Covid-19 has highlighted systemic inequalities and structural issues that need to be addressed in the months to come.
There have been various reports out this week on how job losses and Covid are affecting different groups.
They include a report from the Resolution Foundation think tank which reveals that one in five young workers in the UK who were furloughed have lost their jobs. The think-tank said that, of the workforce overall, 17% of those in work before the pandemic were still not back in full employment, including those no longer working, those still furloughed or whose pay or hours have been cut. The report also found that London accounts for a quarter of those still not back in full employment and that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers and those on insecure contracts were also disproportionately affected.
Meanwhile, a review led by Baroness Doreen Lawrence found that the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities is an “avoidable crisis” fuelled by systemic racism, which includes the kind of sectors and frontline jobs that people in BAME communities typically work in.
Other previous reports have highlighted the impact of Covid on women-dominated industries and on low paid, part-time jobs, mainly held by women.
The reports show clearly the likely intersectional impact of the pandemic which is in large part the result of structural issues that see particular groups being more likely to work in particular jobs. How we change that has been the focus of numerous initiatives, such as girls in STEM programmes and the new 10,000 Black Interns initiative. It is about addressing assumptions and recognising systemic bias and broadening horizons from primary school onwards and it is about ensuring a strong diversity focus for programmes aimed at addressing the skills shortages that exist in many industries.
For women it needs to be accompanied by other structural reforms, including a focus on childcare infrastructure. Childcare needs to be viewed as an essential part of how we deal with the jobs crisis we are facing. Another survey out this week, of more than 2,000 nurseries, pre-schools and childminders, carried out by the Early Years Alliance in early October, found that one in six early years settings say that they could close by Christmas if their income doesn’t increase, rising to one in four in the most deprived local authorities and that only a quarter of providers expect to make any profit between now and March.
Just over half say they would need emergency funding to stay open over the next six months and two thirds say that the government hasn’t provided enough support for the early years sector during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Alliance is calling on the Chancellor to commit to a £240 million Early Years Sufficiency Fund at the upcoming Spending Review to ensure that there are enough early years places to meet families’ needs.
Childcare faces huge challenges. While many providers were allowed to reopen to non key-worker/vulnerable children from June, self-isolation, job loss, falls in earnings and general anxiety have meant parental demand – and therefore income – is down. While the Government has committed to its term-time funding for three and four year olds and disadvantaged two year olds based on pre-Covid enrollment [which does not cover the full cost of the places] and says it has funded councils to ‘bulk buy’ early years places, the EYA states that childcare providers say it is not enough and that not enough of the money is getting to the frontline.
Childcare providers have long been calling for extra funding and the calls are getting increasingly desperate. This week the TUC and IPPR think tank called for a ‘family stimulus’ package which would put childcare front and centre of economic recovery.
The role of childcare has been almost an afterthought in much of the early Government thinking about Covid, beginning with the huge confusion that reigned in the first months, with vital frontline workers unable to work because they had no childcare or the childcare that was available did not fit their hours. There was also the lack of promotion of the provision for people to be furloughed if they had no childcare – and the fact that the decision was left down to the employer, with many turning down requests.
Recently there have been announcements about childcare bubbles, but there is still a lack of recognition of the full and ongoing impact of childcare problems – whether due to sudden temporary closures or lack of wraparound care – on parents’ ability to work or their likelihood of being made redundant. Covid-related problems are hopefully only temporary. The bigger and looming issue is the long-term picture of what kind of affordable childcare might be left after Covid.