Feminist Recovery Plan re-launch highlights continued impact of Covid-19 on women

The Women’s Policy Group Northern Ireland today (Wednesday 28 July) re-launched the Feminist Recovery Plan. The plan was first published last July (2020) to highlight the gendered impact of Covid-19 and, one year on, many women still face challenges as a direct result of the continuing pandemic. The Plan has subsequently been updated to reflect this, and to ensure that – where women have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 – this is factored into plans for recovery and re-building from the pandemic, to ensure that the recovery is fully inclusive. Over 150 attended the virtual re-launch event to hear directly from the lived experiences of women, including some childcare providers.

Findings from our research used to inform the Feminist Recovery Plan

Employers For Childcare used our research with parents and childcare providers through the Northern Ireland Childcare Survey 2020 to contribute to the updated Feminist Recovery Plan. Our research provides a vital insight into the childcare challenges of 2020 – those which existed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and those that have been exacerbated by it. We found that women faced significant challenges, both in accessing and affording the childcare they needed to work, and as those working in a sector that stepped up to deliver a vital service at a very difficult time.

While many parents had to balance working, childcare and home schooling our research found that this had a disproportionately negative impact on women. 61% of mothers reported having had to balance working alongside childcare responsibilities, while mothers (48%) were more likely than fathers (28%) to have adjusted their working hours to manage childcare. Our research highlights that as a result mothers can feel that they face more structural barriers to accessing, and progressing in, the labour market. As highlighted at today’s event, our childcare infrastructure is the key to unlocking barriers to economic participation and to enabling mothers to get into and stay in the workforce, but it needs investment and a long-term childcare strategy to ensure that this vital sector is sustainable, and that parents can access and afford the childcare they need.

In the words of two mothers who responded to our survey:

“The lack of childcare facilities during lockdown was detrimental to mine (as a lone parent) & my children’s mental health. Working from home, trying to balance childcare was extremely difficult.”

“Childcare remains vital for working families and if it’s not accessible I feel it is a massive barrier to work for many people. It is too stressful to balance working from home effectively with small kids.”

For childcare providers, and for the staff working in the sector, this has been a very challenging year. Many providers had no option but to close for some or all of the initial months of Covid-19, and may have continued to experience a decline in occupancy and temporary closures since then. Covid-19 recovery and sustainability funding from the Department of Education has provided a lifeline for many as highlighted throughout today’s event re-launching the Feminist Recovery Plan, but this was alongside a strong call for longer term, strategic support and an ambitious Childcare Strategy.

Experience of childminders shared

Two childminders shared their experience of childminding during the pandemic at the re-launch:

“At the beginning of March 2020 I had a thriving business, by 23rd March 2020, my business had essentially shut down! I found life after 23rd March strange, I was so used to being very busy every day, going from looking after 7 children to caring for 1 two days a week! I missed all the children so much. Wee Ducks is thankfully a thriving business and hopefully we’re all on the other side now and I can once again lock away the early memories of childminding through the pandemic!” (Clare, owner of Wee Ducks Childminding)

“Working through the pandemic has had lots of challenges. The children are my priority and ensuring that they are kept safe at all times. The Childcare Support Fund has been fantastic and a real lifeline. Childminders don’t get enough recognition – we rock!” (Deborah, registered childminder)

We would like to thank the registered childminders who took the time to share their experience, as well as those – and others working in the childcare sector – who participated in today’s event. To ensure an effective recovery from Covid-19, that is experienced by all of us across Northern Ireland, it is vital that greater recognition and value is placed on the role of childcare and the dedicated individuals working in this essential sector. We urgently need a Childcare Strategy, underpinned by legislation, that meets the needs of children, parents, childcare providers and benefits the local economy.

Employers For Childcare is pleased to be part of the Women’s Policy Group and to be involved in this important report. The report is available to access here, together with a video – available here – where members explain why the plan has been re-launched.