The Budget was a missed opportunity to champion women
Women have born the brunt of this pandemic, yet were largely invisible from the Chancellor's speech. The government must do better for women, because right now they're failing.
The theme of this year's International Women's Day is "Choose to Challenge". Well, once again I'm challenging the government to do better for women, because right now they're failing.
Rishi Sunak's Budget was disappointing on so many levels, but particularly for women. Of course Covid-19 has had a huge impact on all our lives, but let's be clear: it is women who have born the brunt of this pandemic. Yet apart from the £19 million for Domestic Abuse schemes – which although welcome is not nearly enough – women were largely invisible from the Chancellor's speech.
Research shows that women have been disproportionately affected by the crisis in social care. They are more at risk of losing their jobs or to have been furloughed and experiencing serious financial difficulty. They are more likely to be in insecure and low paid employment, or work that has been most adversely affected, including social care, early years, retail and hospitality.
Women have also been disproportionately hit outside of the home. A report by the Women and Inequalities Committee said that while ministers acted quickly to protect jobs and adapt welfare benefits, gender disparities were ignored.
The government's attitude towards new mothers and pregnant women has been nothing short of shameful
As we have seen, the impact of childcare often fell more on mothers meaning that women who were still employed had to cut hours and reduce their pay in order to get by, which can be absolutely catastrophic for anyone on a tight budget, but particularly single parents (90% of whom are women).
Pregnant women, who had returned from maternity leave to find the rest of the team were on furlough, have found themselves unable to access furlough if they were on maternity allowance. This is an issue that the Treasury has refused to address, raising the concern that the government is discriminating employees on the basis of gender.
In fact, the government's attitude towards new mothers and pregnant women has been nothing short of shameful. I campaigned successfully for new mothers to be given mental health checks, but there are so many issues that need resourcing.
I am still hearing from expectant mothers distraught at not being able to have their partners at their ante-natal appointments, including scans, even when the pregnancy is high-risk, and who have been denied access to crucial post-natal care because of a lack of health visitors due to staff shortages. They have told me that they feel isolated and abandoned. Being cut off from friends and family has exacerbated the maternal mental health crisis, and while the end of lockdown will of course help to alleviate this, for many women who have had to endure very lonely pregnancies it will be too late.
There will be sighs of relief in homes all over the UK on today as children return to school classrooms, not just from the children who will be overjoyed at seeing their friends again, but because it means a return to some sort of normality. For the millions of parents who have found combining home schooling with work extraordinarily difficult it's a chance to get their lives back. But for so many women, I fear there are many more challenges to come.
Wera Hobhouse is the MP for Bath and the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for women and equalities