The support measures put in place by the Government during the pandemic have been “repeatedly skewed towards men”, according to a committee of MPs which has been assessing the impact of Covid.
The committee claims the Government has “repeatedly failed to consider” the differences between men and women in the labour market and in terms of caring responsibilities.
How has the response been unequal?
The Women and Equalities Committee produced a report which found that support such as the furlough scheme was better suited to men, due to the disproportionate rate of insecure work among women. There were also findings that women have been less likely to receive discretionary top-up payments than men.
Many of the areas of the economy which have been targeted for additional support during the Covid-recovery period are male-dominated, such as science, technology, engineering and construction.
As women are more likely to have caring responsibilities, a lack of flexible employment options which can allow for childcare or other caring requirements disproportionately impacts women.
It is also thought that women are more likely to be drafted in to help with homeschooling, meaning they are less able to return to or look for work.
Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes, said: “As the pandemic struck, the Government had to act quickly to protect jobs and adapt welfare benefits.
“These have provided a vital safety net for millions of people. But it overlooked the labour market and caring inequalities faced by women.
“These are not a mystery, they are specific and well understood. And yet the Government has repeatedly failed to consider them. This passive approach to gender equality is not enough.
“And for many women it has made existing equality problems worse: in the support to self-employed people, to pregnant women and new mothers, to the professional childcare sector, and for women claiming benefits. And it risks doing the same in its plans for economic recovery.”
The committee has recommended that the 26 week long threshold requirement to request flexible working be dropped, and that the Department for Work and Pensions should offer greater support to mothers seeking employment.
The report also raised concerns that pregnant women can often be pressured into taking unpaid leave, forced to take maternity leave early, and are at higher risk of being put on sick leave rather than furlough.
Some have pointed to comments made recently by chancellor Rishi Sunak as being symptomatic of the Treasury's outdated view of women's role in the economy. Speaking in the Commons last month, Mr Sunak said “we owe mums everywhere an enormous debt of thanks for doing the enormously difficult job of juggling childcare and work at this tricky time.”
A government spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic this Government has done whatever it takes to protect lives and livelihoods, and will continue to do so.
“We are safeguarding people’s jobs and incomes with economic schemes worth over £200 billion, including the self employment income scheme for the 1.7 million self-employed women in the UK.
“Covid-19 is prompting a culture shift with more people than ever before working flexibly, and the Government wants to harness that as we recover.
“By doing so, we could see more equal sharing of care work by parents, and more flexibility from employers, enabling us to unleash the potential of everyone across the country.”