MPs have found that inequality has worsened for many women during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report by the Commons Women and Equalities Committee found that while ministers acted quickly to protect jobs and adapt welfare benefits, gender disparities were ignored and government economic support policies in place are “skewed towards men”.
In particular, pregnant women and new mothers may have faced discriminatory and potentially unlawful treatment.
With women more likely to be employed in sectors shut down during the pandemic; more at risk of job loss or being placed on furlough; and the high-level of women juggling care duties with work, the report has urged the government to act, before it “turns the clock back.”
The report sets out a package of twenty recommendations for change alongside a timescale. These recommendations include conducting an Equality Impact Assessment of the Job Retention Scheme and the Self Employed Income Support Scheme; maintain increases in support, including the £20 increase to the Universal Credit standard allowance; and reinstate gender pay gap reporting and include parental leave policies, ethnicity and disability.
Speaking about the report, Committee Chair Caroline Nokes said, “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.”
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