Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact: Government response to the Committee’s fifth report of Session 2019–21

First Special Report

The Committee published its Fifth Report of Session 2019–21, Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered ecnomic impact (HC 385), on 9 February 2021. The Government response was received on 29 April 2021 and is appended below.

Appendix: Government Response


The Government welcomes the publication of the report, ‘Unequal Impact? Coronavirus and the Gendered Economic Impact’ by the Women and Equalities Select Committee on 9 February 2021. We are grateful for their work and have carefully considered their recommendations.

As the Committee rightly recognises, covid-19 is the biggest challenge the UK has faced in decades, and everyone across the country has been hit by its impact. The Government has taken extensive measures to support and protect the people most affected by the extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances caused by the pandemic. The economic impact of the pandemic is complex and still emerging, making it vital that any action we take in response is based on robust evidence.

While the UK employment rate has fallen overall since the start of covid-19 and redundancies have increased significantly, there are significant differences in how individuals and sectors have been affected. Redundancy rates for men are higher than for women, while women are more likely to be on furlough than men. Since January-March 2020, the number of women working full-time has increased, and the gap between the number of men and women working full-time has fallen by 12.8%. Female representation in most industries has remained largely similar to pre covid-19 levels.

The initial closure of nurseries and the introduction of home schooling had a significant impact on mothers, who still provide a much greater share of unpaid care in our society. Mothers were 23% more likely than fathers to have lost their jobs (temporarily or permanently) during the crisis in May 2020. During this time mothers in paid work were 47% more likely than fathers to have permanently lost their job or quit, and they were 14% more likely to have been furloughed.

This complicated picture is why the Government has responded to the crisis with extensive and flexible employment support, retaining opportunities and job creation schemes, such as the £33bn ‘A Plan for Jobs’, and the Restart and Kickstart schemes. It is also why the Government introduced the £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme, aimed at supporting the most vulnerable families with children.

We continue to support women through the unprecedented crisis of covid-19, and with these measures in place women can take advantage of the opportunities available, ensuring they are at the heart of our country’s recovery. We must not lose the progress women have made in the workplace in recent years.

A response to each recommendation is set out in table A.

Equality Hub – working for fairness

Labour Market and Unemployment

Benefits and Social Security

Young People

Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination


Embedding equalities and improving equality data

Table A



Labour Market and Unemployment

1. 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. (para 17)

Partially accept. The Government agrees that evidence on inequalities is important when developing any scheme or policy. Which is why, when designing the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme policies and subsequent reforms, advice to Ministers included an analysis of how the policies were likely to affect individuals sharing protected characteristics. This is in line with legal requirements under the Public Sector Equality Duty in the Equality Act 2010, and the internal procedural requirements and support in place for ensuring that such requirements are met in decisions taken and, subsequently, publicly announced by Ministers. There needs to be adequate space for officials and Ministers to share and discuss in confidence all aspects of policy advice so the Government rejects the call to publish this information.

2. 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. (para 23)

Reject. Advice to Ministers included an analysis of how the policies were likely to affect individuals with different protected characteristics. This is in line with legal requirements under the Public Sector Equality Duty in the Equality Act 2010 and the internal procedural requirements and support in place for ensuring that such requirements are met in decisions taken and, subsequently, publicly announced by Ministers. There needs to be adequate space for officials and Ministers to share and discuss in confidence all aspects of policy advice.

It is not for Government to undertake economic growth assessments of an independent organisation’s proposals.

3. 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. (para 25)

Reject. Restart will support people regardless of their characteristics and has been designed as an open-specification provision with providers required to give a personalised offer for all participants, tailored to individual and local need. The programme is designed to maximise providers’ expertise and ability to find the best ways of supporting people into sustained work. Specifying in detail what is required can stifle these positive behaviours.

Kickstart is a job creation scheme rather than a training scheme. It aims to help young people facing the greatest risk of long-term unemployment. This support is aimed at any young person facing particular disadvantage. DWP does not consider that targeting the scheme in this way would be suitable.

4. 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. (para 29)

Considering. Access to flexible working can be key to ensuring increased participation of some groups who are under-represented in the labour market. The Government wants to make it easier for people to work flexibly and in our manifesto, we committed to further encouraging flexible working by consulting on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to.

We will issue that consultation in due course.

5. 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. (para 31)

Partially Accept. The Government is committed to bringing forward an Employment Bill when parliamentary time allows that will help us build back better. We are clear that any reforms require us to consider the needs of the labour market today, taking into account the impact of the pandemic, including that on women. As part of this we will consider the recommendations in this report.

Benefits and Social Security

6. 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 (para 43)

Reject. DWP reallocated resources to prioritise its response to the covid-19 pandemic and will not be conducting nor commissioning any additional research as major projects run by DWP are already subject to ongoing evaluation. Any issues identified by those evaluations will be carefully considered.

7. 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. (para 46)

Accept. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the Government has stepped up to support the poorest, most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our country. The Government will continue to do so by maintaining the £20 per week increase to Universal Credit for a further six months. DWP expect over 4 million claimants across our country to gain from this extension.

