseries are angry after a government report said that they will have to revert to funding being allocated based on the actual number of children attending in the new year. Meanwhile, a House of Lords Economics Affairs Committee report said the Government is sleepwalking into an unemployment crisis and needs a strategy focused on job creation to deal with it. It called on the Government to invest in the childcare sector and social care workers and prioritise sustainable infrastructure projects that can be delivered at scale, quickly, and across the whole of the UK. And an Ofsted report found many schools have at least one pupil whose parents have removed them to be home educated since the start of the autumn term.

As urgent called for the temporary rise in Universal Credit to be made permanent, analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group showed an estimated 35,000 households on universal credit (UC) – mostly families (77%) – will have their benefits capped in the New Year because they lost jobs or earnings to Covid-19 in March and their grace period has now expired.

An IPSE report showed the number of solo self-employed in the UK has fallen by five per cent compared to 2019 after years of continuous growth, with certain segments of the population more affected than others. The interim findings of a cross-party commission on the Future Self Employment showed just over a third of self employed workers are confident about continuing in self employment due to their experience during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Office for National Statistics figures revealed that redundancies rose by record levels in the three months to October, but the number of women in employment has risen since last year.

Harmful gender stereotypes are significantly limiting children’s career choices and adding to the mental health crisis among young people, according to a report from the Commission on Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood while dads still feel worried that they will be stigmatised at work for taking extended parental leave, according to a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

The Work After Lockdown study found the majority of workers who have switched to remote working as a result of Covid want to carry on working from home in some form in the future. However, another study by Aviva showed heightened anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic has led to employees working longer hours and taking fewer sick days, all the while becoming less fulfilled by work and life. Meanwhile, a Timewise survey revealed four out of five of the new jobs being advertised since the pandemic offer no flexible working options. Think tank Autonomy produced two reports on the four-day week, saying most firms could afford to switch to a four-day working week with no loss of pay if it is introduced gradually and calling on Scotland’s public sector to move to a four-day week, creating up to 59,000 jobs.

In other news, the Government announced it is to consult on proposed new measures to allow low paid workers to find new or additional work. And a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the High Pay Centre found that executive bonuses across FTSE 100 companies are massively skewed to financial targets with little emphasis on diversity or the wellbeing, training and engagement of staff.

*Read parts one and two of the review.

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