Review of 2020 part two

In the second part of the workingmums.co.uk’s review of 2020 we trace the period after the easing of lockdown and covering the summer months.

 

In the second part of our review of the year, we trace the period from May to August as lockdown is eased.

May

The focus in May was on the easing of the lockdown, with an announcement in early May of plans for all primary school students to return to school before July.

As the Government published a “roadmap” out of lockdown and back to work guidance, the first surveys showed that many employers anticipated working from home would continue for some time, with Facebook saying it would allow some employees to work from home permanently. An O2 survey, for instance, showed 45 per cent of workers predicted a permanent change to their employers’ approach to flexible working when lockdown lifted and a survey from Willis Towers Watson said only a fifth of employers reported a material negative impact on productivity for those working remotely in the pandemic while another said employee engagement had risen. However, amid fears about risks to vulnerable workers, some employers began to look at bringing people who could not work from home back in. For instance, a survey by XpertHR found three out of 10 employers were actively reopening their workplaces for employees who could not work remotely. The Institute of Directors joined voices calling for part-time furlough.

With the number of female breadwinners reportedly rising, a survey by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education showed mums were 23% more likely than dads to have lost their jobs or quit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Analysis by Ipsos MORI and The Fawcett Society found 61% of women said it was harder to stay positive day-to-day, compared with 47% of men. It also found half of women said they were very concerned about the risk the virus poses to the country, compared with just over a third of men.

Meanwhile, a workingmums.co.uk survey found women felt they were carrying most of the burden of childcare and homeschooling during lockdown, with 42% saying they did more and 27% saying they did it all, compared to just 21% who said they split it equally. And a study from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics found women had been more likely to lose their jobs than men in early stage of the pandemic – and had been more likely than men to take on extra housework and childcare whether working or not. However, a report from the Office for National Statistics showed men were statistically more likely to die from Covid and published deaths by occupation backing this up.

On the policy side, the Government launched the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme which repays smaller employers the Statutory Sick Pay paid to current or former employees. It also said it would set up a hub for businesses to offer support to the voluntary, community and social enterprise [VCSE] sector as a key parliamentary committee criticised the financial support it had provided.

On childcare, the Government changed the guidance on whether childminders could reopen to children who were not vulnerable or whose parents were not key workers three times in the space of a few days while a report from the Early Years Alliance said a quarter of early years settings were unsure they would be open in a year and more than 90 nurseries who were facing severe financial difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic considered taking legal action against their insurer and broker. The Government announced that parents who were normally eligible for the government’s early years childcare offers would continue receiving the entitlements during the summer term if their income levels fell due to the impact of coronavirus. Meanwhile, MPs from seven parties wrote to the Prime Minister, calling for clear guidance to employers on how to protect their pregnant employees during the pandemic.

On gender equality, Business in the Community said the number of organisations who had reported on their gender pay gap had halved since 2019 after the Government suspended the requirement for companies to publish their statistics due to the coronavirus.

Towards the end of the month, the Government announced an extension of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) after extensive lobbying and, having earlier announced the extension of its furlough scheme for employees, it said it would be tapered over the next months with employers paying a rising contribution in the months leading up to October. More than 70% of firms had furloughed staff, according to a survey from the British Chambers of Commerce while the Office for National Statistics put the figure at two thirds.

In other news, as a report showed recruitment activity plunging to 22-year low, a study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research and Opinium showed one in 10 British businesses said that there was a high risk they would enter insolvency as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The Resolution Foundation said 30 per cent of lowest-paid employees had either been furloughed or lost their jobs altogether during the coronavirus pandemic, compared with just eight per cent of the highest earners. Another report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies said school closure would “almost certainly” increase inequalities, with children from better-off families spending 30% more time on home learning than those from poorer families.

June

This month saw a range of Government announcements on the longer term recovery from Covid, including extended bubbles for single parent households. The Prime Minister announced plans to bring forward £5bn of capital investment projects as part of plans to support jobs and aid economic recovery after lockdown. Most of the investment announced will go towards construction projects, with an announcement on cuts to planning regulations expected to speed up building work. The Government also announced a £1 billion Covid “catch-up” package for primary and secondary school children in England for the academic year beginning in September, including a National Tutoring Programme, although concerns have emerged since about when schools will receive the money. There was also an announcement on quarantining for those going on holiday over the summer.

