Looking at the impact of Covid-19 on women

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has published a new report ‘Unequal Impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact’ outlining how the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent policies continue to disproportionately impact on women.

The report highlights how the pandemic has caused much disruption to the lives of women, as childcare facilities and schools closed and many women faced having to balance home-schooling, childcare and working from home. Before the pandemic, access to affordable and accessible childcare was already a significant issue, however this has now intensified and – while there are challenges for all parents – evidence points to an additional burden on working mothers.

We also found similar findings in our research with parents in Northern Ireland in 2020, which highlighted the differing experiences of mothers and fathers during Covid-19. Our research found that mothers were more likely to use unpaid or annual leave to manage childcare, and many had to balance working alongside childcare responsibilities. Here’s some of what we heard:

“When I finished maternity leave I had to use annual leave as no childcare in my area would take on a new child around April time due to Covid-19. I had to use 5 weeks annual leave and 2 weeks unpaid leave trying to find a childcare facility for my child.”

“Because I was working around my caring responsibilities and home schooling, I had to work as and when I could and caught up when I got children to bed at night so I often had to work from 9pm- 11pm. I felt as if I had no escape from work and no work life balance.”

“I felt completely torn between my duty to my family and my duty to my work/team/employer and felt that although I was trying to maintain both aspects at home full time, that I was in fact failing in both areas of my life.”

Given also that women make up the majority of the childcare workforce, which has been deeply affected by the pandemic, the gendered economic impact of Covid-19 is clear.

The Women and Equalities Committee has recommended that the Government publishes, by June 2021, an early years strategy which sets out how childcare provision can best support not only working parents, but also those who are job-seeking and re-training. It also recommends extending eligibility for free childcare provision for children under the age of three. While the Report’s recommendations relate to provision in England, with childcare a devolved matter, there is important learning for policy makers in Northern Ireland – particularly as they progress on work towards an overdue Childcare Strategy.

The Committee also highlighted the importance of maintaining the £20 increase for Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit beyond April 2021 when it is currently due to end. The report recommends the Government should keep this increase and extend it immediately to legacy benefits. We strongly agree with this recommendation to ensure that individuals and families continue to receive the financial support they need and to prevent further financial hardship right across the UK.

Going forward, and in the context of Covid-19 recovery planning, it is imperative that women are included in decision making within all departments in Northern Ireland. Access to affordable and accessible childcare must also be prioritised and embedded in all Covid-19 recovery plans – recognising its vital role to the economy and to society as a whole.

As part of events in the run up to International Women’s Day 2021 on 8 March 2021, the Women’s Policy Group in Northern Ireland and the Childcare for All Campaign are hosting a webinar to focus specifically on the experiences of women and lessons learned in relation to childcare – one year on from the pandemic. This is taking place on 4 March at 10am, for more information and to register for the event, please click here.

We are here to help

Our Family Benefits Advice Service is here to help all parents identify what support they are entitled to. We are also here to help parents to understand their rights and entitlements in terms of requesting family friendly working arrangements – just give the team a call on 028 9267 8200 or email hello@employersforchildcare.org for free, impartial and confidential advice.