Gender Inequality and Coronavirus: The UK Government Must Act Now – Liberal Article
My colleague recently wrote that ‘gender equality in the UK has made undeniable progress over the last century.’ But, as in almost all areas of life, the COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to this. If the UK government does nothing, the impact of the pandemic will compound gender inequality for years to come. They must act now to avoid economic and social disaster.
Women have been disproportionately affected by the fall out from the pandemic.
The McKinsey Institute has found that, in the workplace, female jobs are 19% more at risk than male ones. This is because women are disproportionately represented in sectors negatively affected by COVID-19.
Inside the home, the burden of unpaid care typically falls to women. The substantial growth of domestic work due to lockdowns, coupled with the lack of childcare options, has left many women out of paid work. The Fawcett report found that a third of working mothers in the UK had lost paid hours due to the lack of childcare available throughout the pandemic. For BAME mothers, this number rose to 44%.
Clearly, the pandemic is having a greater impact on women’s lives, but the repercussions reach further than individuals. Before the virus, the economic impact of gender discrimination in the workplace was vast. In a post-pandemic world, inequality will be even starker. The government must act to mitigate this impact on women and the economy. But what can be done?
Firstly, the government must reinstate Britain’s flagship gender reporting service, which was suspended on 24 March 2020. Although the Government Equalities Office claims to be committed to ensuring equal opportunity for everyone in the workplace, the cessation of this service suggests that gender disparity in the workplace is not a priority. The government are willing to let women suffer in the wake of this crisis; it must change now.
Secondly, women must be at the centre of policy-change, solutions, and recovery post-pandemic. There are three key areas where the government should act: they must address child care and social care infrastructure, embed flexible working hours, and improve paid paternity leave.
Improving child and social care infrastructure would redress the labour imbalance. This would ensure we do not cut women from the labour market if they are unable to pay for childcare. Additionally, the pandemic has illuminated the possibility of flexible working hours. Making these the norm would allow both parents to share the burden of domestic work more equally. Improved paternity leave would encourage shared parental care from day one, changing the culture that means domestic work typically falls to women.
The disruption caused by COVID-19 offers the opportunity for a large cultural shift and policy reform. The pandemic has shown that greater flexibility in working life is possible, offering hope for a fairer share of domestic duties. Indeed, the Fawcett report (Oct 2020) found that fathers spent twice as much time caring for their children than at the start of the pandemic. But fighting the effects of the virus on gender equality is a burden we cannot place on individuals. The government must take responsibility and centre the women most impacted by the pandemic’s collateral.
The benefits of countering the regressive effects of COVID-19 on women is clear. The government must step in because it is their moral duty to ensure the equal treatment of all. If they fail to act now, we will all suffer.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Hannah Rashbass
Point of Information
Prioritisation is Key – A Labour Response
Hannah’s article highlights an assuredly current and cardinal issue. We were aware of gender inequality in the UK long before COVID and, without intervention, this will continue to exist beyond the pandemic. Hannah is right in saying COVID has exacerbated inequality. It has impacted all areas of our lives, so it is not surprising to me that it has widened this disparity also.
One of my biggest concerns is the lack of prioritisation of gender equality by the government. Without this, these vast inequalities will continue to exist and we really should be demanding the opposite – a cessation of such inequality.
Hannah touches upon one example of this in the suspension of our gender reporting service. This service required employers to report gender pay gaps so that people were aware of inequalities and could actively seek to close any disparity. Perhaps at the start of the pandemic, there were some mitigating justifications to not follow this. But now, almost one year on, I struggle to see any valid excuse not to reinstate this service.
The government certainly have a huge role to play in the issue of gender equality and, again, they need to prioritise this. While wider society can have a huge influence on eliminating outdated social constructs, change in the workplace and at a more institutional level must come from the government.
Targeting areas that have only been negatively impacted since March, such as the motherhood penalty and care responsibilities, would be a good place to start. Whether this is simply reinstating the aforementioned reporting service or kick-starting greater initiatives, something undeniably has to be done.
Ultimately, there is indubitable gender inequality in the UK. Prioritisation is the best way, perhaps the only way, to combat this issue. The sooner the government realises this, the better.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
We Need to Stop Seeing Oppression Where There Isn’t Any – A Conservative Response
Can we please stop trying to find oppression where there isn’t any? Men are much more likely to be hospitalised and die as a result of COVID-19. As outlined by Bupa, men tend to have weaker immune responses to many viruses which include the common flu, and obviously, coronavirus. They’re also more likely to develop pre-existing conditions which may lead to very severe complications. How can we, with clear conscience, assume that women are the ones who are oppressed here?
I was ready to counter the arguments in this article that genuinely related to some kind of gender inequality. But all I’ve seen is the assumption that women are oppressed because they choose to have children. This isn’t a priority for the government, and why should it be? They should be focusing on the economic recovery from the pandemic, not someone’s silly expectations.
And the issue of the supposed ‘wage gap’? It means that women earn less over their lifetime because they choose to have children. Naturally, this means that they will earn less and this should be accepted. They can also count on their partner to see to their needs, giving them more freedom than they would ever receive from the state.
Moreover, after the pandemic, businesses will suffer tremendously. They cannot be wasting their resources on flexible working hours when we need to focus on improving the state of our economy. Helping women with their responsibilities isn’t the government’s job. I can understand that we want as many bodies back in employment as possible. But in the post-pandemic world, childcare centres will be open again – there is no need for the state to get involved.
The smaller the state, the better. We all need to remember and accept that the minute they lift the lockdown, we should see our great capitalism at work once again.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Dinah Kolka