UK school closures mean mothers will take twice as much unpaid leave as fathers – poll | Education

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Twice as many mothers as fathers say they will have to take time off with no pay due to school closures or a sick child, according to a survey, raising further fears that the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic is falling disproportionately on women’s shoulders.

According to the survey, carried out by a group of women’s organisations across the UK including Women’s Budget Group and the Fawcett Society, 15% of mothers said they had to take unpaid time off work, compared with 8% of fathers, while 57% of fathers said they would be able to work from home during school closures, compared with 49% of mothers.

“With England now in lockdown and strong restrictions in the devolved nations, parents of school-age children working from home will be struggling once more to combine lesson supervision with paid work,” said Dr Mary Ann Stephenson, the director of Women’s Budget Group. “Mothers are more at risk of having to take time off on no pay when schools close.”

At the end of October, there were 1.19 million women furloughed, compared with 1.14 million men, with women making up over 51% of those on the job retention scheme.

But the gender disparity was much greater for young women, who made up 57% of furloughed under-18s and 53% of furloughed 18-24-year-olds, according to Guardian analysis.

Among women aged 24 and under there were 196,800 jobs furloughed, compared with 172,400 for men of the same age, a difference of around 14%.

Initial HMRC analysis also appears to show that women were more likely to be let go after the furlough scheme ended, with 91% of previously furloughed men back on their original payroll as of August, compared with 89% of women. Overall, around 10% of those formerly on the furlough scheme were no longer working for their employer at the end of August.

A recent report from the Young Women’s Trust found that 1.5 million young women had lost income since the pandemic, 69% who claimed benefits did so for the first time, and 750,000 had to go to work despite fears for their safety.

“Young women on low pay were already struggling to get by before the pandemic hit and since then many lost earnings because of furlough, redundancy or because they had to juggle precarious and insecure work with caring responsibilities,” said Abi Shapiro, the interim chief executive of Young Women’s Trust.

Gemma Hirst at home in Prudhoe, Northumberland.



Gemma Hirst at home in Prudhoe, Northumberland. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Gemma Hirst, 25, was furloughed in March from the retail job she had worked in for six years. The store she worked in did not reopen, and in June she was offered just four hours a week in a different store despite having worked as a supervisor previously. Not able to survive on the hours, she had to go on universal credit for the first time.

“When it comes to it, actually, you’re just a number, they don’t care about you at all,” said Hirst.

The figures have raised fears that young women are at particular risk of having their economic futures and mental health blighted. Recent research from Agenda, which campaigns for women and girls at risk, found a quarter of young women were suffering symptoms of depression or anxiety, three times the rate of young males, and one in five young women with severe money problems had self-harmed in the past year. It raised concerns that young BAME women were particularly at risk.

“Our concern is that we are creating a future mental health epidemic among young women,” said Jess Southgate, CEO of Agenda.

A May report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education revealed that mothers in England were more likely than fathers to have lost their jobs during lockdown, and were only able to do only one hour of uninterrupted paid work for every three hours done by men.

The new Survation survey of 1,308 parents in the UK with children aged 14 and under found that parents with an annual household income of £20,000 or below were nine times more likely to say their jobs were at risk because of school closures than parents with an annual household income of £40,000 or above – with 9% of low-income parents reporting this compared with 1% of those earning over £40,000.

Twelve per cent of parents earning below £20,000 a year and 13% of parents earning between £20,000 and £40,000 a year said they would have to take time off on no pay if schools closed or their children had to self-isolate, compared with 7% of parents earning more than £40,000 annually.


The TUC has asked companies to “do the right thing” and allow staff to furlough for childcare, as well as offering the right to flexible working and 10 days’ paid parental leave a year.

“Without further action, many will have no choice but to cut their hours or take unpaid leave from work. This will lead to further hardship and will hit mums and single parents hardest,” said the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady.

Felicia Willow, the Fawcett Society’s interim chief executive, said that there had been positive developments since the introduction of the job retention scheme such as the right to take furlough for childcare reasons, as well as the ability for furlough to be shared between parents but said the government needed to urgently put in place a rescue package for the childcare sector and carry out an equality impact assessment.

“But women remain on the sidelines of the government’s coronavirus response,” she said. “We urge the government to put women at the centre of its decision-making.”

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: UK school closures mean mothers will take twice as much unpaid leave as fathers – poll | Education

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