Covid-19 and the effects on women’s careers and mental health

By Laurie Davies

If you have been reading the news recently this article won’t come as new information but it’s important and I don’t think it can be said enough until every employer, MP, man and woman have realised the impact the pandemic has had on women trying to juggle childcare, homeschooling and their careers.

I’ve been made even more incensed when reading comments from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who stated in the commons that “We owe mums everywhere an enormous debt of thanks.” He is not wrong, but why is it assumed that it is mothers that will pick the work of childcare and homeschooling? Are women’s jobs not as important and more easily disposable? No, they are not and they shouldn’t be either.

What we are witnessing is a massive impact to the strides we have made to creating equality in the workplace and it also shows that the changes that have been made are not robust enough and truly meaningful given how quickly they have fallen apart.

I’m writing this now at 10 pm, having finished work, cooked dinner, put my child to bed, kind of tidied the house and now I’m sat watching the TV while snacking on my child’s left-over fish fingers and carrots sticks (surprisingly quite tasty!). I went into the first lockdown unemployed and I’m in the third with a fairly new job alongside my job of being a full-time mum because yes, that is still a job! Single parents will feel this pressure even more, so massive shout out to them.

We know anyway that women do the majority of care for children and we have some facts to bring to the table! Did you know:

  • 7 in 10 requests for furlough by working mums have been turned down (TUC)
  • According to single parent charity Gingerbread in the UK there are 1.8 million single parent families, Around 90 per cent of single parents are women and the average age of a single parent is 39. Details can be found here
  • Nine out of ten mums say their mental health has been negatively impacted experiencing levels of stress and anxiety (TUC)
  • One-quarter of mums are worried they will lose their job, through either being singled out for redundancy, sacked or denied hours (TUC)

So, what is the solution? Well, it’s not as clear cut as I would like because these are unprecedented times but I can think of a few things that would make a big difference. I am a mere mortal though, without the resources of many members of staff to carry out research and offer economic solutions with monetary budgets to solve these issues (you know, like our MPs and government).

  • Universal basic income – look it up, it’s bloody great – would solve so many of the issues our society faces
  • Allow furlough for one parent of each family that has school-age children, or allow it to be spread between to parent households akin to maternity leave 
  • For smaller businesses there needs to be more consultation of how they can cope: obviously, staff are massively relied upon in these businesses, so there needs to be more government support with money for a start 
  • Universal Credit payments need to be increased to more than the current £20 a week – we are one of the worst countries in Europe for out of work and in-work support. In December 2020, 37.5 per cent of 5.9 million UC claimants were in employment.
  • The TUC has some ideas too which can be read here.

I avidly support the closing of schools. It’s clearly not safe for our children or the staff at schools to have them open (not to mention nearly every school is indeed open for essential workers). However, what I think is ridiculous is the expectation that the level of schooling at home and the same level of productivity for parents at work will continue. I will try and write on the impacts on our children another time, because obviously this is just important.

Women have had to reduce their paid hours and will have been overlooked for new job roles because of perceived capabilities; data shows that many women have even given up work because of childcare, I have had to reduce my hours from 40 to 24. This is the patriarchy in action: the result of its grim and extremely damaging to equality, women’s careers, our children’s education and mental health and predominantly to women’s mental health.

Some comforting news is that there are some amazing campaigners that are fighting our corner – clink on the links to find out what they are up to and how they can support you in work.

Also, if you haven’t already – join a union! They can help you with advice around contracts and rights within work, many people are unaware that parents have rights to paid parental leave. We saw the power of the unions with the school closures – they really have the workers’ lives at the centre of their work and the more people that join them the more power they have.

As I sip those last drops of wine knowing that I should really head off to bed so I’m my best self tomorrow for more teaching and to undertake my job to the best of my abilities, I want to tell parents, but especially mothers this: you are not alone. You are being asked to do an impossible task, it’s okay to feel angry and let down. Ask for help if you can, but most of all DO NOT FEEL GUILTY. You are doing what you can and that is enough; you are enough.

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