First results from new study examining the impact of COVID-19 on working-class women in the UK published today
Date Posted: Tuesday 13th October 2020
- Working class women were the worst affected by spring’s UK-wide lockdown, – and it looks like no lessons have been learned say experts from the University of Nottingham, the University of Warwick’s Institute of Employment Research, and the UK Women’s Budget Group.
- The UK government has announced a 3-tier system of local restrictions, with many working class areas of Northern England included in the top tier. The effects of a Tier 3 lockdown, either local or national, could be far-reaching and extremely damaging for working class women who provide vital work, both paid and unpaid.
- Government needs to take urgent action to protect the employment and incomes of working class women, report argues.
Working class women have borne the brunt of the cuts to working hours as employers struggle to ride out the pandemic, according to new findings published today by social inequality researchers.
Almost half of working class women (43 per cent) did no hours of work in April compared to just 20 per cent of women in professional or managerial roles. By June fewer than half of all women in work (48 per cent) were still working full-time hours.
Professor Tracey Warren (University of Nottingham) and Professor Clare Lyonette (University of Warwick) are working with the Women’s Budget Group to understand how working-class women are responding in real-time to the pressures imposed by the virus.
Today’s briefing paper – Carrying the work burden of the COVID-19 pandemic: working class women in the UK: Employment and Mental Health – focuses on patterns of employment and mental health in the first three months of lockdown, as revealed by data from the monthly Understanding Society COVID-19 UK survey, and explores to what extent the experience of working class women differs from middle class women and from men.
The first wave of results reveals that many more working class women than men or women in middle class jobs saw their hours cut to zero in the first months of lockdown, with potentially severe financial consequences.
Those working class women still at work are far less likely to be working from the relative safety of home than women in managerial or professional roles – 80 per cent of working class women said they were “never” working from home in June.
Working class women are also the most likely to be keyworkers in roles with close contact with customers, clients and patients – such as undertaking personal care in care homes and looking after children – with greater potential to be exposed to the virus.
Professor Tracey Warren said: “Our research shows that working-class women are disproportionately furloughed compared to men and other women – and if they are working, there is a greater potential for women to be exposed to health risks due to the nature of their roles as key workers. We know these women also care for children and relatives, so with the added stress of worrying about if they were to contract coronavirus or how their household will cope with the loss of 20% of their salary due to furlough, it is no wonder their mental health is suffering.”
Professor Lyonette added: “Although the very high levels of psychological distress among working class women in particular have dropped slightly since lockdown restrictions were lifted, they are still much higher than before the pandemic. The government announced yesterday a 3-tier system of local restrictions for England, with many working class areas included in the higher tier groups. The effects of a Tier 3 lockdown, could be far-reaching and extremely damaging for working class women who provide vital work, both paid and unpaid.”
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the UK Women’s Budget Group, said: “Working class women have been more likely to be furloughed and are at high risk of redundancy as the furlough scheme is rolled back. The Government’s national replacement scheme creates little incentives for employers to keep these women on. Low paid women in areas where lock down is being re-imposed will be entitled to additional help if they are in a closed down sector, but for workers on the minimum wage or just above, two thirds of current earnings is likely to mean poverty. At the same time the increase in universal credit introduced at the start of lockdown is due to end in March so low paid workers and those who lose their jobs will be worse off. If the Government is serious about building back better, it needs to take urgent action to protect the employment and incomes of working class women.”
60% of women in semi-routine and routine jobs** are keyworkers, in roles that have a high level of social contact.
- More women than men are keyworkers (April – 52% of women v 42% of men; June – 54% of women v 42% of men in June).
- Keyworking is highest among working class women – 60% of women in semi-routine and routine jobs are keyworkers
- Women keyworkers are concentrated in face-to-face roles such as health and social care, child care and education. These are roles with high levels of social interaction and possible virus exposure.
Working from Home:
Working class women are very unlikely to be working from home:
- Only 9% of working class women said they were “always” working from home in June, compared to the average for all women of 30%. 80% were working outside of the home.
- 44% of women in professional or managerial roles said they “always” worked from home in June.
Furlough and working hours:
Working class women were more likely to be furloughed than women in middle class jobs and men.
- Almost half of working class women (43%) did no hours of work in April compared to just 20% of women in professional or managerial roles.
- In April less than half of all women in work (43%) were working full-time hours. 58% of men were still in full time work.
- Across all classes, more women than men reported feeling psychological distress.
- Levels of distress for men and women dropped between April and June
- In April 41% of working class women were experiencing distress, the highest proportion across classes. This fell in June to 30%.
The project ‘Carrying the work burden of the Covid-19 pandemic: working class women in the UK’ is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19 (Project ES/V009400/1).
The ‘Understanding Society’ COVID-19 study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Health Foundation. Fieldwork for the survey is carried out by Ipsos MORI and Kantar. Understanding Society is an initiative funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and various government departments, with scientific leadership by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex. The research data are distributed by the UK Data Service.
Professor Tracey Warren, in the Nottingham University Business School, and Professor Clare Lyonette at the Warwick Institute for Employment Research, are working with the Women’s Budget Group to analyse data from the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) flagship ‘UK Household Longitudinal Study’.
The study has a new special survey that asks about experiences during the COVID-19 outbreak. This will help the researchers to understand what is not yet known about how working-class women are responding in real-time to the various and as yet, potentially unknown, pressures imposed by the virus.
** Semi-routine work includes care-workers, retail assistants, hospital porters. Routine work includes cleaners, waiting staff, bus drivers, bar staff, sewing machinists (the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification/‘NS-SEC’).
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