Disproportionate disruption: New Close the Gap report shows women will be harder hit by COVID-19 job disruption

Much analysis has been published detailing the anticipated labour market impacts of COVID-19 including the predicted “jobs recession”. However, to date there has been a lack of focus afforded to the specific impacts on women’s employment. Our latest briefing highlights that women will experience disproportionate labour market disruption as a result of the pandemic.

Overall, COVID-19 is likely to impact women’s labour market participation in a number of significant ways:

  • Job disruption will disproportionately impact women because men and women tend to do different types of work.
  • Women in low-paid jobs will be particularly affected by job disruption, placing them at greater risk of poverty.
  • Women are disproportionately affected by the need for more unpaid care, impacting their ability to do paid work.
  • Women are less likely to do a job that can be done from home during periods of social distancing, creating increased risk to their job retention and financial security.
  • Women, particularly BME women, young women and women on zero-hour contracts, are more likely to work in a sector that has been shut down.
  • Women are more likely to lose their jobs in the predicted “jobs recession”.
  • The rise in underemployment will disproportionately affect women.

Our analysis finds that women account for the majority (51.5%) of workers in jobs that are deemed to be at high exposure to job disruption, with low-paid women at particular risk. Women’s over-representation in low-paid, lower-skilled service-sector roles puts them at greater risk of unemployment, enforced reduction of hours and being furloughed. A likely impact of job disruption will be an increase in the female poverty rate.

Women are more likely than men to work in a sector that has been shut down (18%, compared to 14% for men). Shut down sectors also have an over-representation of Black and minority ethnic women, migrant women, young women, and women on zero-hour contracts. It’s therefore very likely that COVID-19 will further entrench women’s labour market inequality, particularly for groups of women who already face multiple barriers to employment such as BME women and younger women.

Women are less likely to do a job that can be done from home during periods of social distancing, and the cutting of staff hours to manage COVID-19 has been most commonly found in female-dominated sectors. For example, 61% of enterprises in accommodation and food services and 39% of administrative and support service enterprises have reduced staff hours. This threatens the financial security of women working in these sectors, making them more vulenrable to underemployment.

Women are already four percentage points more likely to have lost their jobs than men, and the sectors where women are concentrated puts them at particular risk of redundancies during the predicted jobs recession. Across the UK, two low-paid, female-dominated occupations have experienced the most significant job losses to date, with 33% of cleaners and maintenance workers losing their jobs, closely followed by personal care services.

Scottish Government analysis shows that it took eight years for unemployment in Scotland to return to pre-crisis levels after the global financial crisis. It is therefore highly likely that increased unemployment will not be a fleeting phenomenon, particularly as women are concentrated in service sectors which will find it harder to bounce back as the crisis eases.

School and nursery closures, and increased caring responsibilities in the home have drastically affected women’s ability to do paid work. Existing gendered patterns of care are being replicated during lockdown, and in many cases magnified. Since lockdown, women across the UK are typically providing at least 50% more childcare, as well as spending around 10% to 30% more time than fathers home schooling their children. In some households, women are expected to assume full responsibility for home schooling and childcare while working from home, while their partners are able to concentrate on paid work elsewherein the home, undisturbed.The increase in unpaid care is likely to have long-term implications for women’s labour market participation, particularly when coupled with the delay to the implementation of the extended funded childcare entitlement.

Any additional barriers in accessing affordable, appropriate and flexible childcare may prevent women from returning to work at the end of this crisis. Changes to the Job Retention Scheme must, therefore, be accompanied by measures to support measures to support women with caring responsibilities to return to paid work.

Our briefing highlights the importance of gender analysis and gender-sensitive sex-disaggregated data in labour market policymaking. Applying a gendered lens to existing predictions and analysis highlights that women are likely to be disproportionately impacted by labour market disruption in a number of ways. It’s therefore critical that gender-sensitive data analysis and gender mainstreaming approaches are integrated into all labour market and economic recovery policymaking.

To this end, we make a number of recommendations for Scottish Government including ensuring that that gender-sensitive sex-disaggregated data informs future labour market analysis; ensuring policymaking to address COVID-19 labour market disruption addresses occupational segregation as a central aim; and integrating gender-sensitive data analysis and gender mainstreaming approaches into labour market and economic recovery policymaking, and programme and service design.

The lack of consideration afforded to gender in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis resulted in the recession having a disproportionate impact on women’s employment. To prevent history repeating itself, it’s vital that Scottish Government enact a gendered response to the anticipated jobs recession, with interventions specifically designed to tackle women’s labour market inequality.

You can read the full briefing here.

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