Joint letter says ministers have “failed” to uphold legal duty to consider the impact of policies on women and promote equality
Groups warn that “decisions taken by government are worsening the impact of the pandemic and deepening inequalities faced by women”
TUC, Amnesty International UK, Save the Children UK, Fawcett Society, Women’s Aid and Mother Pukka among those to sign letter
Unions, women’s groups and charities have today (Monday) called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to urgently investigate whether the government has breached equality law during the pandemic.
In a joint letter to the chair of the EHRC the groups warn that:
“This is a time of crisis for women. The coronavirus pandemic is having a significant and disproportionate impact on women’s health, jobs and livelihoods.
“The policy decisions taken by government and other key public bodies in response to coronavirus are worsening the impact of the pandemic and deepening inequalities faced by women. The consequences of these decisions will affect women for years to come.”
The joint letter – signed by organisations including the TUC, Amnesty International UK, Save the Children UK, Child Poverty Action Group, Fawcett Society, Women’s Aid and campaigner Mother Pukka – accuses ministers of:
Failing their legal responsibilities under the Public Sector Equality Duty to ensure their policies do not disadvantage or discriminate against women and those with protected characteristics.
Failing to carry out equality impact assessments on key policy decisions – such as women who have taken maternity leave being eligible for reduced SEISS payments, and the disproportionate financial impact of self-isolation on women, as fewer women are eligible for statutory sick pay.
Failing to take into account the additional caring responsibilities that would be placed on women as a result of health restrictions and policies on school and childcare closures.
Frances O’Grady – TUC General Secretary said:
“At every stage of this pandemic the needs of women have been overlooked.
“Low-paid women have been excluded from getting sick pay. Self-employed women who have taken maternity leave have lost out on vital financial help. And women have had to take on primary caring responsibility for children.
“The impact of school closures and childcare has put many women in an impossible situation because the right support has not been put in place. This is forcing many to cut their hours at work or leave their jobs altogether.
“When you look at the sum of women’s experiences in the pandemic, it is clear that this government do not understand women’s lives and are ignoring the hardship their policies have caused.
“That’s why we are asking the EHRC to use its legal powers to investigate. We shouldn’t have to do this – but ministers have stubbornly refused to review the impact of their policies on women, as the law requires they do.
“If we don’t act now, women’s equality could be set back by decades and women’s and children’s poverty could soar.”
Anna Whitehouse - from campaign group Mother Pukka said:
“Equality isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it’s a fundamental. The Equality Act has somehow been swept off the table as privileged fathers in politics (often with nannies) decide the fate of mothers.
“The lack of action by the government is galling - women have been backed into a corner where they are being forced to choose between family and career.
“We are quite literally being forced out of the economy as the government watches on, seemingly nonplussed by the fact that we are going to wake up in 1951. The government needs to wake up now if it truly believes in Building Back Better.“
Charlotte Woodworth - Gender Equality Campaigns Director at Business in the Community said:
“Like a recommended medicine dose that's been based on the average man, this government's prescription just isn't working for women.
“Responsible businesses have been using equality impact assessments when they make decisions which affect their employees and the government should be held to the same standard, for policies in the here and now and recovery plans going forward.
“Designing our economy around the 'typical man' just doesn't work for women, who we know have borne the brunt of many of the economic costs of this crisis.”
Clare Wenham - Associate Professor of Global Health at the London School of Economics said:
“Despite a wealth of evidence demonstrating the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women, the UK government has continued to bury its head in the sand.
“This is not good enough and is failing women across the UK, and will continue to do so unless urgent action is taken to mitigate against the structural barriers women face to social, economic and civic participation.”
Alison Garnham – Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group said:
“There has been no targeted support for families with children during the pandemic. We have heard from countless mums struggling to make ends meet and battling to manage childcare, home-schooling, and extra-costs such as food, gas and electricity.
“Women have long been treated unjustly by the social security system – and this year has only made things worse. The government simply has not done enough for women with children in this difficult time.”
