Jo Swinson on the impact of the pandemic on gender equality

Former leader Jo Swinson highlighted the ways i which the covid-19 pandemic could adversely affect gender equality in the workplace.

She was giving a lecture on the future of work to Cranfield School of Management which was reported on Personnel Today.

There are some inequalities there which might well be a lasting legacy of the pandemic, despite the fact that there are other elements which ought to make things better for people who have caring responsibilities, by making it more accessible to work flexibly and to work from home,” she said.

She set out her concern that marginalised groups may find themselves at the sharp end of poor employment practice:

Swinson was concerned that those in groups that are already marginalised, such as BAME workers and those with disabilities, will experience greater challenges in the turbulent jobs market that is likely to be seen over the coming months.

My fear is that employment prospects, which are looking pretty stark for the next few months particularly as the furlough scheme and support for jobs comes to an end… will be restricted as the number of applicants per job sky rocket. There is a danger that we will go backwards [in terms of equality],” she said.

In times where employers can recruit very easily there’s less of a market pressure for them to make sure they are valuing each employee. Good employers will recognise the benefits of doing that… but there’s no doubt there will be employers who will look for the opportunity to slash costs to the bone, to not treat their employees well, and [it will be] easier to get away with it.”

But there may, said Jo, be a positive aspect from the new ways of working we’ve found during the pandemic.

However, Swinson thought that the new ways of working brought about by the lockdown have the potential to increase the employment rate among certain groups, such as those with long-term conditions or disabilities who are unable to commute or work long hours.

“The idea that everybody needs to be working the same hours will recede because if people are going into the office they still might prefer to go in earlier, or at half past 10 when the public transport will be quieter,” she said.

“In the UK we notoriously work very long hours – is that what people feel is required?”

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  • Tony Greaves 5th Sep '20 - 4:24pm

    Can we just let Jo get on with her life for a while?

  • david marder 5th Sep '20 - 6:47pm

    Agree to that. Each time I see BoJo I think it was Corbyn/Swinson that put you there.

  • Is there a template or App where one enters a news item or scenario and it churns out a whole list of negative consequences for groups like BAME, Trans, most vulnerable in our society, marginalised groups, those with caring responsibilities, gender equality victims, etc?

    These important groups are being done a disservice by gross overuse, repetition fatigue and political ineptness.

  • Peter Martin 6th Sep '20 - 2:19am

    I can’t help thinking that if WW3 broke out Jo Swinson’s first response would be to write an article, or give a speech, on the impact the war might have on gender equality.

    Gender equality is at least partially a class issue. Poverty is totally a class issue. If families, in general, have a problem with childcare, it is working class families who don’t have au pairs and nannies. Yet, the middle-class Left has almost totally abandoned the class fundamentals. It has became obsessed with individualism, and is steadily descending into political obscurity as a consequence. It hard to see Lib Dems, or even Labour, winning back seats like Burnley or Redcar any time soon.

    Identity politics has become a preoccupation of what were once traditional working class parties. The Lib Dems are supposed to incorporate a ‘Social Democratic’ tradition, so should consider themselves to have some origin in the working class. But, even the concept of a ‘working’ class has largely been abandoned. It’s now a ‘social’ class, which is lowly educated with racist predilections, if we consider the Brexit debate.

    The Left has become increasingly unable to win elections even though the Conservative alternative has been terrible.

  • Agree with Peter Martin.

  • Tony Harris 6th Sep '20 - 8:32am

    Given the hours that staff have to work when they are working for the leader of a political Party I am not exactly sure that Jo is best placed to comment on working hours! I take my hat off to anybody working in a leader’s office though. It’s extremely fast-paced and, from what I have seen, long hours come with the territory. Not my bag but others seem to ‘enjoy’ it.

    When I was in the computer industry and running a software company we consistently tried to hire women for technical posts because we found them excellent. The problem was that very few applied. I’m not sure if that situation has changed? If not, then it’s something that needs focus.

