The Women and Equalities Committee published its ‘Unequal Impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact’ report on the 9 February 2021. This report highlighted the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on vulnerable and marginalised individuals.
The report outlined several criticisms of the government’s approach to economic recovery, including:
In addition to the above, the Committee made several recommendations to the government, including:
On the 14 May 2021, the government published their official response to this report. Whilst certain aspects of the report were acknowledged, the government rejected several of its key proposals.
For example, the government agreed that “evidence on inequalities is important when developing any scheme or policy”, and yet they rejected the Committee’s request to publish Equality Impact Assessments of the CJRS and SEISS. Their justification was that “there needs to be adequate space for officials and Ministers to share and discuss in confidence all aspects of policy advice”. It is justifiable to keep sensitive discussions regarding future policy confidential. However, where the policy has already been implemented, any discussions as to its effectiveness should be disclosed in order to provide transparency and allow for effective scrutiny.
Other rejected submissions include government funded training schemes aimed at women in digital, AI and green economy sectors; publishing an early years strategy which sets out how childcare provisions can best support working parents and those who are job-seeking and re-training; and publishing proposals introducing ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting within the next six months.
Despite these disappointing decisions, the government did indicate that it will reconsider the 26-week service requirement for flexible working. This is a significant step in the right direction since the government have explicitly acknowledged that flexible working is vital to “ensuring increased participation of some groups who are under-represented in the labour market”.
In addition, the government have “partially committed” to bringing forward an Employment Bill "when parliamentary time allows”. This Bill includes proposals for increased flexible working, increased minimum wage and a right to neonatal leave. For more information regarding the potential impact of the Employment Bill on women, please see our article ‘The Employment Bill and What it Could Mean for Women’. You can access this article here.
Significantly, the government accepted the Committee’s proposals to extend redundancy protection period afforded to mothers on maternity leave to apply to pregnant women and for six months after a mother has returned to work. Remarkably, this will also include those taking adoption and shared parental leave.
In summation, the government clearly believes it is doing an adequate job at re-balancing the inequalities faced by women in the labour market. However, ‘adequate’ is not good enough, and arguably more needs to be done to achieve a more equal working Britain.