The full letter reads:
Dear Baroness Falkner
We are writing as a broad coalition of trade unions, women’s organisations and charities in response to the fifth report of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, 'Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact'.
The select committee’s report reflects our understanding - this is a time of crisis for women. The coronavirus pandemic is having a significant and disproportionate impact on women’s health, jobs and livelihoods.
As the report highlights, policy decisions taken by government and other key public bodies in response to coronavirus are worsening the impact of the pandemic and deepening inequalities faced by women. The consequences of these decisions will affect women for years to come.
The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) was put into place to protect women, and those with other protected characteristics, and to ensure ministers were actively considering equality at each stage of any policy-making process. Not retrospectively, to assess the extent of damage that has been done.
From the evidence laid out in the report, it is clear the government has failed to meet its obligations under the PSED to protect and promote equality for women at work. To date, we have not seen evidence of compliance either in individual decisions or in any attempt to look at cumulative impact.
The Women and Equalities Select Committee report indicates that the government has not carried out Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs), even for their flagship policies such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). Although EIAs are of course not a specific requirement, they are tangible evidence of meaningful engagement with the PSED. In the absence of EIAs, we are struggling to find other evidence that government has adequately considered the impact of their decisions and taken necessary mitigating steps in the formative stages of policy making.
As the Committee note:
“The Government acted at considerable speed to design and implement schemes to protect jobs, and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) have provided a vital safety net to millions of people. However, the design of these schemes overlooked - and in some respects continues to overlook - the specific and well-understood labour market and caring inequalities faced by women. This demonstrates the importance of equality analyses.
“We recommend that schemes to support employees and the self-employed should be informed by an Equality Impact Assessment, drawing on evidence of existing inequalities. The Government must conduct and publish Equality Impact Assessments of the CJRS and the SEISS alongside its response to this Report.”
We welcome the fact that EHRC has, to date, used its expertise to advise Government and Parliament. We note your submission to the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry:
“Since the Committee’s initial inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on people with protected characteristics,1 further evidence has emerged pointing to the disproportionate economic impact that coronavirus is having on some women and men.”
“If the Government fails to fully understand and address this disproportionate impact, such failure may amount to a breach of its domestic and international obligations to promote equality and eliminate discrimination against women in employment.”
As the Commission is the body which has statutory responsibility for the promotion and enforcement of equality legislation in England, Scotland and Wales we ask that you use the range of powers at your disposal to deliver on your statutory role. We believe there is a clear and well evidenced need for formal steps to be taken to address potential breaches of the Equality Act, including those relating to PSED.
We the under-signed therefore request that you conduct an assessment under s.31 of the Equality Act 2010 to examine whether the government has complied with its obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty in relation to their policy responses during the Covid-19 crisis.
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary, TUC
Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK
Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, Women's Budget Group
Ali Harris, Chief Executive, Equally Ours
Anna Whitehouse, Founder, Mother Pukka
Kate Paradine, CEO, Women in Prison
Abi Shapiro, Interim Chief Executive, Young Women's Trust
Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director, The Equality Trust
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group
Catherine Fookes, Director, Women's Equality Network (WEN) Wales
Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact, Save the Children UK
Felicia Willow, CEO, The Fawcett Society
Ros Bragg, Director, Maternity Action
Lucy Hadley, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Women's Aid Federation of England
Andy Hull, Chief Executive, EachOther
Anna Ritchie Allan, Executive Director, Close the Gap
Cerys Furlong, Chief Executive, Chwarae Teg
Estelle du Boulay, Director, Rights of Women
Charlotte Woodworth, Gender Equality Campaigns Director, Business In The Community
Rosie Lewis, Deputy Director, Angelou Centre
Joeli Brearley, Founder, Pregnant Then Screwed
Associate Professor Clare Wenham, Global Health, Gender and Covid-19
Centenary Action Group
Clare Simpson, Director, Children in Scotland
TUC press office
020 7467 1248
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