Review of 2021 part one: January to April

The first part of workingmums.co.uk’s review of 2021 begins with January’s lockdown and runs until April with a focus on the gender pay gap.

Woman In Mask Holding Sign At Shop Window Closed Due To Covid-19

 

January

The second year of Covid began with a national lockdown, school closures and a one-off grant for the hardest-hit sectors. An analysis by Women’s Budget Group, Fawcett Society, Women’s Budget Group Northern Ireland, Women’s Equality Network Wales, Close the Gap and Engender found that parents on lower incomes face the biggest impact from school closures and have to take unpaid parental leave while the TUC called for more rights for working parents, including a day one right to 10 days’ paid parental leave.

In other Covid-related news, a TUC survey showed nearly three-quarters of working mums who have applied for furlough as a result of school closures have had their requests turned down while another showed nearly one in 10 workers have had to re-apply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions since the first lockdown and another found one in four workers has no protection from unfair dismissal. Meanwhile, a study by the Institute for Employment Studies says that the lowest paid are more than twice as likely to have lost their jobs in the pandemic compared to those in higher paid roles.

On flexible working, Labour called on the Government to urgently update guidance on employment practices relating to remote working in the light of recent surveys that showed an increase in remote surveillance by businesses. And a report from PwC found hybrid working has the potential to level up certain areas of the country post-Covid. Those areas include outer London and smaller cities like Wigan, Bradford and Blackpool.

On childcare, an Institute for Fiscal Studies report said the Government’s decision to cap funding for its free childcare provisions in the light of potentially fluctuating registration figures was ‘ill-advised’ and could cause problems for providers and local authorities as lockdown eases, with some nurseries possibly going bust.

In other news, a survey by sexual harassment helpline Rights of Women found that 45% of women being subjected to workplace sexual harassment now say it is taking place remotely, including sexual messages, cyber harassment (for instance, via Zoom, Teams, Slack etc) and sexual calls. And a campaign was launched to highlight over 100 women across different career levels, organisations and sectors to increase the visibility of women in the workplace.The #ForTheWoman campaign by the Women’s Association documents the women both photographically and tells their stories in interviews and roundtable discussions.

February

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development has launched a campaign for a right to flexible working from day one in a job. A survey of over 2,000 employees found 46% had no flexible working, including flexi-time, part-time working, compressed hours or job shares, and 44% have not been able to work from home since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, a new survey from Bright Horizons warns employers face an ‘iceberg’ of staff discontent if they withdraw flexible working after the pandemic.

On childcare, a new survey shows that 87% of childcare workers don’t think the role they have played in the pandemic has been properly valued by government while 20% are actively looking to leave the sector due to Covid stresses. The Scottish Government announced grants of up to £750 for all registered childminders to make up for the financial impact of low attendance during the pandemic. The grants – totalling £3.2 million in all – will be paid to all childminders registered with the Care Inspectorate. The money was an addition to £1million announced in January.

On Covid, the All-Party Parliamentary Group has called for the £20 uplift in Universal Credit to be made permanent and for the benefits cap to be raised or suspended during the pandemic. The Commons Work and Pensions Committee has also added its voice to calls to keep the £20 per week increase in Universal Credit (UC) and Working Tax Credit. The Government also announced that an additional 1.7m people will be required to shield based on risk factors identified from those who died in the first wave of the pandemic.

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the furlough scheme past April until coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted. Business groups including the British Chambers of Commerce have also called for the furlough scheme to be extended until the summer, while the TUC has said it should remain in place through 2021. Over three-in-ten people who have started claiming Universal Credit during the pandemic have either acquired new debts, or seen their existing debts grow, according to new Resolution Foundation research. The Resolution Foundation also said nearly two million people in the UK have been unable to work for at least six months after losing their jobs in the pandemic or being placed on furlough.

Meanwhile, a cross-party parliamentary committee report said the Government has repeatedly failed to consider the unequal impact of Covid-19 on women and skewed policies towards men and plans for the recovery also seem to marginalise women while ONS statistics showed women were more likely to have homeschooled their children than men in the latest lockdown and the Women and Work All-Party Parliamentary Group said women have been overrepresented in sectors which have been shut down for long periods of time in the pandemic, such as hospitality and retail.

In other news, MPs passed a Bill to accelerate changes to the maternity law to allow the Attorney General Suella Braverman to take six months’ maternity leave. The Treasury announced that a £95,000 cap on payouts for public sector staff in the UK, imposed in November, is being repealed. And the Equal Pay Advice Service has teamed up with law firm Leigh Day in a bid to help more women achieve equality at work. The Equal Pay Service was set up with more than £300,000 from BBC journalist Carrie Gracie’s equal pay settlement in 2018 and is run by the Fawcett Society. Meanwhile, a report found more than a third of FTSE 350 board positions are held by women, with the number of women on boards increasing by 50% over the last five years, although there is still slow progress on executive roles which is being exacerbated by high turnover rates and lower rates of promotion for women.

