The UK’s extensive childcare crisis amidst the pandemic has had disproportionate social and economic impacts on working mothers.
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact everyone, a shocking survey by the Campaign Group ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ highlights that working mothers and pregnant women are being overlooked and their realities ignored in the government’s response to the pandemic.
Many months have now passed since lockdown was announced: a period during which 13 million working parents in the UK have struggled to balance paid employment and childcare, which JAN Trust previously discussed in a blog. This situation has placed a disproportionate responsibility of childcare on women who spent an average of an hour longer each day on childcare duties than men during lockdown, according to a recent ONS report.
Following the end of the “stay at home” message to the British public, the government advised employees to return to the workplace from August 1st, where it was safe to do so, this advice has variable changed in the following months. It is also important to recognise the key working parents who have had to continue to work during the pandemic, and those parents who had to return much earlier than the recommended date of August 1st and have to continue to do so. However, such recommendations failed to include any childcare provisions or extra support for working parents in its plans for economic recovery and a safe return to the workplace. The announcement of the relaxation of remote working guidance was released just as schools closed for the summer holidays, whilst childcare provisions including nurseries continue to offer reduced hours, and many activities and clubs remain closed.
This failure to place childcare provisions at the centre of the government policy has a huge disproportional impact on women. According to the survey exposing the scale of the UK’s childcare crisis, 81% of the working mothers surveyed said they need childcare to be able to work, yet 51% of mothers are unable to access the childcare they need to be able to return to work. Working mothers have been left in an impossible position. How is the UK economy and society expected to recover from the pandemic, if the infrastructure and services are not in place to support parents in returning to work – specifically women?
The data further reveals that out of the 15% of mothers who were made redundant during lockdown or expect redundancy within the next 6 months, a distressing 46% say that a lack of childcare provision played a role in their redundancy. The report also publishes that due to the lack of access to childcare during lockdown, 67% of key workers were forced to reduce their hours, whilst 45% do not have the childcare provisions that they need over the summer.
This disproportionate impact on women is not limited to mothers without childcare. The reality for working pregnant women is shocking; 11.2% of the 1,756 pregnant women who answered the survey have been made redundant or expect to be made redundant. This issue is further magnified for BAME women, where out of the pregnant women made redundant, 66.7% of BAME pregnant women believe their pregnancy was a factor in their redundancy. These statistics raise questions of societal inequality and racial disparity on a broader scale, as BAMER groups are statistically more affected by the pandemic.
Furthermore, this situation is two-fold. The survey highlights that 33% of those surveyed have been forced to give up a childcare space due to COVID-19. The challenges facing the childcare sector were apparent even before the pandemic. Due to the changing work patterns of parents, with an increased number of people working from home even as lockdown eases, it is feared that many early years childcare providers will face closure. This threatens the livelihoods and futures of the sector’s workforce, of which 97% are women, as well as the provision of childcare for parents.
The reality of the childcare crisis and failure by the government to deliver a gendered response to the pandemic is damaging women’s careers, threatens decades of progress in women’s equality in employment, and risks women’s future earning power. Whilst the government encouraged employees back to the workplace, the childcare sector and women must be at the heart of any economic recovery agenda to reverse the gender imbalance that has been magnified by COVID-19. The disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on women is becoming increasingly evident. In the current situation, we must acknowledge those in our society who are struggling the most and question the extent to which the government is trying to support them.
As a charity that focuses on the needs of marginalised women, at JAN Trust we recognise the discrimination and inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially regarding gender, ethnicity, and race. We must work together to demand an agenda for economic recovery which reflects the fundamental needs of women who should not be left behind or forgotten. Visit our website for more information.