East's women see pandemic unfairly impact pay and prospects

During the pandemic female are more likely to have taken a pay cut, and do more of the housework than male counterparts. 

During the pandemic female are more likely to have taken a pay cut, and do more of the housework than male counterparts. - Credit: Getty Images

The pandemic is widening the inequality gap in Norfolk and Waveney. 

More female workers have faced a 20pc pay cut by taking furlough in order to do the bulk of childcare and experts have warned the shift could exacerbate existing socio-economic imbalances in the long term. 

Data for Norfolk shows that on average 13pc of the female workforce eligible for furlough have taken it - compared to 11pc of their male counterparts.  

This gap widens in some local authorities - the largest in King's Lynn where 14pc stands against 10pc, and in North Norfolk where 17pc plays 14pc. 

Research has found the reason female staff are more likely to be furloughed is childcare - with 65pc of women confirming this is the case. 

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The survey of 20,000 women conducted by equality charity Pregnant then Screwed also found that of the women who continued working 72pc accepted reduced hours as a result of needing to look after children. 

Moreover whether they are working full time or reduced hours working, mums are spending an hour more a day on childcare tasks than their male counterparts. 

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Although the split between home schooling and recreational time is equally divided between men and women, research by the Office for National Statistics found women were spending "a far greater proportion of their time" on activities including laundry, feeding and bathing. 

The female workforce - whether they have children or not - are also more likely to be furloughed as a result of the type of jobs they have, which tend to be lower paid and in the leisure sector. 

Dr Laura Harvey, a lecturer in economics at the University of East Anglia, said: "More women have been furloughed for a range of reasons. 

"One of them is that women tend to do lower-paid work in sectors such as leisure and hospitality, which we know have been especially hard hit by lockdowns. 

"Why this is could come back to more traditional issues where we see women leaning towards more part time and zero hours contracts in order to keep up with their unpaid work burden.

"Another reason is of course childcare. This pandemic has hopefully shed a light on the need we already knew was there for accessible and affordable childcare options for all and it would be good to see some policy changes as a result."

Dr Harvey has been echoed in Westminster, with Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones, who sits on the Women and Equalities Committee, saying: “Retail, hospitality, beauty salons and hairdressing were the first to close because of the virus and the last to open.

"These seemingly forgotten industries significantly contribute to the economy. The women working in these industries have been forgotten. 

“The government needs to have women around the table when they are creating these policies. It is a shocking indictment that we have only had a handful of female cabinet members fronting the daily briefings. There is a shocking absence of women at the top. 

“Also none of the policies are fronted by women, which is really disappointing. This reflects the women I’ve been speaking to who feel this government doesn’t reflect their experiences and doesn’t see them and therefore doesn’t devise policy to help them through this situation.”

And the echoes of the imbalance could be felt for generations, Dr Harvey warned: "Schools provide somewhat of a safety net for childcare and the pandemic has showed the extremities between the families who have access to technology and the confidence to home school, and the families who don't.

"We will have children potentially slipping into more poverty as a result of this. On top of this we know that children who have parents - mums in particular - who feel empowered to go out and work are more likely to be healthier and more economically active. It's likely these issues will spread far and wide. 

"The good news - if we can really call it that - is that the pandemic has absolutely proved the case for more flexible work hours. 

"Employees have shown that they are capable of managing their own work hours and work loads and don't necessarily need to be in an office to be able to get the job done.

"I think when the economy does reopen, and for the women who do want to re-enter the workforce, this could mean the world of difference when it comes to managing their paid and unpaid workload."

Case study: Mum-of-two Natalie Bailey 

Event organiser for the Norwich Science Festival Natalie Bailey has been juggling teaching her two primary school aged children and working part time - unlike many, she also has a partner who pulls his weight. 

natalie Bailey and her daughters. 

natalie Bailey and her daughters. - Credit: natalie bailey

She said: "I think the biggest challenge is having the headspace to focus on any one thing and feeling like you can’t give 100pc of your time and energy to either work or home schooling.

"It’s a huge juggling act flitting between teaching fronted adverbials (after spending ten minutes Googling what they are!) one minute and then switching on work-brain for a Teams meeting to discuss budgets for Norwich Science Festival, and back again to the home schooling to check my daughters are still engaging with it and haven’t snuck off to play Roblox.

"It literally isn’t possible to keep up with everything at the moment, and anyone who’s social media suggests otherwise is either lying or has a secret that they need to share.

"During the first lockdown, I beat myself up about not being on top of everything – work, home schooling, exercise, zoom chats with family/friends etc – but this time, I’ve definitely been better at managing my own expectations.

"And getting perspective also helps – I’m not working long hours in a Covid ward right now, my life under lockdown is easy in comparison. My children are probably having too much screen time at the moment and a few more ‘beige’ teas, but we are all staying fairly sane and that’s what’s most important right now."

She added that her family had divvied up jobs to make sure that work across the house was being shared: "I’m fortunate to have a husband who, despite having a new and time-consuming job, also takes his turn at the home schooling and keeping on top of the housework.

"I'm aware it's not just mums struggling - there are loads of dads out there taking on the home-schooling and juggling work and children too."

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