Covid19 and its implications for the PP
Other things being equal it seems that men may be harder hit by Covid physically – a higher proportion are affected and die. (If that’s for genetic reasons it prompts fairly hairy speculation about the likely impact of future pandemics – no space for that here.) But other things aren’t equal. For a start women are more likely to be key workers, and therefore more exposed to health risks. It’s also been pretty clear for a while the economic impact will be tougher on women, at least in the first instance.
As usual, the Resolution Foundation has come up with speedy analysis. Their report sums it up:
Our overall finding is that 36 per cent of women face the biggest health risks in this crisis due to being key workers, compared to just 18 per cent of men. In turn, key workers are disproportionately likely to be female – 65 per cent of key workers are female compared to 47 per cent of the whole working population.
Their chart also shows that women are almost half as likely again as men to be working in shutdown sectors – sectors such as hospitality and retail that have been most strenuously affected by the crisis.
I have four PP-related reflections on this. The first, which I have not seen any commentary on, is that a gender-unbalanced impact of this kind will have an overall impact on the skill levels of the workforce. It’s true that care workers are generally not highly qualified – though we have learnt to be much more careful about equating qualifications and skills – but overall if women are shut out of employment the competence levels of the workforce as a whole will drop.
Secondly, the shutting of schools and nurseries means more children in the house. We don’t have figures on how this has affected the division of parenting, but the effects could go in one of two directions (or possibly both…) It might be that mothers will do more of the locked-down caring and homeschooling, reinforcing traditional divisions. Or it might be that fathers will be less able to avoid sharing fully – or to put it more positively, dads will take to the new duties and this will have lasting effects on the household division of labour.
Thirdly, the debate on flexible working has obviously taken a whole new turn. I’m quite hopeful that this will mark a real break with the past on attitudes to flexible schedules, and we can get past the mental block which associates flexible working with peripheral roles in the organisation. Of course this will play out very differently in different organisations, but the mould is broken.
Finally, ideas for radically new forms of welfare now have dramatically more chance of being taken seriously. Notably, the prospects for a Universal Basic Income – advocated for some time by organisations such as Compass and the RSA – have taken a big jump forward. Compass in particular has been doing more work on this, with a timely new report from Stewart Lansley. Several years ago when writing the PP I was attracted by UBI mainly on the grounds that it helps women to move in and out of employment without rupturing their career prospects. Despite the claims of its most ardent proponents such as Guy Standing, I had then and retain now some doubts about its practicality, and am more inclined towards the emerging notion of Universal Basic Services championed by Anna Coote and Andrew Percy. But there’s no doubt that the debate is now there to be had, no longer the preserve of thinktank oddities.