Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact Contents

7Embedding equalities and improving equality data

117.In this Chapter, we look at the extent to which equality, especially gender equality, has been mainstreamed into policy responses to the pandemic. We focus on the role of the Government Equalities Office, considering both its understanding of its own role as well as what it has achieved in practice. We then turn to the question of how to ensure data collection supports effective equality analysis of economic policy.

The Government Equalities Office

118.The Government Equalities Office (GEO) describes one of its main strategic objectives as “putting equalities at the heart of Government.”166

119.Witnesses expressed concern about the role and effectiveness of the GEO in this regard. We heard concerns that there has been a lack of gender perspective and gender mainstreaming in the policy response to covid-19. As Dr Brown stated, “Despite the gendered impact of the crisis, women and girls have largely been left behind”.167

120.The GEO told us that “the Equality Hub in the Cabinet Office [was] playing a wide-ranging role in the Government’s efforts to tackle the pandemic.”168 They argued that their actions included “providing expertise and legal advice across Government in relation to the Public Sector Equality Duty” and:

working with other departments to ensure that policy development, including for the recovery and renewal phase, takes account of differential impacts on different groups of individuals–including by gathering together and sharing current research from academics, think tanks and others.169

121.The Minister for Women and Equalities emphasised that cross-departmental working was important. She went on to say the GEO supported Departments in carrying out their equality impact assessments and envisaged the “GEO working in a hub-and-spoke model whereby we are there to provide advice, but the Departments themselves are responsible for implementing the policy”.170 The Minister did not clarify specifically how the GEO was supporting Government departments (prior to the pandemic or since), either in conducting equality impact assessments or in terms of mainstreaming equality into policy development.171

122.Asked how she would rate the GEO’s success in achieving its strategic objective of putting equalities at the heart of Government during the pandemic, Kemi Badenoch could only point to cross departmental work on covid’s effects on BAME people and the GEO’s role in clarifying the definition of childcare to include informal childcare support bubbles.172

123.Aside from these examples, the Minister tended to refer to consideration of the effects of policies “in the round” rather than on particular groups, including women.173 This may be indicative of the Government’s emerging “new approach to fairness”, in which it intends to move “well beyond the narrow focus of protected characteristics [under the Equality Act 2010]”, as set out recently in a speech by the Minister for Women and Equalities.174

124.We are concerned that the Government Equalities Office (GEO) did not anticipate how inequalities were likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic and ensure that it influenced the policy response, including in relation to employment, welfare, childcare and pregnancy and maternity. We have seen little evidence that the Government has conducted any robust or meaningful analysis of the gendered impact of its economic policies during the Coronavirus crisis. This was a crucial opportunity for the GEO to realise its strategic objective to “put equalities at the heart of Government”, by working with Departments to embed gender-sensitive measures in the policy responses to Coronavirus. We have little confidence that the GEO has either understood this to be their role or sought to fulfil it.

125.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.175

126.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.

Improving evidence–better data

Disaggregated data from Government

127.The need for data disaggregated by sex and indeed other protected characteristics, has been made strongly and repeatedly to us.176 We note that there is a disparity not just between departments as to what data is disaggregated and when, but indeed within individual departments.177 We heard from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that they were committed to providing disaggregated data.178 Other witnesses also stressed how fortunate we were to have robust and reliable data sets, at least in part as a result of the commitment of the ONS.179 Government ministers and officials also pointed to the availability of ONS statistics.180

128.Whilst we are grateful for the work the ONS has done, and note the recent establishment of the Inclusive Data Taskforce,181 this is not a substitute for action by the Government to make data from administrative sources available. ONS data inevitably suffers from a time lag, and we note with concern that the publication of UK labour market statistics is significantly slower than in other countries.182 The covid-19 pandemic is the clearest possible example of real-time policy making requiring real time data. Further, administrative data is not affected by the same sampling concerns that have affected survey results over the pandemic.183

129.Robust equalities data is crucial to effective policy responses. We have been frustrated by the lack of data disaggregated by sex and other protected characteristics. The lack of intersectional data in large government data sets continues to frustrate meaningful analysis.

130.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.

