The night shift

New research shows that many women are burning the candle at both ends to get through Covid-19 and keep their job. It’s something freelancers have been doing for years in order to get flexibility and due to high childcare fees…Something has to give, and let’s hope it’s not women.

Tired woman pouring coffee


I read some research from France this week about women working through the night over the last months in order to look after children during the day. Clearly this is a bigger issue nowadays with childcare issues, but for freelancers this has been pretty much the norm for years. I recall regularly working until 4am or so in order to have time during the day to pick up children from half days at nursery [I couldn’t afford the full day’s fees] and generally working around children, for instance, taking work calls in the toilets of the school disco.

At the time I was doing freelance press work and that has no actual schedule to it. You can be called at literally any time. Freelancers are clearly facing enormous issues due to lockdown. Once it used to be the case – and for some it still is – that freelancers were paid extra to compensate for the insecurity and lack of employment rights they endured. Not any more. You basically have to take any work coming, which makes holidays difficult, when in fact you are crying out for a break of any kind.

The thing about working until 4am and then getting up to do the school run is that it is not sustainable. You just get sick. You get exhausted. You get ratty with your kids and you enter a cycle of guilt. They, of course, get to the teen years and remember all of the rattiness and none of the rationale behind it. One day they may get it, when they have kids. Hopefully by then it will be more evenly spread, but the chances are that it will be the girls who get it most.

It is likely to that women of my generation will be told that we didn’t do enough, that we let the side down, that we could have fought harder [if we hadn’t been so knackered most of the time]. The age we live in seems to be all about dividing people against each other. I read the other day too that the CBI is saying we should all get back to the office to support city centre economies, meaning, I guess, the city centres of the major cities. I can see the logic although surveys also show employees are very worried about using public transport and with social distancing guidance still in place office numbers need to be kept down.

However, the ability to work from home – with childcare – makes so much difference if you have kids – as does the ability to work locally [and support local city centres]. Commuting wastes so much valuable time and rushing to get to nurseries before the fine system kicks in is unduly stressful. One of the main positive points of this pandemic has been how quickly many businesses have adapted to homeworking. Surely we don’t want to return en masse to the office or to a two-tier system of office/agile workers and homeworkers who are mostly people with caring responsibilities [ie women].

It’s very easy to go back to the way things were. Turning the tide is hard and especially so given the huge and urgent threats we all face. But the underlying tow is still there, the barriers to working for certain sections of the population, whether they are parents, carers, people with disabilities, etc, remain the same.
There must be better ways to organise things that don’t penalise certain groups of people.

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