A new venture capital fund was set up to invest exclusively in UK female founded or co-founded enterprises. The Female Ventures Fund (FVF) launched by alternative investment fund manager Innvotec also aims to encourage more women to invest in start-ups and early stage businesses. The move came as Virgin StartUp said the number of women entrepreneurs applying for a business start-up grant had nearly halved since lockdown, compared to the number of men which was down by under a quarter. Meanwhile, a TUC survey found a quarter of pregnant women had faced discrimination at work during the coronavirus outbreak and a Pregnant Then Screwed survey showed over half [57%] of working mums think that increased childcare responsibilities during the coronavirus pandemic have impacted their career prospects or will harm them in the future. A TUC report said policy is failing to recognise or meet the needs of working mums during the Covid-19 pandemic and that, without immediate strategic action by government, many women could lose their jobs or pay as they struggle to balance work and care.

On childcare, analysis by independent research analysts Ceeda found large numbers of nurseries could close due to financial losses sustained as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And a Social Mobility Commission report called for childminders to be paid a decent wage as part of a strategy to promote greater social mobility. Meanwhile, figures showed few children went back to nursery in June. At the start of the month it was reported that less than half of parents of under-fives plan to take up their childcare places as early years providers in England open to more children from 1st June. Research by Bright Horizons showed just 13% of parents want to go back to working full time in the office after the coronavirus pandemic while a University of Sussex report found childcare responsibilities during lockdown were not being shared equally between working parents and gender inequalities between parents for childcare and domestic duties had increased during the Covid-19 period.

Twenty-six companies employing more than a million people wrote an open letter calling for flexible working to be offered as standard to all employees. And a survey by Working Families found more than nine in 10 working parents and carers want their workplace to retain flexible working post-Covid-19.

The High Court began hearing a claim that the fact that Maternity Allowance can be deducted from Universal Credit awards is unfair. Meanwhile, the Department of Work and Pensions lost its appeal against four working single mothers who challenged the rigidity of the universal credit (UC) system for calculating their earnings.

The Government announced that self-employed parents whose trading profits dipped in 2018/19 because they took time out to have children would be able to claim for a payment under the self-employed income support scheme (SEISS). It also announced that parents on statutory maternity and paternity leave and Shared Parental Leave who return to work in the coming months after a long period of absence will still be permitted to be furloughed if their employer has already furloughed people in the past. And it said people in England who are clinically vulnerable due to underlying health conditions can return to work if they cannot work from home from August as long as their workplace adheres to health and safety guidance. It also updated its guidance on the furlough scheme and the new ‘flexible furlough’ to outline how it would work if employees were only brought back part time.

On diversity, a study by Women’s Budget Group, Fawcett Society, Queen Mary University London and London School of Economics showed 41% of BAME women and 40% of BAME men say they are working more than before lockdown compared with 29% of white people. Nearly half of BAME women (45%) say they are struggling to cope with the demands on their time, compared with 35% of white women and 30% of white men. Meanwhile, a Business in the Community study said just 1.5% of managers, directors and senior officials in the UK are black and that there has been little change in diversity at the top of organisations in the last six years.

In other news, the Higher Education Statistics Agency reported that the gender pay gap starts from graduation with male graduates who work full time earning on average 10% more than females. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said work has made employees’ wellbeing worse over the last two years with the pandemic likely to exacerbate the situation, while Canada Life said nearly half (46%) of those who are now working from home feel more pressure to be present and 16% are working through sickness because of redundancy fears.

The Resolution Foundation said over half of the care workers being clapped every Thursday are paid less than the real Living Wage and up to 160,000 aren’t even paid the legal minimum wage.

Half of UK businesses said they would have to reduce their workforce within three months of the furlough scheme ending.

July

In a month when the Government announced its plans to get schools in England reopened for September as well as plans to give employers more discretion on how they ensure employees work safely from August, the Chancellor said any employer who brings someone back off furlough and keeps them in a job until January, would be offered a £1,000 bonus in a bid to prevent mass redundancies. Meanwhile, Labour increased calls for more support for parents with childcare and the Women’s Budget Group told the Women and Equalities Committee that the Government should have focused on a care-led recovery rather than a construction-led one.

There was much interest in a Pregnant Then Screwed survey which found 46 per cent of working mums who have been made redundant or expect to be made redundant during the coronavirus pandemic have said that a lack of childcare provision played a role in their redundancy. The Office for National Statistics also found mums have been carrying out on average two-thirds more of the childcare duties per day than men in the first month of lockdown, with mums of younger children doing 78% more care.

