Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact Contents
The extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances occasioned by covid-19 compelled the Government to take extensive measures to support and protect the population, often at great speed. Whilst the health and economic crisis affected everyone, we quickly became aware of the particular and often disproportionate economic impact on individuals and groups who may already be vulnerable, marginalised or overlooked. This Report highlights how existing gendered inequalities in the economy have been ignored and sometimes exacerbated by the pandemic policy response.
The Committee’s key recommendations and conclusions are:
- The Government acted at considerable speed to design and implement schemes to protect jobs, and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) have provided a vital safety net to millions of people. However, the design of these schemes overlooked - and in some respects continues to overlook - the specific and well-understood labour market and caring inequalities faced by women. This demonstrates the importance of equality analyses.
- We recommend that schemes to support employees and the self-employed should be informed by an Equality Impact Assessment, drawing on evidence of existing inequalities. The Government must conduct and publish Equality Impact Assessments of the CJRS and SEISS alongside its response to this Report. We believe this approach would better protect those already at disadvantage in the labour market, including women, and could inform more effective responses to future crises.
- We are concerned that the Government’s priorities for recovery are heavily gendered in nature. Investment plans that are skewed towards male-dominated sectors have the potential to create unequal outcomes for men and women, exacerbating existing inequalities.
- The Treasury must provide Equality Impact Assessments for the Industrial Strategy and ‘New Deal’. These should include a Gender Beneficiary Assessment of investments from the industrial strategy to date, including receipts of grants, gender occupational composition of companies operating infrastructure contracts, innovation grants and training participants and outcomes. The Treasury should also undertake an economic growth assessment of the Women’s Budget Group’s care-led recovery proposals. We recommend the Government publish these assessments within six months.
- We recommend the Government amend the Flexible Working Regulations 2014, to remove the 26-weeks’ service threshold for employees to request flexible working arrangements. The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that it is unhelpful and unnecessary.
- The Government should publish the draft Employment Bill by the end of June 2021. The draft Bill must take into account the recommendations made throughout this report.
- We recommend the Department for Work and Pensions commit to maintaining the increases in support that have been provided during the pandemic until the end of the pandemic, including the £20 increase in standard allowance for Universal Credit.
- While changes to the availability for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) have benefited many, it has also thrown into sharp relief the demographics of those who are not eligible, and for whom the level of SSP provides an inadequate safety net. Women are over-represented in this demographic, and we are concerned that the Treasury seems both unaware and uninterested in the evidence showing this.
- We urge the Government to conduct a study to examine the adequacy of, and eligibility for, Statutory Sick Pay. Such a study should be published within three months, alongside an equality impact analysis. This should be done alongside our recommendation for all workers on zero-hour contracts to be able to claim SSP, as set out in our Report on Unequal impact? Coronavirus and BAME people.
- We urge the Government to introduce legislation in this Parliamentary session to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers. The Government must also publish a cross-departmental strategy, following consultation with stakeholders, for dealing with pregnancy and maternity discrimination. We recommend this strategy be published within the next six months.
- We recommend the Government publish, by June 2021, an early years strategy which sets out how childcare provision can best support not only working parents, but also those who are job-seeking and re-training. The review must also consider the feasibility of extending eligibility for free childcare provision for children under the age of three years.
- We were concerned to hear the Minister for Equalities repeatedly refer to considering the effects of policies “in the round” in response to questions about the gendered impact of the Government’s policies. We are deeply concerned that a GEO Minister should appear dismissive of the imperative to consider the effects of policies on those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act. Such consideration is a legal requirement clearly set out in the Act’s Public Sector Equality Duty. While we acknowledge that the Government intends to take a “new approach to tackling inequality”, it has a continuing legal duty to ensure its policies and decisions do not adversely affect groups of people with protected characteristics. We are scrutinising the Government’s “new approach to fairness” in a separate inquiry.
- We believe the GEO must take a more proactive role in mainstreaming gender equality in policy development across all Government departments. We urge the GEO and the Minister for Women and Equalities to be much more ambitious in co-ordinating equalities strategies and holding departments to account on equalities. The GEO’s strategy plan for 2020–2021 must reflect these proactive policy development priorities and demonstrate clear key performance indicators for achieving them.
- We recommend the Government require all departments to collect and publish data disaggregated by sex and protected characteristics in a way that facilitates reporting and analysis on how, for example, gender, ethnicity, disability, age and socio-economic status interact, and can compound disadvantage.
- We recommend that gender pay gap reporting be urgently reinstated, with reporting for the financial years 2019/20 and 2020/21 required in April 2021.
- We recommend the GEO and EHRC explore the feasibility of reporting on parental leave policies in addition to gender gaps in furlough and redundancies for 2020/21 to supplement the information on pay and bonuses. We also urge the Government to support The Equal Pay (Implementation and Claims) Bill.
- The Government should publish proposals for introducing ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting within the next six months.
- We recommend the Government amend the HR1 form to require information about the sex, race, and if possible other protected characteristics of staff.