What effect has the pandemic had on gender equality?

In September this year a Women and Equalities Committee session discussed the impact of Covid in the childcare, social care and hair and beauty sectors while Flexpo Business hosted a discussion on gender equality and the coronavirus.

Letter blocks spelling out equal with female symbol


A Women and Equalities Committee session in September 2020 heard how childcare was changing due to the pandemic, including a change in the childcare services which parents were looking for. For instance, many parents wanted childcare that was nearer to their homes rather than their workplaces due to the rise in homeworking.

Liz Bayram, Chief Executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years spoke of the financial challenges facing the childcare sector, saying there was a fear that if more parents were made redundant when furlough and the job support scheme ends, that many would take children out of childcare and reply on free childcare entitlements which have historically been underfunded by Government. This could lead to nurseries struggling to make ends meet.

Given its importance for working parents, Bayram called on the the Government to put a strategy in place for how childcare fits into the economic recovery after the pandemic.

Beauty sector

The Committee also heard from another women-dominated sector, health and beauty where 95% or workers are female.

Victoria Brownlie, director of policy and public affairs at the National Hair and Beauty Federation, outlined the difficult position businesses faced. It was amongst the last to reopen after the period of strict lockdown, and was suffering in the same way as the hospitality and retail sector but with less support.

Brownlie said that the sector needed a voucher scheme similar to eat out to help out, a VAT reduction plus other initiatives such as training grants so workers could reskill in order to take a temporary break from the industry until it was able to function properly again.

Healthcare sector

Senior policy officer at the TUC spoke at the committee about social and health care, which is another sector dominated by women. She noted that the sector was already facing a staffing crisis before coronavirus – backed up by a new report from the Commons public accounts committee which says that a third of nurses are considering leaving the NHS in the next year mainly due to pay issues and overwork and that Government pledges to recruit 50,000 more nurses by 2025 were unconvincing.

Robertson highlighted that low pay and lack of time to care for people were the main reasons people were leaving social care, and the staff losses were putting more pressure on remaining staff leading to burnout. Lack of pay progression and job insecurity were also big problems.

Flexpo Business

The Women and Equalities Committee session coincided with the Flexpo Business event, which held a session on gender equality. Joelie Brierley from Pregnant Then Screwed spoke about the “really detrimental” effect of the pandemic on gender equality – that it has excacerbated challenges which were already in existance with regards discrimination, childcare and gender based assumptions. Women were being forced out of jobs due to childcare issues, and she said the Government were showing “complete inertia” to the problem.

In a second session on gender equality, Jane Van Zyl from Working Families said her organisation’s helpline had seen a huge increase in calls since Covid, including from mums being told they couldn’t work from home and dads not feeling able to even begin a conversation about working from home with their employers.

Recently there had been more queries about employers imposing changes in hours on employees with no consideration for childcare issues, such as the lack of wraparound care.

Virginia Herlihy of How do you do it said the one potential ray of light was that flexible working had been shown to work as it was an important enabler of gender equality.

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