London mayor Sadiq Khan has warned working mothers are losing their jobs because of the coronavirus crisis, just as extended school closures heap fresh pressures on parents.
Trade unions and business chiefs also voiced concern on Wednesday over the burden on parents juggling work and childcare, as prime minister Johnson confirmed most schoolchildren in England will be home until at least 8 March.
Union leaders want a right to furlough for childcare, after a survey suggested most mothers’ requests had been rejected.
The mayor of the capital sounded the alarm over the impact of the pandemic on women a panel event at the virtual Davos Agenda 2021 summit of world leaders.
He said COVID-19 had not only exposed but exacerbated many structural inequalities, even in “the most progressive city in the world.”
“If you’re a male, black Londoner, you’re four times more likely to have lost your life than a white male Londoner. If you’re a mother, you’re 50% more likely to have lost your job than if you’re a father.
“So I’ve experienced what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is talking about when [it] says — if we’re not careful, we could undo 30 years progress made around gender equality.”
The statistic on working mothers appears to be based on a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) last May. It found they were 47% more likely to have permanently lost their job or quit than fathers, more likely to have been furloughed and less likely to be in paid work. Almost half of mothers’ working hours were split between work and childcare, versus under a third of fathers’ hours.
A McKinsey study in July also found women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable as the pandemic was “significantly increasing the burden of unpaid care, which is disproportionately carried by women.”
Further analysis this week by the World Economic Forum (WEF), organisers of the Davos Agenda summit, suggests women globally face an extra 20 hours a week of work at home.
Khan’s comments come just as many working parents brace for an extended period of childcare and home-schooling, with plans for full school re-opening after half-term ditched in England.
“Ongoing school closures will put real pressure on children and teachers, as well as parents who must continue to juggle work and home commitments,” said Matthew Fell, chief policy officer at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
“Business has a big role to play in charting a course out of lockdown that best protects firms, staff and customers. We are ready and willing to work with government on their exit strategy.”
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Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said: “The safety of school staff and children must always come first.
“But the government needs to wake-up to the huge stress working parents are under. Many are losing out on hours and pay because of the lack of support available to them.
“Ministers must urgently give all parents the temporary right to furlough, plus at least ten days’ paid parental leave each year. It’s simply not sustainable to expect mums and dads to work as normal, while looking after their children and supervising schoolwork.
“As ever this burden is falling hardest on women and the low paid. Without action now many risk being pushed out of the labour market.”
A TUC survey of 52,000 working mums earlier this month found nine in 10 had experienced higher levels of anxiety and stress levels during the latest lockdown. 71% of those who had applied for furlough following the latest school closures said their requests were turned down.