Research highlights devastating financial impact of pandemic on young lower income women

It was clear right from the start that Covid shone a super trouper on the inequalities in our society. As older, more affluent office workers worked from home and saw their bank balances increase, younger, lower income workers kept us fed and cared for.

New research commissioned by a number of women’s organisations, including Close the Gap, Engender and the Fawcett Society has laid bare the impact on women on low incomes. Younger women were more adversely affected than older women andhit than lower income men.

Even before the pandemic hit, the report says that almost half of young women on low incomes struggled to make ends meet each month.

But things got so much worse when Covid hit. Some key stats:

1 in 3 (30%) of furloughed young women from low-income households (£0 –
£19,999) had their salary topped up by their employer compared to almost half
(47%) of both furloughed young women from higher-income households
(£40,000+) and young men from low-income households and two-thirds (66%) of
men from higher-income households.

Twice as many (43%) young women from low-income households said their
financial situation had become worse because of the pandemic compared to
21% of young women from higher-income households and 35% of young men from
low-income households and just 16% of men from higher-income households.

Over a half (57%) of young women from low-income households said their
mental health had become worse during the coronavirus pandemic compared to
49% young women from higher-income households and 42% young men of all
income levels.

Both men and women on low incomes are equally worried about losing their jobs when the furlough scheme comes to an end.

Significantly more young women than young men said they were less likely to enrol at university or even ore so in further education because of the difficulty in finding jobs to cover living costs which pushes inequalities further into the future as their life chances and earnings potential are affected long term.

The study makes a number of recommendations that fit well with what we have been saying as a party.

Firstly, we have already called, repeatedly and loudly, for the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit to be retained. Our DWP spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain has also been fighting to get the under 25s the full level of Universal Credit they are currently denied:

From The Courier

But looking forward it is vital that young parents under the age of 25 are given benefits at the same level as those over 25 as they used to be before Universal Credit. This is why I am working with One Parent Family Scotland to call for this change in Parliament.

Just as an aside, Wendy has also pointed out a bit of a sneaky trick today.

A Reject the Crunch website has appeared in Scotland inviting people to thank their MPs for opposing the £20 uplift in Universal Credit – but only SNP MPs are included, not the Labour and Lib Dem MPs who also oppose it. There is no SNP branding on it at all. From the Daily Record:

Wendy Chamberlain, the Lib Dem MP for North East Fife said the website looked like a deliberate attempt to mislead voters.

Chamberlain, the Lib Dem Scottish spokeswoman in the Commons, said: “This website not only appears to credit these cross party efforts to the SNP alone but also to use these devastating cuts as opportunity to invite constituents to thank SNP MPs.”

“This is at best disingenuous and in poor taste at best but at worst looks like a deliberate attempt to mislead constituents on what their MPs are doing and where they stand on this issue.”

But back to the main point. The Conservatives are doing what they do and reinforcing inequalities which make the poor suffer the most. Liberal Democrats are working with others to try and stop them. The important thing is to win the arguments in the country – and that may not be that difficult.

Separate polling from the Fawcett Society suggests that young Conservative voters are heavily in favour of a decent social security safety net. 58% oppose the coming £20 cut while at least 60% want to see more investment in housing, childcare, social care and education.

The problem with that is that young people overall make up a very small part of the Conservative vote share and it is still more likely to be older people driving their agenda.

We need to emphasise the need for greater social justice at every possible opportunity. It’s one of the core principles of our party, that no-one should be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. Sadly, as this research shows, that is far from a reality at the moment and young, low income women are bearing the brunt of the fallout from the pandemic.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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13 Comments

  • The widening of inequality is very concerning but without wanting to sound like a broken record we should be clear that it is the impact of the response to the pandemic not the pandemic itself.

    Suspect that the more stringent a country’s lockdown, the greater the impact on inequality.

  • Brad Barrows 31st Aug '21 - 6:20pm

    Girls outperform boys at school but are then more likely to choose to follow career paths into lower paid jobs, less likely to apply for promotion at work and far more likely to work part-time. Indeed, while most men work full-time, around half of all women in employment work part-time. Meanwhile men, leaving school with poorer qualifications on average, and far more likely than women to acquire a criminal record, end up in better paid jobs. Achieving more equal outcomes will not be easy.

  • Do we, the party, everyone else, want equal opportunity or equal outcome, the former is, I would suggest, easier than the latter. In my own line of work in which front line staff have a caseload of people who are homeless, we have equal pay across gender and ethnicity. However on occasioni front line staff apply for reduced hours for one reason or another e.g. child care, work life balence and so on. As a manager my view is we don’t have part time service users so how can we have part time front line staff, who covers in absence?
    Job share! You might shout but if someone wants to only work three days a week the reality is that it is incredibly difficult to find a competent professional who only wants to work two days a week, never mind the impact on the service user who has one worker three days and another for two days with all the fall out that produces. And yes women ask for reduced hours more than men, but not that much more.
    My view is we don’t have part time service users so we can’t have part time case managers, Who covers in your absence? Colleagues who already have a full caseload to whom you can never reciprocate, who then burn out covering you in your absence.
    What about holidays and sickness I hear from some, yes but prid pro quo! Part time does not work for the service user so it doesn’t work for me. Yes that means I say no to more women than men, but the answer is a universal no.
    Our service does not exist to provide the staff with a lifestyle, it exists to enable the service users to stay alive.

