Easing Lockdown: potential problems for women

Date Posted: Monday 4th May 2020

A briefing from the UK Women's Budget Group.

View and download the briefing here.

As Government attention turns to the possibility of easing the lockdown, this briefing sets out some of the challenges this will throw up for different groups of women as we enter the ‘second stage’ of Covid-19 response. The key priority must avoiding further deaths and a ‘second spike’ but adequate consideration of gender dynamics is required to ensure “women [and minorities] aren’t disadvantaged in the course of the recovery” (Liz Truss, Minister for Women and Equalities, Committee hearing 22 April 2020.)

Shortages in social/childcare and economic downturn could lead to widespread redundancies or difficulties returning to work which data suggests is already disproportionately impacting different groups of women. There is a high risk of increases to the gender pay gap, women’s poverty, homelessness and food insecurity.

View and download the briefing here.

Policy responses in the medium term should include:

  • Provide additional funding for the NHS to meet the backlog created by postponing treatment during the peak of Covid-19 cases.
  • Reinstate the obligation to provide social care for all those who need it, as soon as Covid-19 is under control, replacing the discretionary obligation contained in the Coronavirus Act.
  • Give local authorities new duties and powers with respect to social care for which they should be adequately funded by central Government. These should include duties to have oversight of all forms of care in their areas and requiring care providers to provide guaranteed hours, pay comparable to similar NHS jobs, training and support.[1]
  • Ensure employers report the numbers of people they make redundant with breakdowns by sex and other protected characteristics.
  • Introduce protections against redundancy as a result of furlough for caring responsibilities or taking time off due to sickness or shielding. There must be clear guidance to mitigate a spike in indirect discrimination for those with caring responsibilities. This should be monitored over time.
  • Gender pay gap reporting should be reinitiated immediately and include reporting on the current period.
  • The basic levels of Universal Credit should be increased in line with real living wages indefinitely to support those who have lost their jobs.
  • Increasing support and offering flexibility (e.g. reducing taper rate) under Universal Credit to provide support to tackle debts as well as converting all advance payments into grants and ending the benefit cap and two-child limit.
  • Increase child benefit to £50 per week per child to reflect additional costs facing parents
  • Consider direct financial support to write off debts incurred as a result of the crisis.
  • Continue to protect tenants from eviction and increase local housing allowance to 50% of local median rents.
  • Introduce sustained funding for frontline women’s services including VAWG services. This should include reforming the current commissioning model so that ringfenced funding for women requiring specialist support including those led ‘by and for’ BAME, migrant, LGBT women and disabled women.
  • Critical infrastructure continuation fund payable to childcare and social care providers at risk of closure to ensure continuity of care with the longer term goal of properly funded universal services.
  • Do not turn to austerity measures to pay for the cost of the crisis. This will repeat the past and impact poor, BAME and disabled women most[2]. Consider alternative ways to pay for the measures needed including investment in social infrastructure to boost the economy, increased taxes on wealth and tackle tax evasion, avoidance, and havens.

View and download the briefing here.

[1] For more detailed recommendations see WBG (2020) Social Care and Covid-19 (https://bit.ly/3aI4ML4)

[2] WBG and Runnymede (2018) Intersecting Inequalities: the impact of austerity on BME women https://wbg.org.uk/analysis/intersecting-inequalities/