The government recently published its response to the previous report prepared by the Women and Equalities Committee, ‘Unequal Impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact.’
The report concluded that government policies during the pandemic had consistently overlooked women’s caring responsibilities and the inequality experienced by them.
The report identifies that:
“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.”
Although the government’s response rejects or only partially accepts most of the 22 recommendations, the response states that the government is:
- considering removing the 26-week service requirement for making a flexible working request and it will consult on making flexible working the default position
- committed to bringing forward an Employment Bill
- intending to extend the redundancy protection period afforded to mothers on maternity leave to apply to pregnant women and for six months after a mother has returned to work, and this will also include those taking adoption and shared parental leave
- considering proposals to require large employers to publish their parental leave and pay policies.
Part of the Government’s response to the inequality highlighted by the pandemic is the new “Equality Hub” described in the report as follows:
The new Equality Hub, in the Cabinet Office, brings together the Disability Unit, Government Equalities Office, Race Disparity Unit and, from 1 April, the sponsorship of the Social Mobility Commission. The Government Equalities Office’s remit relates to gender equality, LGBT rights and the overall framework of equality legislation for Great Britain and the other units’ focus on cross government disability policy, ethnic disparities and social mobility respectively. The units that make up the Equality Hub work closely together, under a single Director, reporting to Ministers who have other portfolios outside of the Cabinet Office, led by the Minister for Women and Equalities.
The Equality Hub has a key role in driving government priorities on equality and opportunity. The Hub has a particular focus on improving the quality of evidence and data about disparities and the types of barriers different people face, ensuring that fairness is at the heart of everything the Government does. This includes statutory protected characteristics but also other aspects of inequality, including in particular socio-economic and geographic inequality. The Equality Hub is key to driving progress on the Government’s commitment to levelling up opportunity and ensuring fairness for all.
The creation of the Equality Hub means that the Government can deliver a coordinated response to cross-cutting equality issues. The Equality Hub is working with other Government departments to identify where those real inequalities exist, not just those related to Covid, but also long-standing inequalities that may have previously been overlooked.
The Hub announced that the UK will be hosting the first LGBT Conference in 2022.
In its response to the report Working Families stated:
Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive of Working Families, said:
“This report paints a clear picture of just how far gender equality has been pushed back by the pandemic. Our advice line has been inundated since the first lockdown with parents struggling to balance work and caring responsibilities. Last year 85% of those callers have been women, and 60% of those have been women from low-income backgrounds. COVID has thrown a harsh light on how broken the system is for many.”
Our experience has likewise been that far more women have sought advice and support during this time and we hope that the enduring inequality exacerbated by the pandemic can now be properly addressed for the next generation of working women.
Disabled people who already faced substantial barriers to full participation in society, for example because services were inaccessible or they had additional health, care and support or special educational needs, have suffered a range of profoundly adverse effects from the pandemic, including starkly disproportionate and tragic deaths. There must be a discrete independent inquiry into the causes of adverse outcomes for disabled people, including the decisions and policies of the Government and public authorities. This should take place as soon as the pandemic is more clearly under control, which we all hope will be in the first half of 2021.