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Covid support ‘skewed towards men’ say MPs

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The financial support schemes introduced by the government during the Covid-19 pandemic have been overly focused on helping men, and have “made existing equality problems worse”.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Women and Equalities Committee of MPs, with chair Caroline Noakes warning that the government “must start actively analysing and assessing the equality impact of every policy, or it risks turning the clock back”.

The report noted that women were a third more likely to be employed in sectors which have been shut down during the various lockdowns, putting them particularly at risk of job loss, while the fact that so many women were on part-time contracts meant they were less likely to have the furlough payments topped up by their employer.

The need to combine work with childcare has also fallen greatly on women’s shoulders, with the report noting that “women increased the number of hours devoted to care by more than men, putting an additional burden on working mothers” and cited research that mothers were 10 percentage points more likely than fathers to ask to be furloughed, while there was no difference among those without children.

The committee published a host of recommendations which it argued will tackle the inequality at the root of the various Covid support schemes.

These include:

  • Assessing the equality impact of the Industrial Strategy and the New Deal, and who will benefit from them, as priorities for recovery are skewing towards male-dominated sectors.
  • Maintain increases in support, such as the £20 increase to Universal Credit
  • Review the rules around Statutory Sick Pay, as women are over represented among those who are ineligible
  • Extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers
  • Review childcare provision to provide support for working parents and those looking to find a job or retrain.

Noakes said that the pandemic forced the government to act quickly and provide a safety net for workers, but the measures introduced had “overlooked the labour market and caring inequalities faced be women”.

She added: “These are not a mystery, they are specific and well understood. And yet the government has repeatedly failed to consider them.”

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