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UNISONs response to the Women and Equalities Committee Sub-inquiry


1.     Our evidence to the Committee’s inquiry into the unequal impact of Coronavirus (Covid-19) on people with protected characteristics earlier this year in respect of gender focused on the unequal treatment of pregnant workers and the disturbing increase in domestic abuse on women in particular.

2.     This response provides an opportunity to provide evidence specifically about the economic effects of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis on UNISON’s women members. Around 1 million of our 1.3 million members are women.  Many of them are low paid.

3.     As we said in our evidence to the main inquiry however, we cannot look at gendered economic impact without ensuring we are also looking with an intersectional lens. The majority of our members who are worst affected by the crisis are women but they are also Black and some are disabled.  Some are migrant workers.

4.     UNISON is currently surveying members about the impact of Covid-19 including economic effects, for example, redundancy/redeployment, income levels and changes to the standard of living.  Unfortunately, the survey findings will not be available in time to meet the deadline for responses to this inquiry.

5.     We do however have evidence about what members, who are mainly but not exclusively women, are telling us about how school closures and the lack of availability of accessible childcare is affecting their ability to work and earn money to pay their bills.


Our evidence


6.     In the UK, women do the majority of caring, whether paid or unpaid, doing three times more unpaid care than men.  

7.     From 23 March until 1 June, education and childcare settings were only open to priority groups (children of critical workers and vulnerable children).  Since the beginning of June, the government has encouraged all eligible children to attend settings (where there are no shielding concerns for the child or their household) and they have gradually widened eligibility criteria. 

8.     A TUC research report ‘Forced out: the cost of getting childcare wrong’, draws attention to the huge disruption this generated for working parents who suddenly needed to provide at least six additional hours childcare per day, and in many cases far more. 

9.     The TUC’s report also highlights how the lack of consideration of childcare in the government’s Covid-19 exit strategy is impacting on working parents and particularly, women.  Working parents are being asked to return to work without the childcare to enable them to do so and without the necessary rights to protect their jobs and income. 

10. Dire predictions of a crisis in childcare were reported by the BBC on 25 June. With the number of childcare places under threat, the demand for places is likely to increase, which will worsen the existing problems that low-income families face in accessing childcare.

11. UNISON has analysed traffic to our web pages about rights at work in the Covid-19 crisis.  It is clear that the section dealing with the effect of school closures is one of the most frequently visited. As the lockdown restrictions are being lifted, UNISON’s member support services have also reported an increasing number of queries and concerns about childcare, particularly what to do in situations where their employer is asking them to return to their normal workplace but there is no childcare available.

12. Women with caring responsibilities and those returning from maternity leave were already telling us that they were being unfairly targeted for redundancy and dismissal due to difficulties with their childcare.  As the job retention scheme winds down and employers begin to make decisions about job losses, our members with responsibility for childcare fear the worst.

13. Our members are telling us that childcare provision for low paid support and care workers has been particularly problematic during the pandemic.  They are predominantly female and many are single parents.  Many of them work twelve and twenty-four hours shifts (including sleep-ins), while school provision runs from 8am - 5pm, at best. The usual support systems, such as grandparents, have been unable to care for the children due to health or age.  There is nothing else.  In general, employers have not offered furlough to these staff and even if they had, most could not survive on 80% of a thirty-five hours contract at minimum wage.  Many, particularly small care providers, have not been able to afford to top up furlough pay to 100%.

14. Most third sector employers are unable to offer alternative roles due to their small size and the skill sets of the staff. Few have offered furlough for childcare reasons. 

15. UNISON argued in response to the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy consultation on parental leave and pay last year, that all staff should have the right to work as flexibly as possible from their first day in the job. Flexible working can take lots of different forms, including the right to predictable hours, working from home, job-sharing, compressed hours and term-time working. We also argued for a day-one right to parental leave.

16. However, affordable and accessible childcare is key. UNISON supports the TUC’s call for an urgent cash injection to the childcare sector to ensure it remains sustainable and to target additional funding at provision supporting children from low income households.


UNISON is calling for:

·       A day-one right for all staff to be able to work flexibly, including the right to predictable hours, working from home, job-sharing, compressed hours and term-time working.

·       A day-one right for all staff to parental leave.

·       An urgent cash injection from the government to the childcare sector to ensure that affordable childcare is universally available and additional funding targeted at provision supporting children from low-income households.

Published on: July 27, 2020