Research conducted by a consortium led by the Women’s Budget Group and funded by Standard Life Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust revealed the groups hit hardest by the pandemic are young people, single parents, people with disabilities, people from black and ethnically diverse backgrounds and people on low incomes. In addition, inequality gaps have widened over the course of this period with women being more disproportionately affected.
Mothers and Low Income Parents
Reports on mothers and lower income parents, which polled 1,003 parents of children under the age of 14, show that the closure of childcare centres and schools, as well as retail and hospitality industries, led to a significant difference in the impact of the pandemic on households. The closure of schools and childcare provision had a catastrophic effect on low-income parents, being nine times more likely to lose their jobs where childcare was not an option. Mothers were twice as likely as fathers to take unpaid time off work to deal with the closures. Meanwhile, grandparents or older relatives who might usually have stepped in for casual or emergency childcare duties were often among the at-risk groups advised to isolate and therefore unable to provide support.
Carers, on the other hand, did not have any opportunities to take a break from their caregiving responsibilities throughout the pandemic. Two thirds reported this had a negative impact on their mental health. As such, the report highlights that investment and support for carers needs to be recognised as a key issue in order to create more economical parity and draw attention to carers’ mental and physical wellbeing. Support for the retail and hospitality sectors – which provide many jobs for women and low income households – is also recommended.
Lower income parents were more adversely affected when asked about a reduction in income. Almost one third of households with earnings of less than £20,000 per year lost working hours or jobs compared to 23% of those earning more than £40,000 per year. Younger parents were also more likely to lose income, with one in three losing work compared to one in five older parents. Over half (53%) of single mothers said they were in financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, compared to 35% of married and 46% of cohabiting mothers. This impact was further compounded by aforementioned childcare issues and less opportunities for flexible working.
When reviewing the report of the impact of the pandemic on disabled parents, we see higher rates of furlough and unemployment within this group. Disabled women were furloughed in almost 50% of cases, compared with just over one third (34%) of non-disabled women. One fifth (21%) of disabled people lost their job as opposed to only 7% of non-disabled people. The reasons given for being furloughed were different too: 43% of all people surveyed said that a lack of work was their primary reason for being furloughed, but 27% of disabled men and women cited their need to shield.This is partly due to the higher percentage of people with disabilities in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ category recommended by the government to isolate. These issues raised are not expected to improve as over half (57%) of disabled parents asked worry about their financial security over the next 12 months, compared to less than half (49%) non-disabled parents. Again, these results reveal the disproportionate affect of the pandemic on women with 58% of disabled mothers struggling to make ends meet, compared to 47% of disabled fathers. Figures of which are lower still for non-disabled parents (36% of mothers; 32% of fathers).
Like mothers and low-income parents, disabled parents also reported issues around having less support and childcare. Unsurprisingly, the report highlighted increased levels of anxiety for disabled parents in relation to the threat of Covid, especially among disabled women. 62% of disabled women reported having high levels of anxiety at the start of the pandemic, compared to only 38% of non-disabled women.
The report highlights the need for the UK Government and local councils to do more to ensure that this disparity is addressed, and to find solutions to support disabled communities. Of the recommendations included in the report, job flexibility, home working and ensuring non-discriminatory redundancies are key. They also emphasise the need for the provision of greater support around caring responsibilities, especially in circumstances involving school closures. Financial security can also be increased via support from housing allowances, increased statutory sick pay and benefits schemes.
Polling of 18-30 year olds showed that young women were more likely to report being negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic than young men in terms of jobs, financial security and their mental health. Young women were twice as likely as young men to be in a worse financial situation: Women in the lower income bracket, earning less than £20,000, were less likely to have their wages topped up by their employers on furlough compared to young men. Mental health is a also a major concern with 54% of young women and 42% of young men experiencing a dip in their mental health due to the pandemic. This was often linked to an increased uncertainty and insecurity around employment prospects and finances. More than 28% of young people were concerned about losing their jobs at the end of the furlough scheme, and 51% were concerned that their essential expenses would not be covered if on benefits.
As a result, younger age groups wished to see more focus from the government on benefits, with two thirds of 18–30-year-olds advocating for investment in social care, green issues and affordable housing. It is interesting to note that the poll did not show these views were any more likely from any particular age group within the 18-30 bracket, nor was there a significant gender split in attitudes. This was also broadly approved across respondents with different political views, for example 69% of Conservative voters and 73% of Labour voters approved of providing more funding for early education and similar numbers wanted to see investment in green initiatives. Young people on the whole also expressed concern that economic, regional and racial inequality would increase as a result of the pandemic.
Creating financial safety nets for those on lower incomes, as well as making substantial investments in support for carers are essential following the figures revealed in the reports above. In addition, better representation within the government of women, people from diverse ethnic backgrounds and people with disabilities are needed to ensure all viewpoints are considered when making policy decisions. The Government and local councils will have a lot of work to do to ensure that they counter the effects of the pandemic on these groups. However, if the recommendations highlighted are taken on board, there is hope that some could be mitigated.