International women’s day in the time of Covid

2020’s IWD came just before the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic. On this, hopefully the only IWD we will spend in lockdown in the UK, it is a good moment to reflect on what the pandemic has meant for women here, and in particular how the policies and actions of the Conservative government have impacted on women.

On 9 February, the Women and Equalities Select Committee published Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the Gendered Economic Impact. The report states explicitly that the schemes the government put into place so rapidly had not had any equality impact assessment and “design of these schemes overlooked … the specific and well-understood labour market and caring inequalities faced by women.”

So many supposed safety nets have not been equality impact assessed. Not only the specific Covid-related schemes, but universal credit, statutory sick pay, the flexible working regulations and redundancy protection all fail to take into account the particular needs and circumstances of women.The committee’s report also highlights that there has been no adequate response to enquiries about the impact on women of government policies. Indeed, the Government Equalities Office has been dismissive of the requirement, under the public sector equality duty as outlined in the Equality Act 2010 to consider the effects of policies on all those with protected characteristics, including women.

Interestingly, just as the 2021 census is set to go ahead with guidance which would enable self-identification of sex and hence serious corruption of data, the committee recommends that all government departments should be required to collect and publish data disaggregated by sex (and the other protected characteristics). The Women’s Budget Group welcomes the report, and we commend to all readers their detailed and analytical report, A Care-Led Recovery from Coronavirus.

This plan demonstrates that investment in care would provide 2.7 times as many jobs as investment in construction, create two million jobs, and raise 50 per cent more in tax – as well as producing 30 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

If we are to have positive news by next International Women’s Day, it is essential that both Labour and Conservative parties commit to the
recommendations of the Women and Equalities Select Committee and the Women’s Budget Group.

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