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  • Inequality has worsened during lockdown in UK, says study, with women saddled with more not less childcare

    Inequality has worsened during lockdown in UK, says study, with women saddled with more not less childcare | Photo: EFE

Published 18 June 2020
Opinion

72 percent of mothers described themselves as the “default” parent for all or most of the time during lockdown, while 67 percent of women with work commitments also described themselves as such.

The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to derail women's careers and take U.K. society back to a 1950s style of living, as research showed the proportion of mothers responsible for 90 to 100 percent of childcare increased from 27 percent to 45 percent during the lockdown, The Guardian reported Thursday. 

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Researchers at the University of Sussex found 72 percent of mothers described themselves as the "default" parent for all or most of the time during the lockdown. In comparison, 67 percent of women with work commitments also described themselves as such. Also, 70 percent of women reported being entirely or mostly responsible for homeschooling.

Alison Lacey, a doctoral researcher at the university's school of psychology, said pre-existing inequalities had worsened since the start of the pandemic crisis.

The impact of school closures means the government has left families to absorb six months of unpaid labor into their households,  Lacey said.

"This has not been properly acknowledged, and policymakers must consider this. The gender pay gap we have been working so hard to close is widening even further," she said.

"Society has regressed to a 1950s way of living, which will have serious consequences," she warned. "We hear about women waking at 5 am, working until 9 am, then taking on childcare and home learning and doing more work in the evening."

The research found that maternal employment is disproportionately vulnerable to the COVID-19 impact, with 73 percent of mothers saying working from home was "difficult" or "very difficult." 

Analysis based on the results of a survey of more than 2,000 women also found that females were dominant in seven out of eight categories of domestic labor.

While the findings of the research are not intended to reflect a "battle of the sexes," but rather a situation thrust upon families because of the pandemic, the truth is that household responsibilities have tripled for the women with the lockdown, also because many lost their jobs, as they tend to be first in the firing line when it comes to layoffs.

For her part, Dr. Mary-Ann Stephenson, the director of the Women's Budget Group, said with widespread redundancies expected when the furlough scheme ends, the government must recognize, reduce and redistribute women's unpaid work.

"We need policies to protect women against higher levels of redundancies, so companies should be required to report their redundancy rates by sex, and provide additional protection for women who are not able to work because of caring responsibilities," she said.

Effective policies that provided childcare support as lockdowns ease would be vital to reducing the burden on women amid concerns large numbers of nurseries would close because of financial pressures, she added.

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