Whilst there are some industries and individuals who have in many ways financially benefited from the last 12 months – loungewear designers, video conferencing software creators and takeaway app owners spring to mind – there is increasing evidence surfacing that women in the UK have borne the brunt of financial woes and hardships arising from the pandemic fall out.
The deadline for gender pay gap reporting was recently delayed for a further six months (it was suspended completely in 2020) and women have found their careers taking a profound turn for the worse since the first lockdown was ordered in March 2020.
The female population under the aged of 30 are over-represented in those demographics who lost work, partly due to a high proportion working in hospitality, personal services like hairdressing and beauty, as well as zero hours and part time contracts. For working parents, mothers were 1.5 times more probable to have quit or lost work due to caring responsibilities. Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, recently announced “data showing that women make up 98% of those doing the highest-risk jobs for “poverty wages”, as well as 77% of healthcare workers, 83% of social care workers and 92% of childcare workers.”
Add to this the 1.58 million self-employed women (as of August 2020) who on average earn £243 per week compared to men who earn 49% more at a median of £363 per week.
Although you could argue if a husband/partner is the higher household earner it “makes sense” for mum to have taken a step back to assume the home-schooling responsibilities, as Britain starts to recover, this situation threatens to reverse decades of progress already made in gender equalities. And that’s without considering the sandwich generation who may have adopted the role of carer for older generations within permissible social bubbles.
One cannot disagree that the furlough scheme has undoubtedly saved hundreds of thousands of jobs, however once furloughed from March 2020, a third of women still found themselves out of work 4 months later in July, compared with only 20% of men who had not secured alternative employment or had not been brought back into their previous workplace. Throw in the mental anguish of lack of job security and financial pressures, the impact on female mental health is forecasted to be felt for some time yet, even as the UK continues to navigate itself through the current roadmap out of (the third) lockdown.
The Government did indeed step in to “encourage” employers to furlough parents for childcare reasons, but with the majority of roles in accommodation, food services, arts and entertainment industries populated by women, how easy will it be for females to re-enter the workforce once the country resumes some form of normality, with industries being forced to cut capacities and operate at reduced levels? It is therefore crucial that the Government commits to providing genuine, tailored opportunities for the female workforce. Figures from March 2021 demonstrate that 30% of pre-retired men had at least £150,000 in their pension pot compared to only 8% of women; 36% of these women had savings of less than £50,000. A severe wake-up call is now vital to focus on the recovery and accelerated progress in career opportunities for women of all ages, to avoid generations sleep walking into retirement and being forced to rely predominantly on partners, benefits and the state pension.