Women have been forced to perform more unpaid labour during the Covid-19 crisis with their collective lost earnings or productivity equating to more than £15m a day in Scotland, claims a new report.
The study by Engender, the Scottish feminist organisation, found that the lockdown has led to a surge in unpaid work performed predominantly by women. This includes care work, childcare, home-schooling, and housework.
Women are also more likely than men to lose their jobs in a post-Covid-19 recession, with jobs performed mostly by women concentrated in sectors most at risk of economic contraction.
Engender added that the UK Government’s “ill-fitting” furlough scheme does not support those providing care or childcare on a part-time basis, resulting in a daily loss of £33 per mother.
Covid-19 will “hit women hardest, with social care services withdrawn, delays to schools reopening, and reductions in services by charities”, said Emma Ritch, Engender’s executive director. “Yet despite its overwhelming importance to women’s lives, unpaid care work rarely features in legislative or policy discussions.”
Engender and the Scottish Greens have called on the Scottish Government to ensure there is income for unpaid labour. They say there is a risk of women being excluded from rejoining the workforce as ministers plot Scotland’s post-lockdown economic recovery.
The Scottish Government said it was “committed to produce rigorous analysis on women’s position in the labour market in light of the pandemic”. It promised to “fully consider” the recommendations made in a recent report on the labour market impacts of Covid-19 for different groups of people, including women.
Data analysis carried out for Engender found that the loss of two hours of earnings per day for mothers with dependent children amounts to a daily loss of £33 per mother. If replicated across the UK, it said this would amount to a daily loss of £188.5 million to the economy.
Engender then analysed data from the UK Government’s Office of National Statistics’ annual survey for hours and earnings, which studies work and pay in the UK. Engender said that while data relating to Scotland was not large enough for a national analysis, it estimated that the lost earnings of mothers would equate to £15,082,320 north of the border.
“As lockdown extends and women exhaust the annual leave and temporary flexibilities that enabled them to maintain current levels of paid work, this figure will increase”, Engender warned.
Its report found that traditional social roles as carers and mothers still act as a barrier for women to access paid work and enjoy free time, negatively impacting their mental health and wellbeing.
The most recent data from National Centre for Social Research on how parents in Scotland use their time shows that women in opposite sex couples undertake around 68 per cent of housework and childcare – a pattern that is similar internationally.
There are now an estimated 1.1 million unpaid carers in Scotland, of which 61 per cent are women, according to the Carers Week 2020 research report. There had been a surge of 392,000 new carers since the start of the pandemic, with 78 per cent reporting having to provide more care than prior to the outbreak.
Work by Glasgow Disability Alliance and Inclusion Scotland found that social care packages have been reduced and stopped since the lockdown, Engender’s report said. “Health and Social Partnerships have increased their eligibility criteria for social care, making it harder to access”, it added.
In March, disabled people told The Ferret that they been left feeling abandoned after being told that essential care packages would be suspended with immediate effect due to staff pressures resulting from the coronavirus crisis.
On 17 July, Oxfam Scotland wrote to Nicola Sturgeon saying she had “an historic choice” to make carers central to the government’s coronavirus recovery plan “or betray them by leaving far too many living in poverty.”
The anti-poverty charity said a recent report from the government’s advisory group on economic recovery had a “glaring weakness” in recognising the work and financial hardships of carers, “most of whom are women”.
Engender’s Emma Ritch said that Covid-19 “has exposed the extent to which women shoulder the majority” of unpaid work, and are “assumed to be available to pick up the slack during a crisis”. She argued that doing unpaid work “pushes women into poverty” and “stops them studying, doing community work, and even using local services”.
Ritch called on the Scottish Government to “do more to recognise the nation’s dependence on the unpaid work of women and make sure they measure it, value it, and reduce it.” Her points were echoed by the Scottish Greens, who said it was “all too often assumed that women’s paid work is somehow less important than that carried out by men.”
Alison Johnstone MSP , of the Scottish Greens, said it was “vital that the Scottish Government takes account of the impact of unpaid roles as it sets out its plans to recover from Covid-19.”
She added: ”Ensuring childcare is available to every family and that carers are properly valued for the incredible work they do are just two measures that could be taken forward right now.
“It’s absolutely essential that as a society we have a more forthright discussion about the division of unpaid labour. We mustn’t let the pandemic exacerbate gender inequality that the UK Government’s welfare reforms have entrenched.”
In June, we reported calls from The Poverty Alliance and others for the UK government to prevent single parent families from “drowning in poverty” because their child maintenance payments had stopped in the midst of the pandemic.
One mother, whose weekly £80 weekly payment was stopped almost two months earlier, told The Ferret that she and her daughter were experiencing severe stress after being forced to rely on charities and food banks.
The Scottish Government said that gender equality had been “at the heart of our vision for a fairer Scotland from the outset”. The government cited its recently-established Social Renewal Advisory Board set up to help ministers advance equality in light of the pandemic.
Evidence shows that “flexible working, under-utilisation of skills and low paid, part time work have been significant contributing factors in the persistence of the gender pay gap”, said equalities minister Christina McKelvie.
The government had “produced an analytical paper looking at labour market impacts of Covid-19 for different groups of people, including women to inform policy development”, she said.
McKelvie added: “We will fully consider the recommendations from this report to ensure that we do not lose the ground we had been making before this pandemic and return to championing a fairer, more equitable employment market.”
The UK Government did not respond to our request to comment.
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