Disabled mothers three times more likely to have lost work during the pandemic

Date Posted: Wednesday 17th March 2021

Six in ten disabled mothers are struggling to make ends meet

New research published today by leading gender equality organisations, the Fawcett Society, The UK Women’s Budget Group, Engender and Close the Gap (Scotland), Women Equality Network Wales, and Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group (NIWBG), shows that the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to amplify disadvantages experienced by disabled parents and the Government must take decisive action to tackle this.

We already know that women have been hit hard by the pandemic and mothers have been hit harder, but this new data reveals the acute impact COVID-19 is having on disabled mothers:

  • Half (49%) of disabled mothers have been furloughed compared to one third (34%) of non-disabled mothers
  • Three times as many disabled mothers lost their main job than non-disabled mothers (20% of disabled mothers compared to 7% of non-disabled mothers)
  • Six in 10 (58%) of disabled mothers report struggling to make ends meet compared to 36% of non-disabled mothers
  • High levels of anxiety were reported by 62% of disabled compared to 38% of non-disabled mothers.

Disabled parents already face financial, social and health barriers. This research shows that the pandemic has compounded these and is likely to have a lasting impact on work:

  • One in five (20%) of disabled parents believe they were unfairly chosen for furlough because of their race, sex, age, disability, or health condition compared to about one in ten (9%) of non-disabled parents
  • 54% of disabled mothers reported that they are worried about their job prospects in the next 12 months compared to 50% of non-disabled mothers.

Felicia Willow, Fawcett Society Chief Executive said: “We know the pandemic has impacted on women – and particularly mothers – disproportionately, and disabled mothers are facing this on multiple fronts. The current blanket policy response to the pandemic does not address these intersecting characteristics and widens the gulf further between disabled and non-disabled parents.

We urgently need to see the Government prioritise women and equality and redress the unequal impact of both Covid-19 and its own policy response to the pandemic, including by increasing Employment Support Allowance payments in line with the £20 Universal Credit uplift and require all jobs be made flexible in order to continue to support Disabled people to work once the pandemic is over.”

The evidence shows that disabled people have lacked access to food and social care and suffered higher death rates compared to non-disabled people. Disabled fathers have also faced major disruptions to their lives and work, experiencing high rates of furlough and jobs loss. In addition, research with parents of disabled children has found that informal and formal support has decreased and half of these families have lost income because of the pandemic.

We can also see the clear impact on mental health. Disabled mothers reported the highest levels of anxiety. When asked to identify their anxiety level on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest level of anxiety) disabled mothers reported an average anxiety level of 6 compared to an average of 4.2 among mothers without a disability. High levels of anxiety (an anxiety level of 6 to 10) were reported by 62% of disabled mothers, compared to 38% of non-disabled mothers, 49% of disabled fathers and 31% of non-disabled fathers.

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the UK Women’s Budget Group said:

“It is not surprising that disabled mothers have been hit harder in the labour market. Although disabled women’s employment has increased by 11.6% in the past 7 years, they are more likely to be in low-paid jobs and 1 in 5 employers are still hesitant to employ a disabled person.

We have continuously highlighted the importance of reinstating pay gap reporting at the earliest possible opportunity and introducing accountability measures to avoid disproportionate redundancies for vulnerable groups which includes disabled people as well as those with caring responsibilities, who are more likely to be women.

Furthermore, our research shows that women are more likely than men to have had their wages docked by 20% by being on furlough and for disabled women who are on low pay this will place additional financial pressure. Disabled people were already facing on average an extra £583 in costs per month due to their impairment or condition and yet the Government has failed to acknowledge the significant financial strain this pandemic is having on disabled people.  The decision not to raise legacy benefits in line with the Universal Credit uplift has particularly impacted disabled people and the Government needs to address this as a priority.”

Catherine Fookes, Director of Women’s Equality Network Wales, said:

“One year on from the beginning of the pandemic, the evidence continues to mount that those being hit hardest are those who experienced inequalities pre-pandemic. As this polling clearly demonstrates, this notably includes disabled people, with disabled women particularly likely to be impacted disproportionately in financial and mental health terms. We must see a Green and Caring Recovery to remake our economy and address long-standing inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Alexandra Brennan, Coordinator at Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group said:

“The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on disabled people has only highlighted pre-existing inequalities. Although we are entering a period of recovery, providing adequate health and economic support to disabled people must be made a priority. The collected data is evidence of why all decision-making, COVID-19-related and not, must take into account the different experiences and needs of disabled people.”

