Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Labour Market and Employment

1.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. (Paragraph 16)

2.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 the 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. (Paragraph 17)

3.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. (Paragraph 22)

4.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. (Paragraph 23)

5.Women are traditionally under-represented in sectors that have been singled out for Government investment, such as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and construction. More must be done to tackle gender inequalities in representation and career progression in these male-dominated sectors so that women do not lose out in the recovery. (Paragraph 24)

6.We recommend the Government fund training schemes specifically aimed at women in the Digital, AI, and the Green Economy through its Kickstart, New Training Fund and Restart programmes. (Paragraph 25)

7.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. (Paragraph 29)

8.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. (Paragraph 31)

Benefits and Social Security

9.The design of Universal Credit creates risks for women’s financial independence, which can have severe consequences for women in abusive relationships. These risks have been heightened over the pandemic as other opportunities for economic support have been limited. They now also affect many more households given the rise in claimant numbers. (Paragraph 42)

10.The Department for Work and Pensions must urgently conduct or commission research to develop its understanding of the gendered impact of Universal Credit design, including the wait for the first payment; the single household payment structure; joint eligibility assessment; and the single earnings disregard. We recommend this research be commenced within two months of publication of this Report. (Paragraph 43)

11.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. (Paragraph 46)

12.We find it implausible that it is operationally impossible to increase the rates of legacy benefits by the equivalent amount of the increase in Universal Credit. We recommend the Government immediately increase legacy benefit rates by the equivalent amount. (Paragraph 47)

13.Appropriate and clear guidance to Jobcentre Plus work coaches is vital, given pre-pandemic research which found that mothers subject to Universal Credit conditionality felt that their caring responsibilities were disregarded. We were unable to find specific guidance to work coaches on emergency childcare easements, beyond the very general guidance in the entirely inadequate Equality Impact Assessment of the decision to reinstate conditionality. We recommend the DWP provide such guidance to us in response to this Report and to work coaches as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 56)

14.Job vacancies remain depressed and women with caring responsibilities require targeted job search support. Maintaining mothers’ attachment to the labour market and increasing the opportunities to retrain for jobs in viable sectors is critical. DWP must expand and tailor its offer for mothers seeking employment, so that it encompasses retraining and re-skilling for jobs in the most viable sectors. This should be maintained for the duration of the pandemic as a minimum. (Paragraph 57)

15.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. (Paragraph 64)

16.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. (Paragraph 65)

Young people

17.Prior to the pandemic, young people faced a number of challenges including relatively high unemployment, an overrepresentation in forms of insecure work, and long-term issues of low pay and slow career progression. The Government’s flagship apprenticeship programme, intended to boost both employment and progression, suffered from a number of gender inequality issues (including pay and occupational segregation) that remained unresolved. The pandemic has both exposed and exacerbated the economic vulnerability of young people, given their over concentration in shut down sectors, and in insecure work. (Paragraph 77)

18.We recommend that the Government mainstream equality into the design of apprenticeships and worked-based learning and actively challenge occupational segregation by gender. It must publish a gender equality plan for its apprenticeship programme and an action plan to increase the number of women in STEM apprenticeships. (Paragraph 78)

19.We recommend that the Government establish quotas for women in its Kickstart scheme. (Paragraph 79)

20.We recommend that DWP introduce training for Jobcentre Plus work coaches on supporting applicants into gender ‘atypical’ jobs. (Paragraph 80)

Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination

21.We are gravely concerned by evidence detailing potentially unlawful and discriminatory practices towards pregnant women and those on maternity leave during the pandemic. This should have been better anticipated by the government at the beginning of the pandemic and preventative actions taken. It cannot be allowed to continue. The Government must act now to prevent further discrimination, particularly as we enter a time of potentially unprecedented job losses, to which pregnant women and new mothers may be particularly vulnerable. (Paragraph 92)

22.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. (Paragraph 93)

Childcare

23.A reliable and affordable childcare system is a prerequisite of a gender equal economy and a gender equal recovery from the pandemic. Yet, the childcare sector could hardly have been in worse financial shape on the eve of the pandemic and a system already not working for many parents buckled during the pandemic. A chronic lack of investment has resulted in long-standing workforce and financial challenges for the early years sector. (Paragraph 114)

24.Given this backdrop, many childcare providers were vulnerable to the economic turmoil generated by the pandemic. The Government’s financial support for the sector has not been sufficiently generous nor has it been targeted to the specific needs of providers. Even with Government support, the significant drop off in private fees means many providers are likely to have run at a significant loss. Given that women make up the vast majority of the childcare workforce, and that mothers continue to bear the main responsibility for childcare, there is a clear gendered impact. The Government must commit to urgent short-term financial support and a sustainable and holistic long-term strategy. (Paragraph 115)

25.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. (Paragraph 116)

Embedding equalities and improving equality data

26.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. (Paragraph 124)

27.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. (Paragraph 125)

28.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. (Paragraph 126)

29.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. (Paragraph 129)

30.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. (Paragraph 130)

31.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. (Paragraph 135)

32.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. (Paragraph 136)

33.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. (Paragraph 137)

34.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. (Paragraph 141)

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

36.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. (Paragraph 145)

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




Published: 9 February 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement