The government has yet to level up its thinking when it comes to supporting working parents
Reports of workplace discrimination have risen exponentially during the pandemic. It has become painfully clear protections for women in the workplace are disintegrating.
Since the start of the pandemic, women have been shouting from the rooftops about the impact on working parents.
As early as May last year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned mothers were one-and-a-half times more likely than fathers to have either lost their job or quit since the lockdown began. Women didn’t just take a hit in the workplace - they were also bearing the brunt of lockdown at home too.
The ONS reported in households with a child aged under 5 years, women did on average 78% more childcare than men. Despite these warnings - that working mothers were struggling to hold onto their jobs, home school their kids and retain their sanity - the government spent more time getting racecourses reopened on parenting friendly policies.
46% of mothers being made redundant blamed a lack of childcare provision during the Covid-19 pandemic
At every turn, the government seemed to forget mums existed with disastrous effect – whether making pregnant women give birth alone, failing to adjust the Self Employment Support Scheme to take account of the fact these mums take maternity leave and have fluctuating income as a result or supporting our fragile childcare sector.
A survey of nearly 20,000 mums by Pregnant then Screwed in the first national lockdown showed 46% of mothers being made redundant blamed a lack of childcare provision during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Yet frustratingly, two national lockdowns, three approved vaccines, and five tiers later, little has changed. This January, nurseries report a 67% occupancy compared with January 2020, 71% are operating at a loss, and 58% of providers do not believe they will be able to keep open for this term on current funding arrangements. There is an urgent need to invest in childcare to ensure that when our economy is able to open up again there are the nursery places available, so parents can get back to work.
This doesn’t need to involve new borrowing either. Last year, £664 million worth of tax-free childcare was not claimed, amounting to £1.7 billion over the last three years. Reclaiming this and investing it in childcare would be a simple and effective way to ensure families can get back to being able to organise their lives the way they want.
This week, the TUC revealed 70% of working mothers who asked to be furloughed for childcare reasons since schools shut have been refused. Pregnant Then Screwed has seen a 450% increase in calls to their helpline for workplace discrimination advice during the pandemic as it has become painfully clear protections for women in the workplace are disintegrating.
When asked, the Treasury suggested that the blame for the shoddy implementation of their own policy lies with employers for not understanding the rules, and with women for not asking for that to which they are entitled. Such a mindset doesn’t just penalise women – it also cuts out dads as if they don’t care for their children. A better and more effective solution would be to investigate why employers are refusing these requests and to take steps – legislative if necessary- to ensure this does not continue.
In the industries with high volumes of female employment— hospitality and retail in particular—the generational rollback of mothers in the workplace will have repercussions for decades to come without an urgent intervention. Our economy and our equality will take a hit unless this becomes a political priority.
In a year where scientists raced to develop a vaccine, workplaces shifted their entire operations online, and we changed almost every aspect of our daily lives to adapt to fighting Covid-19, the government has yet to level up its thinking when it comes to supporting working parents.
Stella Creasy is the Labour MP for Walthamstow.