By David Banks
The Testimonies are powerful:
"Lots of women I know have taken on the majority of the home schooling and housework as well as working. In our friendship group, it's about 80 per cent women that have taken it on. It's been a huge step back for women. Most of the women I know have to get up early to work and work late in the evening" Racheal from Farnham Royal.
"So far everyone I know who lost their job or most of their work through Covid has been female (teaching assistants, florists, office admins, events planners and, by chance, TV production. Many have said "Well. How could I cope with home schooling anyway if I had to work?" The burden of the childcare and part time jobs that go with this are still too heavily focused on women in our society". Anna Crabtree, standing for the Lib Dems in North Marlow.
"I've been carrying my family for a year from playing down my deterioration from Covid last March, being a mum, a friend, being a teacher, a sounding board, being the cleaner, the cook and all the other things in between." Pippa from Farnham Common goes on to say that she is "also worried about the future in general as I think that anyone with sick absence or leave, and has children, is more likely to lose their job if redundancies happen".
The Institute of Fiscal studies points out that we came into this crisis with female employment at record highs, though closing the gender pay gap had already stalled. More women than men had part time roles. More higher earners, and therefore more men, could work at home.
How has it come to pass that society should allow this as Racheal rightly calls it, "huge step back for women". Why have more women lost their jobs? Why are more men able to work at home in this second lock down as reported by the Office of National Statistics? Is International Women's Day just lip service?
The Institute of Fiscal studies has identified, excluding key workers, that the bottom tenth of earnings distribution are in sectors that have been forced to shut and a far higher proportion of these jobs are held by women. Women of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black ethnicity are more affected than most with lower earnings and the inability to work at home, and the huge impact on young women in particular, has been identified by both the Office of National Statistics and the IFFS.
Women who live in less privileged areas often found that the provision for online learning with direct interaction with teachers was less available to them than in wealthier areas, leading to them needing to do far more of the intensive home teaching. The long-term legacy of this remains unclear but Ofsted and Head Teachers are very worried about the long term inequalities of attainment for children where mothers could not gain teacher interaction to support them.
Future Government's capacity to tackle the long-term legacy of the inequality looks set to be hampered by the crippling debt, and the trends of roles that women took on do not look best to be seismically different. There will be an advantage in employers allowing more flexible working, though the likes of Goldman Sachs have railed against any suggestions that home working will be the norm. If it does become the norm, there will be a need for housing to change and the Pension Funds that rely heavily on commercial property investment will need to find a new resource to bolster funds that will take a hit. But will the advantages favour men or women?
I'm a Dad, and I've been bucking the trend as I've done the home schooling, the chores, and our experience has been okay. I'm in Racheal's 20 per cent of men sitting with my children trying to remember fronted adverbials. However, I hold on to one comment that a normally out all day Dad said to me on the school run. He said "I've had the best year of my life as I've been able to spend time with my children" and I wonder whether the experiences of the year will lead other Dad's to take a bigger role in caring for children and challenging the norms that have played out so starkly this year. Is it possible that some men might help women to champion the change we need? Men have a huge role in this too and hopefully longer-term government policy will emerge as we come out of the crisis, to help change the way the women took this severe burden in 2020-2021. That policy needs to come quickly so that women like Anna, and Racheal and Pippa don't bear the longer scars of Covid that costs us so much.