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Women and COVID-19: keyworkers and anxious

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women, keyworkers, anxiety, low income, WBG, Fawcett Society, COVID-19, coronavirus pandemic, two-child limit, benefit cap, risking lives, Boris Johnson, back to workThe government needs far greater inclusion of women and gender experts in key advisory groups.

New research published last week revealed the stark reality of the coronavirus pandemic for parents and keyworkers.

The research, carried out by the Fawcett Society, the Women’s Budget Group, and academic experts from the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London and the London School of Economics (LSE) found that women who are working outside the home are more likely to be keyworkers.

Six in ten women (61 per cent) compared with four in ten men (43 per cent) men said their work has been considered essential at this time.

In addition, women who are still going outside their homes to work were:

More likely to say they are working harder than before;

More likely to say they have to continue going out to work because they cannot afford to stay at home; and

Twice as likely as men to say they feel under pressure from their employer to continue going out to work.

They also reported some of the greatest levels of anxiety; 56 per cent of women who said their work was essential report high anxiety levels, compared with 30 per cent of men in that group.

To alleviate this we need to:

Increase child benefit by an additional £50 per week per child and extend it to all children;

Pay all key workers at Real Living Wage levels;

Increase the Local Housing Allowance to average rents (the 50th percentile) to properly support housing costs for people who need government support; and

Lift the benefit cap and the two-child limit to ensure parents have sufficient income during the crisis.

Professor Sophie Harman, global health politics expert at Queen Mary University of London, said: “We know health emergencies have harder immediate and long-term impacts on women than men and that such emergencies exacerbate inequalities within society. COVID-19 is no different.

“The needs of women and their economic and social well-being must be a key factor in every level of decision-making around COVID-19.

“The government needs far greater inclusion of women and gender experts in key advisory groups to assess and address the differential impacts of their decision-making on COVID-19 on women.”

And speaking in response to the Prime Minister’s statement made on 10 May about easing the lockdown, the Women’s Budget Group’s Director, Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, said: “The Prime Minister’s statement raised as many questions as it answered and will have left people confused and worried.”

How, she wanted to know, were working parents supposed to return to work with little more than 12 hours’ notice when schools and nurseries were still closed and grandparents unable to provide care?

“Schools may be able to open gradually from June, but with classes of 30+ how will they maintain social distancing?” she asked. “What will happen from mid-July when school holidays start?

“How are people who have to rely on public transport expected to get to work and remain safe?

“How can workers be sure that they will be safe at work tomorrow morning when the government still hasn’t published guidance for employers?

“We are now advised to remain 2 metres apart ‘where possible’. What about where this is not possible?

“Will companies be competing with the NHS and social care for PPE, which we know is already in short supply?

“What support will be available for those who cannot return to work when many are facing a struggle to pay rent or mortgages and essential bills?

“What does ‘encouraged to return to work’ mean? Does this suggest an ending of the furlough scheme or reduction in the level of support offered?”

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