Unequal Impact of Covid-19
As we move through this pandemic, it has become abundantly clear that there are differential impacts across a number of characteristic groups (age, sex, ethnicity). Covid-19 has certainly thrown a spotlight on the structural inequalities in our society (and in many cases entrenching them). Our recent submission to the UK Parliament's Women and Equalities Committee outlines the unequal impact of COVID-19 on women and black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.
The health impacts of Covid-19 are not equal2 — while men are more likely to die from the disease than women, BAME groups (including both BAME men and women) are disproportionately more likely to die than white people3. A racially-accurate analysis of deaths due to COVID-19, however, is impossible until England and Wales record ethnicity data on death certificates.
The labour impacts of Covid-19 are also unequal — women, and some ethnic minority groups, are over-represented on the frontline of fighting the virus (the human health and social work sectors), and are therefore over-exposed to the risk of infection. They are also more reliant on PPE — protection that was designed for the average man; resulting in a gendered design4 not suitable or effective for women to wear.
In some cases, insufficient or non-existent sick pay and precarious contracts push workers to work when it is physically unsafe for them to do so. For example, unions have previously reported high proportions of insecure workers continuing to work while unwell for fear of losing work5. The lack of investment in these precarious workers also exacerbates narratives that people of colour are less worthy than others, and that they are, moreover, 'disease-spreaders'. In many sectors, including our own (higher education), women and BAME groups are more likely than men to be on insecure, temporary, and low-paid contracts, and therefore less likely to have contracts renewed, or be made redundant when organisations look to cut costs.
Housing impacts are experienced differently between women who live in safe, spacious accommodation and those from lower incomes. Bangladeshi and Black families are more likely to be housed in low-quality, high occupancy social housing6, thereby exacerbating the risk of domestic violence, difficulty in accessing affordable food, and increasing childcare responsibilities for women in these groups during the pandemic.
The Second Shift, referring to domestic duties which, in the large part, women take on once they have finished work, is now more onerous, including the planning and execution of tasks such as food shopping, laundry, newly essential home supplies (hand sanitizer and wipes), cooking and cleaning (which are more burdensome as everyone is at home all the time), social organising (Zoom parties and FaceTime playdates), home-schooling and communicating with schools and watching over or supervising (babies, children, elderly relatives). Our research demonstrates that the overall mental and emotional responsibility aspect of childcare is resistant to change, even among couples where the father is the primary caregiver7. As a consequence, the overlapping working hours and cognitive burden of childcare can also affect women who previously had an equal division of childcare and housework, or where their partners were the primary caregivers.
Research into digital exclusion has showed that women are less likely to have essential digital skills than men, and that one of the groups most at risk of digital disengagement are ethnic minority groups aged over 40. Lack of access to the internet and a lack of digital literacy impacts on a person’s ability to work from home, to home-school children, to do online food shopping (especially important for those at high risk from the virus), and to stay socially engaged with friends and family.
Our overall recommendation is that the Government urgently moves to consider protected characteristics using an intersectional approach, rather than by individual protected characteristic.
In the short-term, we recommend that:
- race and ethnicity data are captured on death certificates in England and Wales. The categories used should be consistent with the 18 categories recommended by the UK government8.
- the Government must increase funding to shelters for women to be able to respond to the increased numbers of domestic abuse cases.
- risk management measures should be implemented and involve the police, justice and health sector in order to guarantee a coordinated response to the increased risk of domestic violence.
- adequate PPE must be provided to vulnerable workers, including those on zero-hour contracts.
- eligibility for, and rate of, Statutory Sick Pay must increase, in line recommendations from the Women's Budget Group9.
- the Government should guarantee affordable and accessible childcare (not just school-based) for parents who are essential workers.
- financial support for families, especially single parents, to assist with childcare and other household expenses alleviating some of the financial hardship, especially in light of potential job losses in relation to COVID-19.
- minority groups who are at higher risk of discrimination and social exclusion need to be identified and targeted measures must be designed to mitigate those risks.
- the ethnic and gender makeup of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies secret (SAGE) committee should be clarified, and ensure that further appointments include BAME representation to advise on improved public health information, culturally appropriate and accessible support, and development of trust with BAME communities.
In the medium-term, we recommend that:
- the long-term and indirect impacts of COVID-19 for those with protected characteristics continue to be monitored far beyond the end of the immediate crisis.
- gender, ethnicity and other data relating to protected characteristics are routinely captured to enable us to accurately measure the impact of COVID-19 on different groups, including intersectionally. For example, the ONS’ ‘Employment by Industry: Labour Force Survey’ which is published quarterly only includes one dataset disaggregated by ethnicity in response to a specific user request10. There are no data disaggregated by gender and race.
- since the economic measures adopted to respond to the 2008 financial crisis had a disproportionately negative impact on women, the COVID-19 economic recovery measures should take into account the different impact the pandemic has on women, men and minority groups and be designed accordingly. A gender and raced analysis of proposed interventions would support this.
- there is a greater diversity of journalists, including citizen journalists, on broadsheet journalism and more meaningful engagement of BAME media outlets by the government.
- a commitment is made to equality, diversity and inclusion, that ensures EDI does not fall off the agenda of government and business, if the UK experiences a sustained economic downturn as a result of COVID-19, as has been the case in previous recessions11.
Read our full submission here
And more about the Inquiry here
Contact us for more information
- Harman, S. (2020) Coronavirus: to avoid major humanitarian fallout, UK must act urgently. The Conversation, 18 March 2020
- Kings College London (2020), Essays on COVID-19 and gender inequality
- NHS England, COVID-19 Daily Deaths
- TUC (2017) Personal protective equipment and women
- GMB (2017) Insecure: tackling precarious work and the gig economy
- Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (2020) Renting social housing by Ethnicity. Released 4 February 2020
- Pinho, M. and Gaunt, R. (2019) Doing and undoing gender in male carer/female breadwinner families. Community, Work & Family
- UK Government (2020) Ethnicity facts and figures
- Women’s Budget Group (2020) COVID-19: Gender and other Equality Issues, 19 March 2020
- Office for National Statistics (2019) Occupation at UK level by sector, industry, age and ethnicity, released 7 October 2019
- Sang, K. and Powell, A. (2012) Equality, diversity, inclusion and work-life balance in construction. In: A. Dainty and M. Loosemore (Eds.) Human Resource Management in Construction: Critical Perspectives, pp. 163-196. London: Routledge.