How Covid-19 has impacted women’s employment

Bristol Women’s Voice intern Olivia Barter summarises the key points from the Women’s Budget Group’s policy briefing on women and employment amid the post-Covid recession and cost of living crisis.

The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) is an independent organisation which analyses the impact government policies have on men and women across the UK. After discussing the policies, WBG often puts forward recommendations for “a more gender equal future”. It aims to promote a gender equal economy in order to build the capacity for women and women’s groups to feel more empowered to participate in economic debates.

In line with our Women Take Action Project, which aims to support marginalised women in Bristol to form their own action groups, we have taken a look at WBG’s latest policy briefing on Women and Employment. With the main focus on the gendered impact of Covid-19 and how this was often ignored by policymakers and politicians in Westminster, it is clear that the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and left lasting repercussions for women.  

Women tend to dominate the so-called ‘Five Cs’ of employment – caring, catering, cleaning, and clerical work – often being some of the lowest paid work. Alongside this, the amount of unpaid labour they undertake, due to traditional gender norms, is significantly higher than men. The pandemic increased this unpaid labour in the form of home schooling, for example, and in turn these responsibilities took a toll on women’s paid labour capacities. The Women’s Budget Group argues these are the exact gendered factors that were not properly considered when creating The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). 

 The report highlights:

  • Women were less likely than men to have their wages topped up by their employers beyond the 80% granted through the furlough scheme. As their salaries are on average lower than men’s, this put them at an even greater economic disadvantage. 

  • There was a clear link between a fall in mothers’ employment and inadequate protections in the CJRS for those with caring responsibilities: 46% of mothers made redundant during the pandemic cited a lack of adequate childcare provision as the cause.  

  • In retail – a sector already contracting prior to Covid-19, with 57,000 retail jobs disappearing in 2019 alone – we can see the changing shape of the industry which is moving towards fewer shop-front jobs and more warehouse and distribution centre roles. This means most job losses over the past decade were occupied by women, and now newer roles are more likely to go to men. 

  • As with the CJRS, the impacts of the SEISS were gendered. By the end of 2020, 546,000 women had made SEISS claims (totalling £1.2 billion), compared with 1,376,000 men (totalling £4.2 billion). Recurring problems have been found with the eligibility criteria of SEISS, as payments are calculated based on average income over the past three-year period. Where women have taken maternity leave within the past three years, their entitled payment average has been significantly lessened. It has been estimated that this has affected 75,000 women. 

  • During the pandemic, the number of people on zero-hours contracts has increased. Health and social care accounted for 35% of the increase in the number of workers on zero-hours contracts since the pandemic started. We know that in 2020, women made up 83% of the 840,000 care workers and home carers and 77% of NHS Hospital and Community Service workers, so this likely means there will be a significant increase in the number of women on zero-hours contracts.  

We know that gender inequalities intersect with race inequalities, and politicians and policymakers must acknowledge this fact. The statistics for how Black, Asian, and minority ethnic and disabled women were affected by the pandemic were even more appalling than for white, abled-bodied women, and have exacerbated pre-existing inequalities.

  • Black, Asian, and minority ethnic women began the pandemic with one of the lowest rates of employment (62.5%) and the highest rate of unemployment at 8.8% (compared with 4.5% for white people and 8.5% for Black, Asian, and minority ethnic people overall). Between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020, the number of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic female workers had fallen by 17%, compared to 1% for white women.  
  • Employment for disabled people has fallen more rapidly during the crisis than for non-disabled people (1.9% and 1.1%, respectively) and disabled people are currently 2.5 times more likely to be out of work than non-disabled people. 

At Bristol Women’s Voice, and with our Women Take Action project in particular, we are striving to ensure women feel empowered and supported to drive change in their own communities. We are committed to ensuring policymakers are aware of the gendered impacts of their decisions and making sure the voices of women who are the most affected by these policies are heard.

If you would like to find out more about our Women Take Action project and how you can get involved – whether you would like to collaborate with us, volunteer or would like support setting up women-led community/action groups – please email our community organiser Dahlia: CommunityOrganiser@bristolwomensvoice.org.uk

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