The Government's plan for easing lockdown has neglected women… again

The Government is actively encouraging people who can’t work from home to go back to work this week – but what does this mean for women?

Being the majority of lower paid workers, they are already twice as likely than men to feel under pressure from employers to work outside the home.

Lockdown brought to focus the disproportionate amounts of care and domestic work that women are doing even when both parents are working from home. And with the easing of the lockdown it will be women who have to make difficult choices on how they will manage work and caring responsibilities.

Plans for primary schools to re-open gradually from June with pupils attending in small groups, means that children may have to return part-time. Secondary school pupils won’t return until September. 

Nurseries may have to ‘put a cap on numbers’ to ensure safety, resulting in childcare not being available for those who need it. Many nursery providers have already warned that their business may not survive the pandemic.

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While the grandparents who usually provide care during the long holidays will not be able to help this summer.

The prime minister made it clear that not having childcare is an ‘impediment to work’ that employers ‘should recognise’, and the rules do allow for people to be furloughed if they can’t work because of caring responsibilities.

But the guidance for employers does not mention this. What should parents do if their employer doesn’t recognise a lack of childcare as a ‘barrier’? 

The same goes for government guidance that obliges employers to carry out risk assessments, consult with unions and maintain social distancing ‘where possible’. It puts the emphasis on individual employers and transport agencies to keep people safe, leaving a huge number ripe for exploitation.

For many, particularly the low paid and those on insecure contracts, which are more often than not women, the choice may end up being between paying their bills and putting their health and the health of their families at risk.

One study showed that women are more likely than men to be made redundant as opposed to furloughed

Research shows that women in the UK are four per cent more likely to lose their job than men. It is vital that the government provides clear legislation to protect those of us with caring responsibilities who may otherwise be pressured to work or feel they are being penalised because of caring responsibilities. 

The extension of the furlough scheme to the autumn is very welcome yet gaps still remain for many women, especially those who have already lost their jobs.

From August, employers will have to meet some of the costs of furlough payments. At this point redundancies are likely to increase, particularly in sectors like retail and hospitality – which are predominantly female.

Our social security system doesn’t provide enough of a safety net, so it’s unclear how the Government will avoid a massive increase in poverty and debt, something once again that will hit women the hardest.

Pre-Covid, our research showed that women are more likely than men to be poor. Around a half of lone parents – 90 per cent of whom are women – and their children are living in poverty. Furthermore, 61 per cent of those getting into debt to purchase everyday necessities are female. 

Women were also consistently more likely to struggle with bills and run out of money at the end of the month according to ONS figures. Now, a study from Turn 2 Us shows that over 40 per cent of lone parents are expecting to live on less than £500 this month, while our research with Fawcett and academics from LSE and Queen Mary has found that half of parents of young children say they will struggle to make ends meet in the next three months. 

It is here where attention to gaps in Universal Credit and other social security is crucial. 

This is part of a pattern that has been evident since the start of the crisis. When it comes to women and Covid-19 the Government has been playing catch up since March: tweaking policy as gaps emerge to support different groups of women, almost always as an afterthought and never a priority. 

Far from a ‘great leveller’ the coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated just how deep inequalities run through British society.

When it comes to the second stage these concerns must be front and centre.

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