What is the impact of Covid on equality?

A report this week looked at the mixed impact of Covid on equality and speculated about future impacts. What is certain is that there will be implications that we have not even considered yet and that the effects will reverberate for some time.

COVID-19 virus


A report out this week from the Institute for Fiscal Studies looks at the mixed impact of Covid on social inequality. It shows that Covid has widened inequalities in some areas, such as mental health and education, and job losses, particularly initially, have hit lower income workers more. However, furlough and benefits increases have lessened income inequality.

It’s hard to get a clear picture though, given that, since the end of September, we have been in a new phase with the 20 pound a week rise in Universal Credit being cut and furlough coming to an end. Covid’s tail will be considerable and the different phases have not finished yet. The longer term impact on health alone, not just ongoing Covid infections and long Covid, but the huge backlogs, knock-on mental health outcomes, the effect of all of this on people’s ability to work and to retire and indeed the future of the NHS, is impossible to calculate, for instance.

The report speculates on some longer-term effects, such as the long-term impact of unemployment and furlough. Our sister site workingwise.co.uk has spoken to several people who lost or left their jobs just before Covid or during the early stages and have really struggled to find a new job.  The longer they stay out of work the harder it is for them to get back. One woman in her 50s who has been out of work for more than a year and works in HR said simply: “The last year has been mentally very taxing, exhausting and extremely stressful. My sense of purpose and wellness have been bashed. I feel like I have nowhere to go.” She would like to see HR becoming more broad-minded about career gaps, given these are more likely to in the future. “Many people have gaps in their cvs,” she says. “It’s not a big deal.”  That includes gaps for caring or health reasons, studies, travel or any other reason.

When it comes to working from home, the report says any increase could lead to earnings decreases as people seem willing to take a pay cut to get it and there is some evidence of employers dropping wages for homeworkers, even though they are doing the same job and there is no extra allowance for travel. If women are more likely to work from home or do hybrid working that could impact the gender pay gap.

Nevertheless, the report says more homeworking could have a positive effect on gender inequality by reducing one aspect of the gender pay gap – the gender commuting gap whereby women typically work in more local, less well paid jobs while men commute longer distances, especially after having children. Greater working from home might mean more access to better paid jobs. It’s a case of swings and roundabouts, but employers will need to keep a close eye on things. Better access to more finely tuned data is one way to do so – filtering wage and progression for work patterns [hybrid, work from home, part time, etc], for instance, could provide some interesting information that enables employers to understand better their gender pay gaps and what might need to change.

It is clear from this research and from many other studies that Covid has definitely had a mixed impact on equality issues and that that impact often changes according to which phase we are in – for instance, whether we were in lockdown or not when women were doing most of the homeschooling and childcare while working [or were furloughed] or whether we were in a phase when certain industries were hard hit or when those industries were facing skills shortages – where we live, what sector we are in, whether we are key workers or not, what childcare was available and so on and so forth. The permutations are endless and the studies will keep coming for many years. Often, however, the way studies are reported can be simplistic and ignore that mixed picture and our ability to change outcomes. This is usually due to bias of one kind or another and a desire for simplistic he says/she says arguments when the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

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