Since the start of the pandemic we are already seeing an increase in gender-based violence, and women are more likely to be in informal, precarious employment which any financial crisis will hit first.
The IFS Deaton Review in June 2020 found that mothers are more likely to have had their careers disrupted, whilst still bearing most of the additional childcare. Women make up 69% of low paid earners and the majority of people living in poverty, including 90% of lone parents, almost half of whom are living in poverty. Many of these women are also disabled or face racial inequalities. I am therefore concerned that the pre-existing economic inequalities women face will increase as a result of the economic downturn and handling of the pandemic.
Further, women are disproportionately likely to work in sectors which have been hit hardest by lockdown. IFS figures show that 36% of young women work in sectors that have been closed down – including restaurants, tourism and retail. Sectors such as hairdressing and beauty are 83% and 94% predominantly female respectively. I know that a number of people have raised concerns that the beauty industry in particular has endured longer lockdown restrictions and that barbers have been allowed to provide certain services to customers, while beauty salons offering the same services are still not allowed to open. There must be a clear link between the negative economic impact on women, and the lack of women representation in the UK Governments team. You may be aware that the response to the coronavirus crisis in Scotland is the responsibility of the Scottish Government, therefore you might also like to contact your MSP to ask what proactive steps the Scottish Government is taking to ensure their response to coronavirus does not disproportionately affect women and girls.
The government’s strategy for recovering from coronavirus must take into account the particular impact the crisis is having on women – or risk further entrenching the problem. The national poverty charity Turn2Us has found that women’s incomes are falling more steeply than men’s during the crisis.
Coronavirus also risks turning the clock back on pay equality. Therefore, as the official opposition to the Government, during the coronavirus crisis we have called on government to strengthen equal pay laws. Labour Leader Keir Starmer MP and my Shadow Cabinet colleague, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities Marsha De Cordova MP, have backed the Fawcett Society’s ‘Right to Know’ campaign that would give women the right to know what a male colleague doing the same work is paid. They say it is necessary to bring the Act up to date for workplaces in 2020.
In government, Labour closed the pay gap by 7.7 per cent. But in recent years progress has stalled, with just a 2.4 per cent decrease in pay inequality since 2011. Public spending decisions in this time have disproportionately hit women harder than men because of their over-representation in lower-paid jobs and because they are more likely to access child-related working-age benefits. In December, the UK slipped down the World Economic Forum’s global gender equality ranking, from 15th to 21st – one place below Albania.
As we emerge from this crisis, it’s clear government needs to act in women’s interests. Government must ensure any coronavirus recovery plan comes with a full impact assessment that ensures it doesn’t exacerbate the gender pay gap. And it’s why we are calling on them to give women the right to know if they are being paid less than a man doing the same job.
I am also calling on the Government to address the inequalities facing women in the workforce and fix our broken social security system to ensure that no woman is forgotten or left behind.
We have also pressed the Government to urgently undertake and publish a meaningful equality impact assessment of its Coronavirus Recovery Strategy, on groups with protected characteristics, including women, LGBT+ people, disabled people and BAME communities.
According to the Centre for Labour and Social Studies, only one in ten of those on the lowest salaries are able to work from home. Following the Government’s Coronavirus Recovery Strategy announcements, many could face pressure to return to work and risk their safety. This is likely to disproportionately impact women, who represent 69% of low-paid workers, and some BAME people who are four times more likely to work in industries that have been shut down as a result of Covid 19. Equality Impact Assessments are not just a tick box exercise, but one of the main tools to achieve this. They act as a vital resource to improve and mitigate decision making. The Government must undertake and publish an urgent Equality Impact Assessment on its Coronavirus Recovery Strategy to address the inequalities exacerbated by the crisis.
It is vital that the groups most at-risk to in this crisis, including the BAME community, women and disabled people, are protected in the Government’s plans to ease lockdown.