Leading Women’s Organisations Call on Government to ‘Build Back Fairer’

Date Posted: Monday 19th July 2021

As COVID restrictions lift and we look to the future, leading women’s organisations have joined forces to call upon the Prime Minister and his government to tackle deep-rooted gender inequalities in our society and to address gaps that have been widened by the pandemic.

The Fawcett Society, Imkaan, Maternity Action, Women’s Aid, Women’s Budget Group, WEN Wales and the Young Women’s Trust are calling on the government to ‘build back fairer’ for all women and girls, so we can emerge from the pandemic with a stronger and fairer society for everyone.

The coalition has identified ten priority areas that must be urgently tackled to ensure inequalities aren’t further embedded in society and has produced a report outlining the risks and opportunities that lie ahead.

Felicia Willow, Fawcett Society Chief Executive said: “Living through the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, disadvantage gaps have widened and people have struggled in so many ways. As we begin to look towards a recovery, this is a real opportunity for our government to tackle deep-seated gender inequalities. Our Prime Minister has claimed on multiple occasions to be a feminist – we now need him to show us a genuine commitment to improving gender equality across the UK.”

To ensure we ‘build back fairer’ the report calls for:
• A care-led recovery
• Available and affordable childcare
• A modern future of work for all and a commitment to closing the gender pay gap
• An end to pregnancy and maternity discrimination
• Flexible working for all
• Secure and properly paid work for all
• End male violence against women and girls, for good
• Ensuring every woman can access the most basic support
• A safety net that works for women and their children
• Women in all our diversity are equally represented in the UK’s national and local governments

We know that inequalities have been made worse by the pandemic – women have borne the brunt of job losses, caring responsibilities and the impact on
mental health has been unprecedented.

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Women’s Budget Group: “As we emerge from a pandemic that took a heavy toll on women as key workers, carers, mothers and educators, the Government’s plans to ‘build back better’ should put women and traditionally feminized sectors such as social and child care at its core. Economic recovery won’t happen if half the population is ignored. Women are disproportionately at the lower end of the income scale and they will be harder hit by plans to cut UC and lift other support measures in the Autumn.”

Care-led recovery:
• The UK Government should invest in a sustainable universal care system to ensure high quality care for everyone who needs it.
• The UK Government should give all care workers a pay rise to the real living wage and ensure they are protected by effective terms and conditions of employment.

• The UK Government should allocate investment in childcare that reflects its central importance as essential economic infrastructure, including emergency funding to prevent closures.
• The UK Government should set out a plan to review childcare funding and create a new vision for early years provision in the UK which prioritises high quality early years education while striking a fairer deal for working families.

Modern future of work
• The UK Government should urgently make equal pay law fit for purpose in the 21st century, legislating to give women who suspect they are being paid unequally the legal right to know information about male comparators’ salaries.
• The UK Government should extend gender pay gap reporting requirements to include ethnicity pay reporting and require employers to publish action plans setting out the steps they will take to close the gender pay gap in their organisations.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination
• The UK Government should ensure swift passage of Maria Miller MP’s Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill.

Flexible working for all
• The UK Government should legislate to make all jobs flexible, and advertised as such, unless there is a clear and demonstrable business requirement not to.
• The UK Government should make flexible working a day one right.
• The UK Government should ensure that survivors of domestic abuse are offered flexible working arrangements and a period of paid employment leave to cope and recover.

Safe, secure and properly paid work
• The UK Government should give workers the right to opt out of zero hours contracts by requesting a more predictable contracts that reflect their hours.
• The UK Government should encourage employers to have a robust, internal workplace policies to tackle workplace harassment and violence against women and girls.

A commitment to tackle male violence against women and girls
• The UK Government should invest in early intervention – particularly with boys and men – and actions to change the societal culture that enables violence against women and girls.
• The UK Government should radically overhaul public services to better support victims of abuse and prevent abuse.
• The UK Government should provide long-term, sustainable funding for specialist services, based on need, including ring-fenced funding for ‘by and for’ services.

Improved access to basic support for all women
• The UK Government should immediately end the ‘No Recourse To Public Funds’ condition.
• The UK Government should end indefinite detention for all and should limit detention for migrant women to an absolute minimum, with caps on the lengths of their stay.

A safety net that works for women and their children
• The UK Government should suspend the two-child limit and the benefit cap to all benefits
• Local housing allowance rates should be lifted to cover the average cost of renting in each local area
• The UK Government should retain the £20 uplift to Universal credit, and extend this to legacy benefits
• The UK Government should abolish lower earning limits and increase statutory sick pay to real living wage
• The UK Government should increase child benefit by £10 per week
• The UK Government should assess all welfare reforms for their impact on women’s ability to escape abuse.

Women are equally represented in the UK’s national and local governments
• All political parties should set out an action plan to achieve equal representation in the next ten years and commit to all-women shortlists if this is not met.
• All parliaments and councils across the UK should continue to use virtual voting and meeting practices on a permanent basis, with legislation passed to enable this where necessary
• The UK Government should enact section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, requiring all parties to publish diversity data on candidates standing for elections to the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Parliament.
• The UK Government should introduce full maternity cover and job-share options for MPs.

Ros Bragg, Director of Maternity Action said:
“We know that women have been disproportionately affected by the fallout of the pandemic. Maternity discrimination at work has increased sharply, and the burden of childcare has fallen predominantly on women’s shoulders during lockdowns. “If the government is serious about ‘levelling up’, it needs to act immediately to strengthen the laws around maternity discrimination, as well as ensuring that all parents have access to
affordable, high-quality childcare.”

Baljit Banga Executive Director of Imkaan said: “Build Back Better does not mean business as usual. It does mean putting the lived experiences and material realities of women at the centre of policy and decision making. Critical to this process is the equal representation of Black minoritised women – nothing without us, without us. With this inclusion, Build Back Better can be that opportunity we seek to address deeply rooted structural inequalities which must not be missed.”

Caroline Bernard, Director of Communications at Young Women’s Trust said: “Many young women were already struggling to get by before the coronavirus crisis and our research has found that since then over 1.5 million have suffered a loss of income due to redundancy, furlough or being forced to juggle insecure work with caring responsibilities.

Yet despite the devastating impact on their lives, women have been neither seen nor heard by the government during the pandemic, which is why today’s powerful report from Fawcett Society is so important. We especially welcome the emphasis on a care-led recovery, and investment in an affordable, universal childcare system as we know that even before the pandemic half of young mums were unable to get or keep a job because of childcare costs.

If it wants to fulfil its pledge to build back better, we cannot return to things as they were before Covid. It is essential that the government give women access to the support they need by retaining the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, and extend this to other benefits such as Carer’s Allowance.”

Catherine Fookes, Director of WEN Wales said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a grave impact on women and girls in Wales and the UK. The Build Back Better for Women and Girls document resonates with many of the key asks we have made at a devolved level in Wales. It is critical that the UK Government acts now to build back better for women and girls and ensure a care-led recovery from the pandemic that results in a stronger and fairer society for all.”

For further information, please contact:
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