Temporarily introduced in March 2020, this will keep a boost to payments in place throughout the summer as we progress through our roadmap to reopen the economy and get more people back in to work via our £220bn Plan for Jobs.

Those on Working Tax Credits will also benefit from a one-off payment of five hundred pounds, equivalent to six months’ worth of the £20 uplift.

8. We recommend the Government immediately increase legacy benefit rates by the equivalent amount (Para 47)

Reject. The temporary £20 uplift in UC credit was designed to help people who, as a result of the economic consequences of the pandemic, had seen a fall in their income. Legacy benefit claimants’ income has not been affected by the Covid pandemic.

The Government has no plans to extend the temporary £20 uplift to legacy benefits.

Claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for Universal Credit (UC) if they think they will be better off and should check carefully their eligibility and entitlements under UC before applying, as legacy benefits will end when claimants submit their UC claim and they will not be able to return to them in the future. Prospective claimants are signposted to independent benefits calculators on GOV.UK. Neither DWP nor HMRC can advise individual claimants whether they would be better off moving to UC or remaining on legacy benefits.

9. 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)

Reject. DWP has specific easements in place to deal with emergency childcare situations and this information is available to all Work Coaches in the Universal Learning intranet site which provides guidance to all staff. Work coaches receive extensive training and support to help them identify and apply these easements where they are needed. This is supported by resources such as the District Provision Tool and Complex Needs Toolkits, both of which are resources that allow work coaches (and other frontline staff) to identify and signpost to local services offering the type of support required by an individual claimant. There are, in addition, a suite of Bite Size learning products to consolidate their learning which they can access at any time through Universal Learning. The DWP publishes its UC guidance library into the House of Commons’ Library each year—most recently in October 2020. https://depositedpapers.parliament.uk/depositedpaper/2282591/files

10. 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)

Accept. DWP Work coaches, including the additional 13,500 currently being recruited by the Department, are already actively engaged in helping everyone, including mothers, access the range of support on offer.

Through the measures in A Plan for Jobs the Government has already significantly expanded the employment support offer for all newly unemployed people, including women. This includes job creation through the Kickstart scheme which can be accessed by young women at risk of becoming long-term unemployed aged 16–24 on Universal Credit and the expansion of the Sector-based Work Academy Programme which provides training and a work placement in a range of sectors and can be accessed by women of all ages.

There is cross-government collaboration to identify and promote opportunities in sectors with immediate or growing demand for jobs and identify how UC claimants, especially those who may face additional barriers such as childcare, can best be supported to gain the skills needed to work in priority sectors, as well as increasing opportunities for workplace progression.

11.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 overrepresented in this demographic, and we are concerned that the Treasury seems both unaware and uninterested in the evidence showing this. (para 64)

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. (para 65)

Reject. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) eligibility is based, in part, on the amount an individual earns per week rather than the amount of hours they are contracted to work. Those on zero-hour contracts may therefore be entitled to sick pay if they meet all eligibility criteria, which includes being classed as an employee and having average earnings of at least £120 per week.

SSP is just one part of the welfare safety net and the Government’s wider offer to support people in times of need. Where an individual requires further financial support while off work sick, for example where their income is reduced while on SSP or they are not eligible for SSP, they may be eligible for support through the welfare system, which the Government has strengthened to help people through these unprecedented times. Many of those earning below the LEL are already in receipt of welfare benefits.

The Health Is Everyone’s Business consultation, published July 2019, set out a number of proposals to reduce ill-health related job loss, including reforming SSP. As part of this consultation the Government sought views on the rate of SSP and the role that employers can and should play in supporting employees who are disabled or have long-term health conditions to stay in and thrive in work. This included setting out that the Government is minded to extend SSP to those earning below the lower earnings limit, who are not currently eligible for financial support from their employer during a period of sickness absence. There was a good response to the consultation from a range of stakeholders and a response will be issued shortly.

Young People

12. 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. (para 78)

Reject. The Government agree with the Committee that we should mainstream equality into the design of apprenticeships but are confident that this is already happening.

Apprenticeships can support employers in creating more diverse workforces and we want to make sure that we address the under-representation of women in the highest-paying sectors, such as STEM. Female representation in STEM apprenticeships is increasing, but women remain under-represented. In 2019/20 women accounted for 11.4% of STEM starts, up from 10.1% in 2018/19 and 8.8% in 2017/18, while women make up 24% of the core-STEM workforce, a slight rise from 2019.

Occupational standards are designed by employers, with support from the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education. The Institute uses a gender-neutral language approach to ensure that standards are appealing to both women and men. It encourages Trailblazers to think about the implications of language choice in other areas. It is continually alert to the risks of creating additional barriers to learning or attainment in what it publishes, and this is under constant review and scrutiny in its approvals process.

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

Reject. DWP will monitor the uptake of Kickstart jobs across a range of criteria to ensure the scheme is accessible to all groups including those at a disadvantage in the labour market.

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

Reject. DWP already provides a training programme for work coaches coupled with several guidance documents detailing how to support customers applying for jobs depending on their circumstances and the specifics of the job applications.

