Women’s Budget Group response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee report Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact.

Date Posted: Tuesday 9th February 2021

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

This report, and its recommendations are very welcome. As the Committee recognises, ‘existing gendered inequalities in the economy have been ignored and sometimes exacerbated by the pandemic policy response’.

While the Coronavirus job retention scheme and self employment support scheme have protected the jobs and incomes of many, we agree with the Committee that ‘the design of these schemes overlooked – and in some respects continues to overlook – the specific and well-understood labour market and caring inequalities faced by women.’

We are very pleased to see the Committee recommend that the Government examine our proposals for a care led recovery (available here: https://wbg.org.uk/analysis/reports/a-care-led-recovery-from-coronavirus/). Our research shows that investing in care would create 2.7 times as many jobs as the same investment in construction: 6.3 as many for women and 10% more for men. We share the Committee’s concern ‘the Government’s priorities for recovery are heavily gendered in nature. Investment plans that are skewed towards male-dominated sectors have the potential to create unequal outcomes for men and women, exacerbating existing inequalities’

We support the call from the Committee for the Government to carry out and publish meaningful Equality Impact Assessments of its policy responses to the pandemic. We share the Committee’s concern that Ministers appear dismissive of the obligation under the Public Sector Equality Duty to consider the impact of policy on people with protected characteristics including women.

 In particular we are concerned about two comments from Ministers cited in the report that suggest a lack of understanding of equalities impact:

  1. i) Para 21: ‘We asked the Minister for Equalities about the focus on typically male-dominated industries to which she responded, “We are not providing policies based on where men and where women work”. She continued: If the question you are asking is whether we have specific policies on this issue of perhaps getting more women into STEM, that is not something that Treasury would look at. We would expect other Departments that own those policy areas to bring their proposals to us. We cannot do all the thinking within Treasury, or even within the Government Equalities Office.”

Under the Public Sector Equality Duty, the Treasury has a legal obligation to have due regard to the impact of its policies on equality. If Treasury investment decisions are targeted at male dominated industries this will disproportionately disadvantage women workers.

  1. ii) Para 63. ‘Research by the WBG shows that women are less likely to qualify for SSP because of “low or intermittent pay, zero-hours contracts and not enough regular hours/earnings due to caring responsibilities”. The TUC concludes that women would be the main beneficiaries of removing the qualifying earnings rule for SSP; 70% of those benefiting from the change would be women. Dr Duncan Brown argued that “[t]here is just no logic for the lower earnings limit. Clearly, that discriminates heavily against women in being able to claim it.”

In response to this evidence, Kemi Badenoch MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, told the Committee: I have not heard those criticisms. I can find out and ask officials to look into what our response is on that. I do not know of the gendered impact on statutory sick pay. Again, we look at these things mostly in the round’.

Kemi Badenoch is an Equalities Minister as well as a Treasury Minister, so should be aware that 70% of workers unable to claim statutory sick pay are women.

The WBG submission to the Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry into the gendered impact of Coronavirus is available here: https://wbg.org.uk/analysis/consultation-responses/submission-coronavirus-and-the-gendered-economic-impact/

Our most recent report on the gendered impact of Covid 19 is here https://wbg.org.uk/analysis/reports/lessons-learned-where-women-stand-at-the-start-of-2021/