Rebecca Graham, from Standard Life Foundation, said:

“We have seen that the effects of the pandemic and lockdowns have been uneven in all sorts of ways, and the findings regarding the effects of disabled parents’ work, finances and mental health are of great concern.  The data speak to a need for a targeted response throughout and following the pandemic that recognises the existing barriers faced by disabled parents, in order to reduce inequalities that have widened over the last year.”

The Government and local authorities must acknowledge the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on disabled parents – particularly disabled mothers – and should take the following steps:

Support disabled women in work:

  • Make clear to employers that a failure to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers, such as providing PPE or allowing home working where possible, is a form of unlawful discrimination
  • Ensure disabled people are not being unfairly chosen for redundancy by requiring employers with more than 250+ employees to report redundancies due to the pandemic by protected characteristic including sex and disability
  • Require all jobs to be made flexible, unless there is a legitimate business requirement not to, in order to continue to support disabled people to work from once the pandemic is over

Put in place a stronger safety net:

  • Increase Employment Support Allowance payments in line with the rise in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit: at present, up to 2 million disabled people have been left behind by the necessary and welcome £20 increase in payments for other benefits, for no reason other than that they have the misfortune to be on legacy benefits
  • End the two-child limit and make advance payments of Universal Credit grants instead of loans. Abolish the benefits cap to ensure households with disabled people claiming benefits get the support they need
  • Ensure that all workers have access to statutory sick pay and increase the level it is paid at
  • Increase Local Housing Allowance to the 50th percentile to support disabled renters

Improve support for parents and children:

  • Work with local councils to assess and provide sufficient support for those disabled parents facing increased pressures as a result of school closures and other effects of lockdown
  • Work with schools to support shielding families to continue their children’s education

Oversee Care Act easements:

  • Require any councils enacting Care Act easements to release a document showing how they are continuing to deliver their duty of care to disabled people and how they made the decision to take that option and when it will be reviewed
  • The Government should review the suspension of Care Act duties no less than every three months, reviewing its impact for disabled people who receive care funded by social services. This should also assess how the suspension is impacting those who have multiple protected characteristics, such as disabled Black and Minority Ethnic groups

Address the practical needs of disabled people:

  • Ensure information is available in accessible formats, Easy read, Large print, and in British Sign Language (BSL) and in different national languages
  • Ensure all essential public broadcasts are simultaneously translated into BSL
  • Ensure people are aware of the alternative services, volunteer programmes, and how to access them including for those not able to access the internet
  • Increase funding to both women’s organisations and mental health service providers working directly with disabled women, and provide training on their complex needs, to help disabled women access the support they need at this psychologically challenging time.


Notes to editors

Data is from polling carried out by Survation with 1,003 parents, including 196 Disabled parents, with children aged 14 and under between 18 November – 2 December 2020 across the four nations in the UK.

For further information, please contact:

Fawcett Society

Fawcett Society – Fresh Communication, 0117 369 0025

Nathalie Golden: nathalie@freshcommunication.co.uk / 07769 66 66 27

Lisa Sutherland: lisa@freshcommunication.co.uk / 07801 97 99 87

Women’s Budget Group

Thaira Mhearban: thaira.mhearban@wbg.org.uk / 07838 222067/ Communications Officer

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson: maryann.stephenson@wbg.org.uk / 07957 338582/ Director


Alys Mumford: alys.mumford@engender.org.uk/ 07889805785/ Communications & Engagement Manager

Close the Gap

Anna Ritchie Allan: aritchieallan@closethegap.org.uk/ 07711 926 833/ Executive Director

Women’s Equality Network Wales

Catherine Fookes: 07511 939235/ catherine@wenwales.org.uk

Megan Evans: 07716 433192/ megan@wenwales.org.uk

Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group

Alexandra Brennan: Coordinator/ info@niwbg.org

About us

The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life. Our vision is a society in which women and girls in all their diversity are equal and truly free to fulfil their potential creating a stronger, happier, better future for us all.

The Fawcett Society has co-ordinated over 80 organisations for a joint list of asks to the Government from the women’s sector, across nine different areas from women in prison to the impact on parents: https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/news/coronavirus-urgent-callfor-uk-government-to-support-women-and-girls

Standard Life Foundation

This study was funded by Standard Life Foundation. The Foundation funds research, policy work and campaigning activities to tackle financial problems and improve living standards for people on low-to-middle incomes in the UK. It is an independent charitable foundation registered in Scotland.

Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust

This study was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT). Responding to the growing crisis of democracy and erosion of trust in the political class and institutions, JRRT’s priority area of work for both grant-making and external activities is democratic and political reform.