THE two words that strike fear into the heart of any working mum are “half term” but now that’s been replaced with one word – “lockdown”.
And not just because they have been having to juggle work, childcare and home-schooling, but because women are paying the highest financial price during this crisis — so much so we are about to hit a so-called “pink recession”.
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Women were hit hardest by the cuts that followed the financial crisis of 2008, and it looks like history is about to repeat itself.
Of the lowest paid workers in this country, 69 per cent are women, according to the Women’s Budget Group.
Meanwhile 74 per cent of part-time workers are female, and 54 per cent of those on zero-hours contracts.
Inevitably, these groups will be among the first to feel the effects of economic downturn.
The juggle for working women is becoming nigh-on impossible to manageKarren Brady
And that’s before you add in the toll of all the extra unpaid work women are picking up during this crisis — the effects of which should not be underestimated.
Before the pandemic, the Institute For Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculated that children aged eight and older each week spent on average around 30 hours at school and another 22 hours on activities outside the home.
But with nurseries, schools, colleges, parks all having been shut and still remain closed for some age groups, plus cinemas, zoos, cafes all locked — and no respite trip to their grandparents or play dates to fall back on — kids now need looking after 24/7.
And the burden of this is falling firmly into their mum’s lap.
ABOUT TO CRACK
The juggle for working women is becoming nigh-on impossible to manage — from working from home, looking after their children while home-schooling them, cleaning, cooking, shopping, working out, keeping people’s spirits up, clapping for carers — and, of course baking banana bread . . . is it any wonder we are about to crack?
Well, it appears that way. More working mums have either decided to give up their paid work to be able to deal with the growing demands of their non-paid work — or have been forced to.
Mothers who were in paid work before lockdown are 47 per cent more likely than fathers to have permanently lost their jobs or quit, says the IFS.
That means losing their financial independence, missing out on career progression and instead picking up the vacuum cleaner and looking after the kids.
Meanwhile, what is the man in their household doing? Working — uninterrupted, of course.
New research suggests that in homes where there is both a working mother and father, the women are doing more chores and spending more time with their children while the man is able to concentrate solely on his work.
For every three hours of uninterrupted work dads managed during lockdown, women were able to complete just one, having been waylaid by the demands of their household and children.
While this infuriates me, it sadly does not surprise me.
EQUALITY SET BACK
We think we have come a long way but statistics like this make me question just how far have we come and more importantly, how far has this pandemic set equality back?
I accept this isn’t the case in every household, but it is in most.
It’s a fact that the pandemic has had a disproportionate economic impact on women.
Turn2us, a charity that tackles poverty, polled 2,014 working-age adults and found women’s incomes are expected to fall by £309 a month.
If childcare becomes even less accessible and more expensive, this will have a drastic impact on employment levels among womenKarren Brady
That’s a nosedive of 26 per cent, in comparison to an 18 per cent fall of £247 for men.
Sadly, an end to the pandemic will not bring an end to these problems.
As more women work in service industries hit hard by Covid-19 such as hospitality, retail and tourism, there won’t be as many jobs for them to go back to.
Meanwhile, the childcare sector is in crisis, with many providers saying they have not been given enough government support to prevent job losses.
If childcare becomes even less accessible and more expensive, this will have a drastic impact on employment levels among women.
And what about the new norm of working from home?
We’ve heard that companies such as Twitter are reviewing their need for large city centre offices, and that employees will get a choice to work from home.
No good news here for women either, as it seems that when working from home they are far more likely to get sucked into childcare and chores than men in the same situation.
LONG WAY TO GO
So what can be done? There is some hope in the IFS report. It found that during lockdown dads have nearly doubled the time they spend on childcare.
On average, fathers now do some childcare during eight hours of the day, compared with four hours in 2014/15.
Hopefully, this will have a lasting effect, with men starting to share household chores and childcare more equally. Clearly, there is still a long way to go though.
Even before Covid-19 hit, women did 16 hours of household chores every week, while men did closer to six.
In a staggering 93 per cent of couples, women did the bulk of the domestic duties.
For my daughter, and one day, please God, my granddaughters, I really hope the pandemic has not entrenched traditional gender roles and that, as we come out of it we will all fight for greater equality.
This is a fight we all must have — not just women — as we should all want to live in a fair society.
Let’s not forget, of all those brilliant carers and health workers we clapped for, four out of five of them are women.
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It is women who have been on the frontline during this crisis, and women who should not be forgotten after it.
Change can start in your own home. There is no reason cooking, cleaning and childcare cannot be split equally.
If you agree to share every burden and every task, you will be stronger, happier and more equal. And who wouldn’t want that?
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