A report published by the women’s equality charity, the Fawcett Society, claims that coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a detrimental effect on workplace equality in the UK.

The report, which was released to mark Equal Pay Day – the day when women stop getting paid relative to men - examines the warning signs that gender equality is going backwards and suggests ways in which progress could be made once the crisis is over.

Prior to the pandemic, the charity had frequently highlighted the culture of secrecy in which pay discrimination in the UK had been allowed to thrive. While acknowledging that the headline gender pay gap in 2020 has narrowed, it points out in this report that the data is incomplete and distorted by the pandemic. As a result, the true picture will not emerge until 2021. With waves of lockdown and more working from home, the charity is asking for greater transparency around pay through the introduction of the Right to Know. This would allow individual women to find out if they are currently on equal terms to men.

In terms of discrimination at work, the report points out that in “normal times”, about 54,000 pregnant or new mothers a year lose their jobs. Research evidence suggests that women are more likely to be furloughed, less likely to have stayed closely in touch with their workplace, and workplaces are unlikely to have a plan in place to account for this when making redundancies. The charity therefore wants the government to legislate so that pregnant women and new mothers are better protected from redundancy. For instance, by requiring employers to provide sex disaggregated data on redundancies.

In terms of childcare provision, the charity points out that the sector was already on a knife-edge prior to the pandemic. As a result of a slump in a demand for places, one in six providers will not be viable by Christmas. Yet without a viable childcare infrastructure, parents, particularly mothers, will struggle to stay in paid work. The charity therefore wants the government to create a bailout fund for the sector to mitigate existing losses and cover deficits until demand recovers.

The report commented on an initial analysis that, as the coronavirus took hold, women were twice as likely to work in sectors which were shut down. The charity is concerned that many of these jobs may never reappear and it wants the government to publish Equality Impact Assessments for all job creation and support schemes, including the Kickstart Scheme, and amend policy in line with those assessments to ensure they work for women.

You can read the report in full here.