Why it’s time we talked about the impact of COVID-19 on women
As the PM and his ‘war cabinet’ of men continue to inform us of how they are going to do whatever it takes, women are being rocked by announcements that will make their lives implode.
The first major blow came on Monday evening with the news that pregnant women are now in the high-risk category and must immediately self-isolate. I heard from one pregnant woman earlier this week who is a self-employed hairdresser. She’s had to tell all of her clients she cannot work any longer.
To rub salt into the wound, there’s still no support being outlined for the self-employed other than access to basic benefits. Surely Boris should be looking close to home and leading the way when it comes to maternity rights?
Wednesday’s announcement of school closures has given parents across the UK sleepless nights. This decision is going to disproportionately affect women as we do the majority of childcare. Mum’s are calling the helpline at Pregnant Then Screwed, a campaign to end maternity discrimination, reporting that they are being expected to pick up the slack despite both partners being at work.
Whilst many are able to work from home, this is a middle-class issue. So many traditional women’s roles have geographical requirements. One young mum who works in retail has said her only option is to send her child to live with other family members, an hour away, so that she can work to ensure her family escape financial ruin.
Front line workers
Women make up the majority of health and social care workers, with the NHS on the frontline, they will be supported by the backbone that is social care. Yet there has been a distinct lack of coverage on the issues concerning social care.
Care is classed as women’s work. Its low-paid, often on zero-hours contracts and with poor terms and conditions. Age Cymru pointed out early on that this may result in the risk of some continuing to work despite illness for fear that they won’t be able to pay their bills.
Two million of the lowest-paid workers don’t qualify for sick pay. Should they take sick leave, many of these and other low paid workers will only be eligible to claim Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because they earn less than the threshold of £118 per week. This will result in a loss of up to 38% of income, for those who earn the lowest amount of money in our society.
Women and children at risk of violence
In a time when Governments are establishing isolation processes to slow the pandemic, there is fear that we are condemning women and children at risk of violence to a death sentence. Early evidence from China shows potential increases in violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence (VAWDASV).
Welsh Women’s Aid, and services across wales are working hard to protect survivors amid significant strain, and are calling for regular, co-ordinated planning meetings with the VAWDASV sector and government. In England, a weekly virtual meeting is being co-ordinated by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and the equivalent must be carried out in Wales with our National Advisers.
The last seismic shift for women’s rights came amid WW2. The actions taken by government amid this crisis could be the springboard for our next leap forward:
- Freedom to work flexibly will no longer be questionable.
- A new respect for those providing essential services like social care finally earning them the decent pay and conditions they deserve.
- Women with no recourse to public funds could have long term access to refuge services enabling them to flee violence.
But the biggest, and most fundamental change that could be implemented is universal basic income. Plaid Cymru propose a basic monthly allowance to be paid to those at risk of unemployment. Adam Price believes there is twofold impact; it will act as a safety net for individuals and provide economic stimulus at a time of grave uncertainty.
To have gender equality truly at heart, I’d like to see this basic income extended to all single parents. These families are at a much higher risk of harm following the fallout of this unprecedented time. Currently half of the children living in single-parent households live in poverty.
Universal Basic Income can end that and stop the likely increase in poverty too.