    Before running my own business but when working in the computer industry I did long hours as and when it suited me. This was generally out of interest (Computing is sort of a hobby as well as a job) or because we had a project that I wanted to get done. So, it was very much peaks and troughs of working activity which i think averaged out over time. Of course not everybody is in that position and other industries have their ‘sweat shop’ problems. It’s these latter industries where we need to make sure employees are protected. I suspect blue collar are worst hit.

  • richard underhill.,. 6th Sep '20 - 12:41pm

    5th Sep ’20 – 4:24pm
    She may be standing for the Scottish parliament soon.
    When commuting from North Watford into Euston and working in the Euston Tower I applied to do this. but was refused. The Civil Service could have been more flexible. The unions were reluctant to say that other employers were experiencing an increase in productivity of 2-3%.

  • richard underhill.,. 6th Sep '20 - 12:52pm

    david marder 5th Sep ’20 – 6:47pm
    “Each time I see BoJo I think it was Corbyn/Swinson that put you there.”
    Labour is under new management and is the Newer Labour that Paddy Ashdown would have liked if the negotiations had gone differently in 2010. No longer “knackered.”

    Andrew Marr is back on BBC1 and has interviewed Nick Clegg in his new job at Facebook.

  • I suppose I have cooled down enough now to say good to hear from you again despite helping to put Johnson into No10 and enabling a hard Brexit. I do wish JS would pick a more suitable topic like schools hospitals pensions etc instead of minority issues no matter how worthy.

  • richard underhill.,. 6th Sep '20 - 12:57pm

    Tony Harris 6th Sep ’20 – 8:32am
    “When I was in the computer industry and running a software company we consistently tried to hire women for technical posts because we found them excellent. The problem was that very few applied. ”
    There was a rival company that allowed women programmers to work from home, even if they had babies, or planned to.

  • Tony Harris 6th Sep '20 - 4:32pm

    richard underhill.,. 6th Sep ’20 – 12:57pm
    “There was a rival company that allowed women programmers to work from home, even if they had babies, or planned to.”
    We were in such a niche area that we didn’t have any rivals in the UK. However, I would gladly have considered all shapes and conditions of women programmers to work for us. The problem was that very few applied.

  • Alex Macfie 7th Sep '20 - 9:37am

    “Each time I see BoJo I think it was Corbyn/Swinson that put you there.”

    Arguing over who was responsible for the 2019 election is what will help keep Johnson there. It’s also the opposite of “let[ting] Jo get on with her life for a while”.

  • Alex Macfie 7th Sep '20 - 9:38am

    Angus Deaton is heading a comprehensive five-year study of inequalities in society for the IFS

    I checked that link. Angus Dea(y)ton has aged quite considerably since he was sacked as host of HIGNFY.

  • Alex Macfie 7th Sep '20 - 9:58am

    richard underhill: what, you applied for the Scottish Parliament? More seriously that was an unsubstantiated rumour about Jo applying to be an MSP candidate. I’ll wait until I hear it from Jo herself.

  • If human rights keep expanding in this way, very soon not a single human being on the planet will be able to say that none of their rights are being violated, which will be quite amusing. It would be refreshing if individual responsibility was discussed as often as individual rights. Is maternity leave a human right, really ? Best practice, certainly, to be encouraged, absolutely but a human right? What about paternity…..same? Why not significant other leave? Extended family leave? Where do basic human rights end and best practice begin?

  • Infact it is not a universially recognized human right so you state opinion not fact. You make no comment on whether it should it be a human right to have extended maternity leave, or whether paternity leave should be a human right or the others, as I asked where to ‘rights’ end and individual responsibility and best practice take over. What about a single mother who would like support from her birth partner, or friend or family member in the first few weeks, should they have a right to take leave?
    I would hope you agree you don’t have to experience in something to raise a question or we are all heading for a world of hurt.
    I didn’t ask whether women had the right to not work, but whether whether maternity leave , for clarity, with all that entails in this country is a ‘basic human right’ or best practice.

  • I note with some concern my last innocuous post apologising for the typos in above has been removed , or something is very wrong with my access. I was on a train and the number of typos was higjh even for me.
    The question remains unanswered though, where is the boundary between a universal human right and a good idea, best practice and so on.

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