Specific data gaps and reporting requirements

131.In addition to the general concern for administrative data disaggregated by protected characteristics, there has been particular focus from witnesses and in written evidence on the areas of pay gaps and reporting, and disaggregating redundancy data.184

Gender Pay Gap reporting

132.Enforcement of gender pay gap reporting requirements on employers with more than 250 employees was suspended for the 2019/20 financial year due to the pandemic. This decision was defended by the Minister for Women and Equalities, who told us “the very clear message we are sending to companies is that the No.1 priority is that they stay in business and that they keep people employed.”185 However, this was criticised in a number of submissions, who cited evidence on the positive impact of reporting on women’s pay and called for it to be reinstated.186 The business director of Business in the Community warned that the disproportionate economic effects of the pandemic on women “could lead to a widening of the pay gap–making reporting this year especially important.”187 Dr Mary Ann Stephenson told the Committee of the positive impact of gender pay gap reporting to date as “a really useful driver of change, both in exposing those gaps within different companies and sectors, and for women in those sectors to be able to start a conversation with their employers”.188 Professor Adams-Prassl agreed and also recommended that firms report on the gender composition of which workers were furloughed, made redundant, and had hours cuts over the pandemic.189

133.There have also been calls for pay gap reporting to be reformed. A comparative analysis of gender pay gap reporting across 11 countries found that the UK was world-leading in terms of transparency and compliance, but was “unique” in its “light touch approach” compared to other countries.190 There are three broad themes to recommendations:

a)Reporting thresholds should be lowered. Currently only companies with more than 250 employees have to report on their gender pay gap. This is higher than the median employer size, which is used as a threshold in other countries.

b)Reporting organisations must publish an action plan to make the changes necessary to tackle gender pay gaps.191

c)Pay gap reporting should be expanded to include ethnicity reporting.192

134.Some of these recommendations would be achieved by the private member’s bill brought by Stella Creasy MP, the Equal Pay Implementation and Claims Bill. This would require businesses with 100 employees or more to publish their gender pay gap data, and include provisions on ethnicity pay gap reporting. The Bill has attracted cross-party support. Dr Brown told us that the Bill will “significantly improve women’s ability to claim equal pay and progress claims” and act as a useful complement to reporting requirements.193

135.We were disappointed that the Government chose to suspend, rather than delay, gender pay gap reporting and enforcement for this year. Given the high number of women who have been furloughed or worked reduced hours due to caring responsibilities, and the evidence of continuing gender inequality in other areas, this should have been a time for more - not less - transparency.

136.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.

137.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.

Ethnicity pay gap reporting

138.As stated above, introducing ethnicity pay gap reporting is widely supported. The Government had stated it would publish its response to a consultation on ethnicity pay gay reporting by the end of 2021.194 However, Kemi Badenoch told us:

Ethnicity is defined in so many different ways. It is also not something that people record consistently in the way that they do on gender. Especially for many companies, they could actually also have privacy issues, where it is very easy to identify exactly the person that they are talking about.195

139.We do not accept it is impossible to ensure consistent definitions of ethnicity; the fact that people self-define in a number of ways does not prevent collection of this data through the census for example.

Disability pay gap data

140.The Office for National Statistics found that in 2018, median pay for non-disabled employees was £12.11 an hour whilst for disabled employees it was £10.63 an hour, resulting in a pay gap of 12.2%. They found that the disability pay gap was wider for men than for women. Other studies which measured economic wellbeing found significant difficulties for disabled women including unemployment, economic inactivity, and career progression. The TUC and others have called for an introduction of disability pay gap reporting.196

141.There have been growing calls for ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting. The unequal economic effects of the pandemic have demonstrated the imperative to introduce these measures.

142.The Government should publish proposals for introducing ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting within the next six months.

Disaggregating redundancy data

143.Research and evidence to this Committee suggests women have been, and will be, particularly vulnerable to redundancy. Employers are required to give advance notice to the Government through the HR1 form, where 20 or more redundancies are proposed within a period of 90 days or less. However, the only information the HR1 form requires about the employees is their “occupational group”. It is therefore difficult to accurately calculate how women and those with protected characteristics have been (or will be) impacted by job loss, or to conduct any intersectional analysis.

144.The Young Women’s Trust and others have called on the Government to require employers to publish their redundancy data,197 by protected characteristics and other metrics such as full or part time working status and occupational sector. Dr Duncan Brown agreed and said it “would be relatively straightforward to get a gender breakdown, and possibly an ethnicity breakdown as well”.198 However, Jo Warner, Deputy Director, Individual Rights & Migration, BEIS told us that:

We use the ONS Labour Force Survey. The limitation of the HR1 forms is that they are only required where employers are making 20 or more people redundant. We would not capture some parts of the market, in particular those smaller businesses, whereas the ONS survey is a survey, but it is more representative.199

145.Whilst we appreciate the greater ‘reach’ of the ONS data, the HR1 form would provide valuable (and complementary) real time data, with which to analyse those most at risk of redundancy before policy decisions are implemented.

