Why does the Government’s ‘can-do’ attitude to solving this crisis stop at women?

The scale and speed of the financial support schemes that have been put in place to help Britons through this crisis are astronomical. But one segment of society has been woefully overlooked – knowingly, in some cases – and it is no small segment at that.

Women, who make up 51pc of the population, are bearing the economic brunt of this pandemic and the knock-on effects will last for generations. 

The implication of this oversight, as we report in our cover story today, is that the events of the past three months have set gender pay parity back by a whopping three decades. Women will now not earn the same as men for 90 years. 

Some of the causes behind this stark figure are deep-rooted socio-economic factors that mean women feel the effects of the pandemic more keenly. They are more likely to work in sectors that have been forced to shut down and furlough or axe jobs.

Mothers are more likely than fathers to be working reduced hours and to shoulder the childcare burden while schools and nurseries are closed. These effects may be inadvertent but this does not mean they cannot be addressed by the Government as it helps rebuild after this terrible pandemic. 

Other disadvantages are not so unintentional. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has refused to fix a loophole in the self-employed scheme, which pays out on the basis of average profits calculated over three years.

Women who have taken maternity leave in the past three years cannot exclude this period from their average, meaning their support funding is significantly lower than it should be. 

Pregnant Then Screwed, a campaign group, estimates that around 80,000 self-employed women have taken maternity leave in the past three years. 

These are not problems that will disappear as soon as lockdown is lifted. They have exacerbated an already vicious cycle that holds women back financially.

They are in the same race as men, but their starting position has been moved back several metres. And the less women earn now, the smaller their savings will be, leading to a larger shortfall in retirement. 

The facts speak for themselves. We know that women have been hit disproportionately by the lockdown measures. We know that their ladder back to equal hours and comparable pay just got that much longer. We know all this. Now what we need is for our policymakers to do something about it. 

The Government has adopted such a promising “can-do” attitude over the rest of its crisis funding. Why must that stop here?

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