These guidance documents can be found here: https://depositedpapers.parliament.uk/depositedpaper/2282591/files?page=1

DWP Train and Progress is an internal campaign designed to reinforce the importance of Work Coach engagement to identify and help address claimants’ skills needs as part of the overall support offered to help claimants meet their work and career goals.

The initial phase of this campaign to better align the DWP employment and skills offer was launched on 8 February 2021.

Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination

15. 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 (para 93).

Partially accept. The Government will extend the redundancy protection period afforded to mothers on maternity leave. This will extend to pregnant women and for six months after a mother has returned to work. This will also apply to those taking adoption leave and shared parental leave. We will bring these measures forward as soon as Parliamentary time allows.


16. 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. (para 116)

Reject. DfE already offers a range of childcare support to working parents and those in education, and this sits alongside support available from other government departments, including DWP and HMRC, in helping parents with the costs of childcare. The full range of support that parents can access is set out on the Childcare Choices website and on GOV.UK . The Government actively promotes these entitlements on a regular basis on social media and elsewhere, ensuring parents are aware of the support available to help with childcare costs.

The 2018 Office for National Statistics report on families and the labour market in England shows that many mothers return to work and need childcare when their youngest dependent child turns three. For this reason, the 30 hours free childcare entitlement scheme aims to support working families with the cost of childcare after their child reaches their third birthday, by reducing the impact of childcare as a barrier to entering the workplace. Responses to the Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents show that in 2019, parents who applied for the 30 hours did so to maintain (39%) or increase (21%) their working hours, and 78% of parents felt that 30 hours had improved their family finances.

30 hours free childcare is available to working parents who earn at least the equivalent of 16 hours per week at National Minimum/Living Wage (the equivalent of just over £142 per week/£7,413 per year in 2021–22), and is also open to parents who are self-employed or on zero- hour contracts.

All parents are eligible for the universal 15 hours of free childcare a week for all three and four year-olds, helping them develop social skills and preparing them for school. Parents could also use this time to support them to look for work.

Disadvantaged two-year-olds are also able to access up to 15 hours of free childcare each week, with around 143,000 children benefitting in January 2020. Those who benefit include children with education, health and care plans, looked after or previously looked after children, or whose parents are in receipt of certain income support benefits who earn less than the maximum income threshold of £15,400. The 2019 Department for Education Parents Survey shows that parents who had not used any childcare in the past year (neither formal nor informal) tended not to use childcare out of choice, rather than due to constraints. Around seven in ten (69%) parents who were not using childcare said they would rather look after their child(ren) themselves, while only 16% said it was because they could not afford childcare.

19. 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)

Partially accept. The legal requirement for relevant organisations to publish gender pay gap data each year is set out in The Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017. This requirement has never changed, however given the unprecedented circumstances employers faced enforcement action was suspended.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced on 23 February 2021 that due to the continued effects of the covid-19 pandemic, employers will have until 5 October 2021 to report their gender pay gap information for 2020/21. Extending the deadline by six months is the correct decision.

20. 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)

Considering. In July 2019 the Government consulted on proposals to require large employers to publish their parental leave and pay policies. The consultation received over 3,500 responses and we will publish the formal response to that consultation in due course.

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

Reject disability pay reporting. The Government is committed to reducing the disability employment gap and seeing a million more disabled people in work between 2017 and 2027. Disabled people are supported to enter employment and stay in work through a range of programmes such as the Work and Health Programme, Access to Work and the Intensive Personalised Employment Support Programme.

In November 2018 the Government published a Voluntary Reporting Framework (VRF) to support employers to report and publish on disability employment and mental health. This is aimed at large employers (with over 250 employees) encouraging them to have open and transparent conversations in the workplace with their staff. The framework can also be used to support smaller employers who wish to drive greater transparency within their organisations.

Disability Employment Advisers support DWP colleagues by developing their skills to understand the interaction between individuals, their health and disability and employment, to help them to provide more personalised support, tailored to each claimant’s individual needs. They proactively share knowledge and information with work coaches about health and disability, national and local provision, services, training and employment opportunities.

Considering ethnicity pay reporting. In 2018/2019 the Government consulted on options for employer-level ethnicity pay reporting. Following this, the Government met with businesses and representative organisations to understand the barriers to reporting and to explore what information could be published to allow for meaningful action to be taken.

Following the consultation, we ran a methodology testing exercise with a broad range of businesses to better understand the complexities outlined in the consultation. This highlighted the genuine difficulties in designing a methodology that will produce accurate figures that facilitate analysis, interpretation and meaningful action.

The Government is continuing to analyse this data. We will respond to the Ethnicity Pay Reporting consultation in due course.

22. 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)

Reject. The Government does not believe this form is an appropriate way to collect this information.

The Insolvency Service’s Redundancy Payments Service collect HR1 data and share it with Government Departments and Agencies which provide support for redundant employees and the unemployed. HR1s are submitted by employers where there is a proposal to make 20 or more redundancies at a single establishment. However, data on fewer than 20 proposed redundancies is not collected and neither is the total confirmed redundancies. HR1s include proposed dismissals which may not necessarily result in any actual redundancies.

However, the ONS currently publish data on redundancies by sex and age, available here –

Published: 14 May 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement