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We must act now to ensure women do not bear the financial brunt of Covid-19

We must act now to ensure women do not bear the financial brunt of Covid-19

“We can only truly begin the process of rebuilding our economy if every effort is made to leave nobody behind”, writes Gill Furniss MP| PA Images

3 min read

In previous economic crises, women were the worst impacted in the recovery measures. By introducing impact assessments, the Government can stop this happening again

None of us could have imagined just months ago that we would have found ourselves in the midst of a devastating global pandemic.

Covid-19 has impacted all of us in many ways, the consequences for our economy is likely to be with us for years to come. We have seen the largest quarterly contraction in the economy since the global financial crisis and with lockdown measures set to continue in some form for months to come, we are likely to see a larger hit in the next quarter.

As lockdown measures begin to be eased in England, many have begun to look at the impact that Covid-19 will have on the economy.

I have been particularly concerned about what this would mean for women. The vicious cuts that followed that global financial crisis in 2008 hit women the hardest. It is therefore right to be concerned that the economic impact of coronavirus could see a similar disproportionate impact upon women.

Like many people across the country, I have joined my neighbours to clap for the NHS and social care workers each Thursday. Of those health and social care workers at the frontline of the crisis, 79% are women. Social care workers are often amongst the lowest paid in society for what is some of the most physically and mentally demanding work. The Tories have repeatedly failed to implement effective reform of social care and that failure is being amplified at this time of crisis.

When we think about the economic impact of Covid-19, it is worth remembering that women represent most people in precarious employment. Low paid workers (69% of which are women, according to the Women’s Budget Group) and those on part-time (74%) or zero-hours contracts (54%), will be amongst the first to feel the effects of economic downturn.

I share concerns from the Women’s Budget Group that the first jobs to be cut during any economic downturn are often those listed above. There needs to be a comprehensive system of support for those most at risk of losing their job. 

The childcare sector, which is increasingly concerned about their future, has been particularly frustrated that the Government withdrew funding that had been promised to them. A lack of accessible and affordable childcare has long been a barrier to greater levels of employment in women. The Government must ensure that childcare providers receive all the support they need to prevent job losses in the sector and ensure those who need it still have access to childcare. 

The long-term economic impact of Covid-19 won’t be known for some time, there is evidence to suggest that women are already shouldering the brunt of the financial strain felt as a result of lockdown measures.

That is why I believe that the Government must commit to conducting Equality Impact Assessments on all measures designed at reducing the economic strain in the coming years. This would highlight at the earliest possible opportunity where inequality between men and women could be the result of policy. 

Assessing the impact of economic policy in this way ensures that nobody is left behind; assessments transect all groups in society and where gaps are found can be addressed.

We can only truly begin the process of rebuilding our economy if every effort is made to leave nobody behind and by ensuring that women are represented at all levels in government and society.

Understanding how policy impacts women is good for everyone and builds a better more equal society – something that as we come to face the challenges ahead, we need now more than ever. 

Gill Furniss is Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough and shadow women and equalities minister

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