Jane Thompson looks at the different evidence emerging and how it affects the workforce and asks is the essential nature of caregiving now being realised?
You may have read various articles recently documenting how women are being hit hardest during Covid-19. Being female, a working Mother and one who has been juggling homeschooling since February this is a topic close to my heart as I see the fallout affecting myself and friends.
Due to the complex mix of lower paid work, being more exposed to the risk of infection, reduced working hours due to homeschooling; and even an increased risk of furlough or redundancy enforced by their employer (Mothers 47% more likely to lose their job compared to Fathers) women are indeed shouldering the brunt of a rapidly changing work and caregiving environment and frequently these collide.
The Guardian led with how the pandemic is destroying women’s rights citing how women are bearing the brunt of the economic fallout and taking on a greater share of domestic work and childcare – while visits to the Refuge website are up 950%…they state – Is this the biggest ever leap backward for women?
Clearly there are many issues going on, and no two situations are the same; but when you think of the caregiving in our country the vast majority of care is carried out by women – be that paid carers roles in our hospitals and care systems, or ‘invisible’ care not recognised by the economy in the form of caring for children, elderly or sick relatives. The unpaid care offered by many week in week out is a huge benefit that keeps the wheels of the economy working – so are we now seeing the result of this situation with claims from the Government that we ‘all need to get back to work’ whilst parents (especially Mothers) around the country cry back ‘we will once the Children go back to school!’.
In the journal Nature they reflected that previous pandemics had the same results commenting that Governments need to ‘gather data and target policy to keep all citizens equally safe, sheltered and secure’. So what has the current pandemic taught us? I think it has shown families how they need to work differently to be as productive and supportive of each other as much as possible – women in particular need support to close the gap on work they can achieve whilst homeschooling or from other caring responsibilities.
I think it has shown that more value needs to be placed at the heart of caregiving in the UK – all types of care is essential to our families, friends and communities and it protects the NHS and wider services from becoming overburdened. Unpaid care is the unseen pillar of many communities and indeed organisations (through volunteering).
I also hope support for all Mothers in particular will be seen as a greater priority; by their own partners and families but also in the wider community. I speak from personal experience when I say the mental health of many of my female friends is at breaking point right now thanks to complex balance of looking after children and working.
Let’s hope these lessons will be learnt.