In the month that furloughed employees who are made redundant were told they will receive redundancy pay based on their normal wage, an HMRC study shows women are more likely to have been furloughed than men, with younger women the most likely to be furloughed.

A survey by the Chartered Governance Institute and The Core Partnership of 94 of Britain’s biggest employers shows that 52% plan to keep all staff working remotely for the next few months, 19% plan to bring staff back to the office only on a part-time basis and 19% plan to bring staff back full time. A survey by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development finds employers expect that the proportion of people working from home on a regular basis once the crisis is over will increase to 37% compared to 18% before the pandemic.

The Petitions Committee called on the Government to reconsider its decision not to extend parental leave and pay for families during the Covid-19 pandemic and launch an urgent short-term review of funding for the childcare sector to ensure that it survives the current crisis. Meanwhile, Pregnant Then Screwed, with support from Doughty Street Chambers and law firm Leigh Day, issued legal proceedings against the Chancellor for discriminating against women in the implementation of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

On flexible working, the Working from Home during COVID-19 Lockdown Project said demand had increased during lockdown, with 66% of non-parents saying they would like more, compared to 52% of parents. Meanwhile, the leading union representing civil servants told members not to let themselves be forced back to the office unless their safety is ensured. And the Office for National Statistics said employees in higher-paying jobs were more likely to be able to work from home.

On childcare, an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority said parents should not have to pay for childcare services which are not being provided during the pandemic and should be offered a refund for services paid for in advance which are not provided. Meanwhile, an open letter from the Fawcett Society said women’s jobs and progression were at risk if the Government did not provide financial support to the childcare sector which has been badly hit during the pandemic. Another report found that disadvantaged children were likely to be most affected by threats of nursery closures.

In other news, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an above-inflation pay rise for almost 900,000 public sector workers, but there was anger about those who were not included, such as social workers. The think tank Bright Blue said 44 per cent of businesses using the furlough scheme intend to make redundancies by October, while unions highlighted ongoing skills shortages in the NHS. The Government mostly rejected a House of Lords report which called for a complete rethink of its Off Payroll legislation [IR35] to tackle ‘disguised employment’. And a report from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development found nearly a third of employees say using portable devices such as smartphones blurs the boundaries between work and home life and makes it difficult to switch off from work.

August

In August, there was much concern about how to tackle the next phase of Covid, with the Royal Society’s DELVE initiative seeking to balance anxiety about the health and economic impacts. There was also concern about mental health in the next phase of the pandemic for employees and the self employed. Thirty-three leading organisations committed to prioritising the mental health of their employees as they return to work in an open letter. And much discussion about sending children back to school.

As September approached, a People Management survey found a fifth of employers were planning to send staff back to the office from the beginning of September and another fifth were anticipating sending people back at some point during the autumn. The Government published guidance saying education and childcare would usually remain fully open to all in the event of local lockdowns. The Government also announced that people in receipt of Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit who have to self isolate due to the coronavirus and who cannot work from home will be able to claim £13 a day during the isolation period. Meanwhile, Labour called on the Government to protect the rights of pregnant women during the coronavirus pandemic.

A study by Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich universities found mums were more likely than dads to ask to be furloughed due to caring responsibilities and nearly two thirds of the over nine million people who were furloughed – particularly men – continued to work on furlough. Meanwhile, a study by Cardiff and Southampton universities found nine out of 10 employees who have worked at home during lockdown would like to continue doing so in some capacity. And a study by the University of East Anglia found women and single parents were likely to be most negatively impacted by Covid-19 which it said could lead to a surge in demand for social housing.

A survey by one of Europe’s largest small business lenders, iwoca, found women who are owners of small businesses could be facing more challenges deriving from the coronavirus pandemic.

In other news, a report from the London School of Economics’ centre for economic performance suggests that official UK unemployment statistics may not reflect the true number of people being made redundant and the figures for self-employed people who are losing work. There was much concern about unemployment. The quarterly Labour Market Outlook report from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development and the Adecco Group found a third of organisations expect to cut jobs in the third quarter of 2020, with private sector employers more likely to be looking to make redundancies while the IPPR think tank said three million jobs were potentially at risk – two million of them viable ones – if the furlough scheme came to an end in October and there was no other support available.

*Part one of the review of the year covering January to April can be found here and part three is here.



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