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9 February, 2021 Open access

Government’s Covid response continues to overlook ‘specific and well-understood labour market and caring inequalities faced by women’, MPs warn

Women and Equalities Committee urges government to ‘seize opportunity’ to stop repeated ‘skewing’ of its policies towards men as it implements recovery strategies

The government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak continues to overlook ‘specific and well-understood labour market and caring inequalities' faced by women, the Women and Equalities Committee has said.

In a new report, Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact, the Committee examines the government’s Covid response across a range of policy areas including the labour market and employment, pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and childcare. Key findings include that the government’s efforts to protect jobs and living standards during the Covid-19 pandemic has overlooked, and in some cases exacerbated, pre-existing labour market and caring inequalities faced by women.

For example, the Committee highlights that the gendered impacts of the government’s job protection schemes - the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) - on women in employment were predictable, given that -

In addition, the Committee identifies problems with the government’s priorities for recovery post-pandemic, which it says are heavily gendered in nature, using language such as ‘build, build, build’ and ‘shovel- ready projects’. It also highlights that -

‘Investment plans that skewed towards male-dominated sectors [including science, engineering and maths and construction] have the potential to create unequal outcomes for men and women, exacerbating existing inequalities.’

The Committee also highlights that these findings, along with those in relation to social security, childcare, and young people, show how damaging a lack of equality analysis of new policies is to efforts to address inequalities facing women.

As a result, the Committee makes 20 recommendations including, in relation to the labour market and employment, for the government to -

Committee Chair Caroline Nokes said today -

‘As the pandemic struck, the government had to act quickly to protect jobs and adapt welfare benefits. These have provided a vital safety net for millions of people.

But it overlooked the labour market and caring inequalities faced by women. These are not a mystery, they are specific and well understood. And yet the government has repeatedly failed to consider them.

This passive approach to gender equality is not enough. And for many women it has made existing equality problems worse: in the support to self-employed people, to pregnant women and new mothers, to the professional childcare sector, and for women claiming benefits. And it risks doing the same in its plans for economic recovery.

We heard evidence from a wide range of organisations, including Maternity Action, the National Hair and Beauty Federation, the TUC, the Professional Association of Childcare and Early Years, the single parents campaign group Gingerbread, the Young Women’s Trust and the Women’s Budget Group. And written evidence from many more.

The message from our evidence is clear: Government policies have repeatedly skewed towards men - and it keeps happening.

We need to see more than good intentions and hoping for the best. The government must start actively analysing and assessing the equality impact of every policy, or it risks turning the clock back.

Our report sets out a package of twenty recommendations for change and a timescale. Taken together, these will go a long way towards tackling the problems and creating the more equal future that so many women - and men - want to see.

The government should seize this opportunity.’

For more information, see Government must assess equality impact of every policy from parliament.uk