March

The Chancellor announced that the furlough scheme would be extended until September in his Budget speech, which contained announcements on green industry and ports, but nothing specific on investment in childcare.

Meanwhile, surveys for International Women’s Day show women doing much more during lockdown, concerns that the gender pension gap could grow and a disconnect between the numbers worried about the gender pay gap and those thinking it should be a priority after Covid. An ONS study showed men in England and Wales were 18% more likely to die from Covid-19 than women, but women’s wellbeing was more negatively affected than men’s during the first year of the pandemic.

An IPPR/YouGov survey for an IPPR report found up to a quarter of healthcare workers say they are more likely to leave the NHS due to a year of unprecedented pressure. Moreover, just under half of staff have worked an under-staffed shift once a week or more, and nearly half say they have been unable to provide the level of patient care they would like to due to constraints beyond their control.

On flexible working, a study by Indeed and the Behaviour Insights Team found that prompting employers to clearly advertise flexible working options leads to a 20% increase in the number of jobs advertised as flexible which could translate to the creation of thousands of new flexible jobs.

On childcare, costs in Britain have risen on average by 4% for childcare for children under two and 5% for children aged two in the last year, according to the Coram Family and Childcare’s 21st annual Childcare Survey which finds that parents have faced childcare costs rising well ahead of inflation and are now paying an average of £138 per week – over £7,000 per year – for a part-time nursery place for a child under two.

On employment rights issues, Single Parent Rights says single parents should be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. Its research found that only 4% of single parents had not experienced discrimination across a range of different areas, including employment, housing and health. The TUC and legal experts are warning that “huge gaps” in British law over the use of AI at work could lead to “widespread” discrimination and unfair treatment at work and in the recruitment process. The Supreme Court ruled that care workers on sleep-in shifts are only entitled to the national minimum wage for the time in which they are required to work, not the time they are asleep.

In other news, half of freelancers are planning to stop contracting in the UK after the changes to IR35 come into effect in April unless they can get contracts that are unaffected by the changes, according to new research. And a study of over 200 retailers by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), PwC and MBS Group revealed that 69% of them have only men in their top three leadership positions.

April

The National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage increased, with people aged 23 and over qualifying for the National Living Wage. An All-Party Parliamentary Group says the Government should commission a follow-up review to the Taylor Review on modern working practices which should investigate the best way to structure, remunerate and tax professional contracting and freelancing fairly.

When it comes to Covid, three fifths of UK workers (60%) intend to make changes to their careers as a result of the Covid outbreak, an increase of seven percentage points since July 2020 (53%). A study has also found that over half [57%] of pregnant women working outside the home do not feel safe amid calls on employers to suspend pregnant women on full pay if they cannot maintain a two-metre distance.

On flexible working, a CIPD survey showed more than two thirds of employers say that homeworking has either boosted or has made no difference to productivity. A Deloitte survey found almost a quarter of workers in the UK hope to never return to the office and are eager to see a permanent shift to working exclusively from home.

On childcare, Labour has launched a programme of engagement events on early education and childcare services, claiming it has data showing the Conservatives have cut spending on Sure Start children’s centres and children under five by 40 per cent since 2015. And nearly three quarters of parents said they would find it hard to get any work life balance if their childcare provider closed, according to a survey by the All-Party Parliamentary Group [APPG] on Childcare and Early Education.

On employment rights, dads and mums are just as likely to take parental leave under Aviva’s equal parental leave policy and dads have increased the leave they take since the policy was first brought in. 37% of workers are given less than a week’s notice of their shifts or work patterns, according to the Living Wage Foundation. It found that among the 59% of workers whose job involves variable hours or shift work, over three-fifths (62%) reported having less than a week’s notice of their work schedules. Twelve per cent of this group had less than 24 hours’ notice.

Meanwhile, employment rates fell for men during the first part of the most recent lockdown, but rose for women, according to the latest Office of National Statistics figures, although women were more likely to be furloughed than men. And there has been a spike in people who have turned to freelancing alongside employee jobs during the pandemic. A study showed firms led by female CEOs experience significantly fewer labour lawsuits and have a greater variety of employee-friendly initiatives.

In other news, just 6.3% of Chief Executives at leading UK firms are women, according to an analysis which shows that little progress has been made when it comes to increasing gender diversity at the top of organisation. And the CIPD says the gender pay gap has not moved in the last two years based on analysis of the small number of employers who have submitted data this year. A study shows women who work in cities in the UK benefit from an urban wage premium that is 43% larger than that for men.



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