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The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted women’s employment and self-employment,exacerbating inequalities in the labour market. 

The Government have put schemes in place to protect workers’ earnings and jobs, but there have been clear differences between women and men in access, eligibility and the level of support received, reasearch from the "Gender Differences in Access to Coronavirus Government Support" report, written by Anna Johnston, Research & Policy Officer, UK Women’s Budget Group.

Key findings:

Self- employed women

By March 2020, there were 1.5 million self-employed women, who made up 34.8% of all selfemployed workers (those whose main source of income came from being self-employed). By the end of January 2021 only 28.8% of all SEISS claims had been made by women. 632,000, self-employed women had made claims totalling just over £1.4 billion.

This compares with 1,557,000 claims made by men (totalling nearly £4.8 billion). This figure is lower than the proportion of self-employed women, reflecting the issues many women faced in accessing the self-employment income support scheme.

Of those eligible, fewer women than men made a SEISS claim: only 60% of eligible women claimed, compared to 68% of eligible men. Women also claimed smaller amounts, at an average of £2,200 compared with £3,100 for men. The difference can be explained by self-employed women’s generally lower earnings compared to self-employed men.


Young women

Young women aged 18-25 are the largest group furloughed by age and gender. 425,300 of young women workers who are eligible have been furloughed (24%). This compares to 345,100 young men or 20% of those eligible. 40% of eligible female workers under the age of 18 had been furloughed (30% of young men).

Furloughed women

Overall data shows that women are more likely than men to have been furloughed.  Across the UK, women make up 52.1% of those on furlough, despite being only 47.3% of the overall UK workforce.

Data from HMRC show that 2,337,900 women were furloughed at the end of February 2021, compared to 2,144,700 men. This is explained by the type of sectors that women and men tend to work in. More women than men work in sectors that were shut-down like retail and hospitality or accommodation and food services.

However, in some parts of the country the opposite is true, and more men have been furloughed than women. This is due to the large number of jobs in these regions in sectors where men predominate, like manufacturing or construction, which also faced shut-downs, particularly at the start of the pandemic. Local economic recovery plans must take a gendered approach to ensure they target those hardest hit by the pandemic.


The Covid-19 pandemic has created unprecedented volatility in the labour market, impacting women in particular ways. Selfemployed women have received less support than their male counterparts. The dual pressures of caring responsibilities and working have taken a toll on mothers’ paid work.

Women, Black and minority ethnic workers, working class people and young people are concentrated within low-paid roles in the sectors that have been some of the worst impacted (food services, retail, arts and recreation). Once support schemes such as CJRS and SEISS come to an end, there will likely be a significant increase in redundancies for those in the most disrupted sectors.

Short term Recommendations:

  • Make the Universal Credit uplift permanent to support with increased redundancies when CJRS and SEISS end in September and extend to other benefits such as Employment Support Allowance.
  • Companies should be mandated to report the number of people they make redundant by protected characteristics including sex and race, to ensure accountability against bias or discrimination.
  • Use the upcoming employment bill to reduce insecurity for low-paid workers by extending employment rights and investing in strong and effective enforcement.

Medium term Recommendations:

  • The Government must ensure that employment support programmes such as the Kickstart Scheme avoid segregating women into lower-paid professions and are sensitive to those with caring responsibilities.
  • To mitigate the impact of caring responsibilities on women’s employment the Government must provide greater support to the Early Years sector, enabling them to remain open and provide free care for all children from the end of statutory maternity leave to when the child is five-years old.

Longer term Recommendations:

  • Many key sectors most resilient to future unemployment are also low carbon and support a caring economy, such as health/social care, and education.57 Women already predominate in such sectors, but they must be revalued, with increased rates of pay, training and career progression. Investing in care jobs would create 2.7 times as many jobs as the same investment in construction: 6.3 as many for women and 10% more for men. 

City & Guilds calls on employers to prioritise flexibility and training opportunities to avoid fuelling gender inequality during pandemic  

8th Mar 2021: #InternationalWomensDay 2021 - New findings from leading skills organisation City & Guilds Group suggest that the economic fallout of Covid-19 and the impact of home schooling and childcare obligations could threaten to set the clock back on progress made towards women’s empowerment and gender equality in the workplace.

According to the City & Guilds Group’s research – based on findings from a poll of 1,000 employed or furloughed people of working age in the UK – men and women have different priorities when it comes to job satisfaction. Whilst women are found to consider work life balance (56%), supportive colleagues (42%) and flexibility (44%) as top priorities, men prioritise earnings (43%) and are more concerned about moving up into senior positions (22%) highlighting a greater emphasis on career progression. 

The pandemic’s impact, combined with the long-standing opportunity gaps that women already face, suggest that women are set to be hit particularly hard in the current climate. According to City & Guilds’ own insights, even pre-pandemic a fifth (18%) of women were unable to secure better jobs since they were unable to work the hours required, whilst part-time workers – a contingent made up of more women than men – were less likely to receive workplace training than full-time employees (62% vs 72%) and were less inclined to believe there were opportunities for progression (22% vs 36%).

Furthermore, with women making up the majority of employees within service led industries according to ONS, and 133,000 more women than men furloughed at the end of 2020, it’s clear that women are in a more precarious position when it comes to employment, training and progression opportunities. The numbers suggest that women stand a greater chance of losing their jobs and therefore, access to opportunities to retrain and upskill will prove to be important in helping women get back into meaningful employment once furlough draws to an end.

Kirstie Donnelly, CEO at City & Guilds Group, commented:

 “Worryingly, many women are in jobs that are at high risk of disappearing due to the pandemic, but it’s crucial that – equal – opportunities for women to upskill, reskill and progress in their jobs do not fall by the wayside. We need to recognise that this is an issue which must be addressed, and it starts with encouraging more flexible working practices and taking a fairer approach to in-work progression for women. If we fail to do this, there is a very real risk of undoing the progress made towards gender equality.”

City & Guilds Group recently launched the ‘Skills Bridges’ programme designed to help individuals who work in industries heavily impacted by Covid-19 to reskill and switch careers into growing industries or those facing labour shortages. 

Donnelly continued: 

“Economic slowdowns disproportionately affect women – we need to make sure this isn’t the case and that women are not crowned the losers of this pandemic. Gender balance in the workplace isn’t just a nice to have – it is a critical component to the growth and success of any organisation. We need the diverse perspectives and leadership styles of both women and men for organisations and societies to thrive. That’s why it’s crucial that women are empowered to gain the skills they need to progress within their own industry or to make a move to a more secure job.”

City & Guilds Group is calling on employers, Government and wider society to ensure gender imbalance does not fall by the wayside and take active steps to ensure flexible working policies and equality of opportunity to reskill and upskill remain on their agenda – particularly as women appear to be at higher risk of losing their jobs.

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