How Coronavirus is Widening the UK Gender Pay Gap

Written by Calvin Bowers

We examine how Coronavirus is widening the UK gender pay gap. The Coronavirus pandemic has hit hard in all sections of society, with nobody being entirely immune from the effects. Businesses have gone under because the Government had to impose restrictions on public gatherings, which hit many customer-facing businesses hard. 

Coronavirus has also dealt the National Health Service a devastating blow as they have been on the front line of dealing with the pandemic as it affected the population. Doctors and nurses have died trying to keep the public safe, and there are still Covid-19 cases, albeit of a lesser variant going around as this article is being written. 

These are the more immediately apparent effects of the pandemic, but there are others that haven’t been thoroughly investigated yet and which we probably won’t know the results of for quite some time yet. There is worry about the harms that will be felt in the longer term due to what has been termed “long-Covid”. This is where the virus has taken a long-term toll on someone’s health and affected their breathing and fatigue levels. They may also have muscle aches and cognitive impairments such as “brain fog”, amongst other symptoms. 

Another problem that has barely been touched upon is how Coronavirus is widening the UK gender pay gap. This is something that has largely flown under the radar but has been highlighted in an excellent article in the Guardian by an expert in women’s economic development called Linda Scott. The article flags up a number of ways in which Coronavirus is widening the UK gender pay gap, and we look at the main points below. 

The Burden of Care

When Coronavirus first hit hard, and many jobs moved to a temporary work-from-home model, it was still the mothers who shouldered the majority of the burden of looking after the children in the household. On average, they spent 4 hours more per day tending to the family than the men, even though they had work commitments to deal with as well. 

Statistically, men do more of the caring tasks within the family than they have ever done before. However, there is still a considerable labour gap within the household that prevents women from being on an equal footing. 

They can sometimes struggle to give enough to their jobs to feel happy and then feel bad for not paying enough attention to the children even though the male partner paid them less attention. Understandably, many women feel constantly tired, and this has a negative effect on their jobs and career progression.  

Part-Time Work

Another factor in how Coronavirus is widening the UK gender pay gap becomes apparent when you look at the jobs that are traditionally considered “female” jobs. Many of these are in the service and hospitality industries, which were some of the sectors that were hardest hit during the pandemic. 

Jobs in bars, restaurants, cafes and cinemas were some of the first to go, as people couldn’t go to the places where they usually congregated for fear of spreading Coronavirus faster and more quickly through the population. There was a genuine concern for a while that the sheer number of serious infected cases would overwhelm the NHS and that this would spell disaster for the country as a whole.    

The reason that so many women are in part-time and, therefore, lower-paying jobs is that there isn’t enough affordable childcare to allow them to work full-time, so they take a part-time job in order to get by. This can be particularly hard when balancing caring for a child on their own as part of a single-parent family, and there is precious little support available. Having said that, in a double-parent household, it isn’t necessarily all that much better if the man is working full-time and is unable to take care of the child, thus perpetuating the gender pay gap. 

It is rare to hear of a heterosexual couple where a man works part-time to look after the children, and the woman works full-time to support the family. This is slowly changing, but it is still at the point of being considered unusual to the extent that men are often asked if they are “babysitting” their own kids when what they are actually doing is providing parental care.  

“Clustering” in Caring Professions

Another factor in how Coronavirus is widening the UK gender pay gap is that women are disproportionately represented in caring professions like nursing, childcare, care of the elderly etc. When Coronavirus hit, many women who would have usually had jobs in the care sector weren’t able to do their jobs and look after their charges because of the lockdown. 

This meant that many women who relied on childcare providers so that they could work were suddenly left without this crucial service. There were some services provided for essential workers such as nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals, but this definitely affected women far more than it did men, with an estimated 74% of women affected.

Some women lost their jobs because they simply couldn’t find a way to make it work through no fault of their own, and their work didn’t offer enough flexibility in order to help them to manage. Others had to work extra hard in order to cope with working from home while their children were there at the same time. Obviously, neither of these scenarios is great, and the worsening of the gender pay gap is something we had all hoped was behind us.

So, What Next?

Many people thought we had taken great strides forward in 2018 when businesses with more than 250 employees were forced to publish their gender pay gap statistics and many huge companies were publicly shamed for their regressive employment practices. Sadly, the pandemic has upended a lot of the progress that was being made but there is still hope for better going forward. 

More women than men are graduating from University and they are far more likely to go on to Postgraduate qualifications. It is to be hoped that this trend translates into senior full-time roles in the future.  

The number of women who are choosing not to have children is also higher than it has ever been and this is going to have an impact on the jobs market as well in time, with more women able to take up full-time roles without having to worry about family commitments.

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