146.We recommend the Government amend the HR1 form to require information about the sex, race, and if possible other protected characteristics of staff.

166 Government Equalities Office, Strategic plan 2019/20, July 2019

168 Government Equalities Office (Mrs0492)

169 Government Equalities Office (Mrs0492)

170 Oral evidence taken on 22 April 2020, HC (2019–21) 276, Q2; Qq4–5 [Liz Truss]

171 Oral evidence taken on 22 April 2020, HC (2019–21) 276. Our predecessor Committee identified a similar lack of clarity about the GEO’s role, see Women and Equalities Committee, The role of the Minister for Women and Equalities and the place of GEO in government, Second Report of Session 2017–19, HC 1546.

173 See, for example, Q153; Q161; Q182; Q193

174 Gov.uk, ‘Fight for Fairness’, 17 December 2020 (accessed 14 January 2021)

175 Women and Equalities Committee, ‘The role of the GEO: embedding equalities across Government’, accessed 14 January 2021

176 See, for example, Q4 [Professor Adams-Prassl]; Q137 [Professor Rubery and Dr Monica Costa Dias]; Engender (Mrs0379); Professor Sophie Harman and Dr Clare Wenham (Mrs0153); Eleanor Glanville Centre (Mrs0204); Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (Mrs0037); Women’s Budget Group (Mrs0071); Fawcett Society (Mrs0136)

177 Examples include HMRC disaggregating furlough, but not flexible furlough, data by gender and the Race Disparity Unit disaggregating only some of its data by sex as well as race.

178 Oral evidence taken on 6 May 2020, HC (2019–21) 276, Q117 [Liz McKeown]

179 Ibid., Q85 [Professor Sir Michael Marmot]; Qq86–7 [Professor Rasul]

180 Q141 [Tom Hemingway]; Q200 [Paul Scully]; Q201 [Jo Warner]

181 Established by the National Statistician in October 2020, the taskforce aims to improve data in a range of areas including equalities (the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, as well as additional areas associated with equality in the broader sense) and data on those at risk of greater disadvantage or who may be missing from household surveys. See, UK Statistics Authority, Inclusive Data Taskforce, accessed 20 January 2021.

182 For example, UK labour market statistics for August-October were released on 15th December, see ONS, ‘Labour market overview, UK: December 2020’, accessed 20 January 2021, while in the US, employment statistics for November were published on 4 December, see U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘Employment Situation Summary’, accessed 20 January 2021

183 Q137 [Professor Rubery]

184 For example, Q131 [Dr Brown]; Young Women’s Trust (Mrs0242); Women’s Regional Consortium (Mrs0247); Equality and Human Rights Commission (CVG0023); TUC (CVG0027)

185 Oral evidence taken on 22 April 2020, HC (2019–21) 276, Q65 [Liz Truss]

186 See, for example, Young Women’s Trust (Mrs0242); Women’s Regional Consortium (Mrs0247)

190 Fawcett Society, Gender pay gap reporting: a comparative analysis, October 2020, p 19

191 Ibid., p 30

192 See, for example, Baroness McGregor-Smith, Race in the workplace, February 2017 and Cabinet Office, Race Disparity Audit: Summary Findings from the Ethnicity Facts and Figures, October 2017 (revised March 2018), which both identified significant earnings gaps by ethnicity.

194 The BBC reported that it had seen a “leaked report’” showing that 73% of businesses who responded to the consultation support the introduction of ethnicity pay gap reporting for businesses with more than 250 staff. See, “Employers back requirement for large firms to disclose ethnicity pay gaps”, BBC News, 19 December 2020.

196 See, for example, TUC (Mrs0498); Unite (Mrs0504: see also, “Government urged to introduce disability pay gap reporting for employers”, People Management, 5 November 2020

197 Young Women’s Trust, ‘Young women’s experiences of the coronavirus crisis’, 27 October 2020 (accessed 20 January 2021); see also, London School of Economics’ COVID 1Care Research Group (CVG0019); Equality and Human Rights Commission (CVG0023); Pregnant Then Screwed (CVG0032)

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