  • Peter Martin 1st Sep '21 - 5:18am

    Surely the way to apprach this issue is to say that those on lower incomes and in less secure occupations have been most adversely affected by the pandemic.

    Gender is irrelevant except insofar as there is also a statistical correlation between gender and income which was present long before the pandemic struck.

    You’d get the same results if you compared those who had attended fee paying schools with those who attended the local comp. This is not to say that you shouldn’t give the same help to someone who was privately educated, should they need it. But of course we know they’d be less likely to.

    The decision should only be made only on economic grounds. Leave other labels of identity out of it as far as possible.

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Sep '21 - 8:10am

    @Justin
    “My view is we don’t have part time service users so we can’t have part time case managers”
    How about job sharing – between 2 part-timers who are required as part of their roles to liaise properly with each other and ensure that the other has the correct and up to date information on each case for which they as a team are responsible?

    You say you are a manager. Could it be that you need to start ‘thinking outside the box’? And are you perhaps telling your managers what they need to be told rather than what they want to hear?

  • We need to start with the needs of the individual and then work from them. My view is that we need to eliminate poverty. There are statistics showing the very high proportion of inmates of prisons who have been looked after by the local authority or been diagnosed with special educational needs. This should be one of our starting points in working out what to do about it. But any proposals, in my opinion, need to be tested against reality by talking to real people. We could start with real prisoners, prison officers and so on.
    If we do not do this sort of an exercise – in the case in the article talking to real people who are in the position outlined – can we find a solution. And I stress people not one person.
    In the end are we willing to accept poverty in our rich society?

  • It’s not just about women………. The Times reports today :

    “The life-expectancy gap between the richest and poorest parts of Glasgow is bigger now than it was 20 years ago. Men living in Greater Govan can now expect to reach an average of 65.4 years, compared with 83 in the neighbouring Pollokshields West, a difference of 17.6 years. Two decades ago, the biggest difference in male life expectancy between two areas was 15.3 years.

    The figures were revealed by researchers from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health in a study first reported in The Herald.

    Experts put most of the blame for the gap on UK government austerity policies on welfare, but stressed that there were things that Scottish and local authorities could also do better”.

    If Lib Dems in Scotland (and the rest of the UK) are to make any sort of difference or progress as a party throughout the UK, they should highlight the UN (Alston) Report on Poverty and Inequality in the UK published in 2019.

    It’s not enough just to be the mildly disgruntled party of the prosperous corner of South East England.

  • Gordon Lishman 1st Sep '21 - 11:45am

    The research is authoritative and timely (DoI: I am a long-term member and supporter of the Fawcett Society). Nevertheless, it’s worth disentangling three separate elements of the core issue:
    1. The continuing income gap between men and women in the workforce and particularly the under-valuing of the work most likely to be undertaken by lower-paid women.
    2. The effect specifically of the pandemic, much of which has so far been industry-specific, but will change with the longer-term fallout and is likely disproportionately to hit certain groups, including some “more affluent office workers”, women among them, particularly if some degree of education disruption continues with COVID outbreaks.
    3. The longer-term effect of any major economic shock which is likely to lead to so-called “scarring” which usually impacts two groups of the population most: people leaving education during the crisis and older workers who do not return to the workforce and leave the labour market with significantly lower income than they expected for the rest of their lives.
    Resolution Foundation data suggest that there are already signs of the third outcome and that, as furlough arrangements close, it is disproportionately affecting older men and women.

  • Malcolm Todd 1st Sep '21 - 12:13pm

    Peter Martin 1st Sep ’21 – 5:18am

    “Gender is irrelevant except insofar as there is also a statistical correlation between gender and income which was present long before the pandemic struck.”

    I can only presume you composed your comment in response to the headline and either didn’t read the article or decided you didn’t care. It is quite clear (even to those of us who struggle to understand sectoral balances, I dare say) that in all the categories described, lower-income women have been harder hit than lower-income men, and higher-income women have been harder hit than higher-income men.

    Life would be so much simpler if class/economic inequality were the only source of unfairness in our society, but it simply ain’t so.

  • Peter Martin 1st Sep '21 - 8:38pm

    @ Malcolm Todd,

    “… lower-income women have been harder hit than lower-income men, and higher-income women have been harder hit than higher-income men.”

    Have they? Picking out the relevant data, of the lower income cohort, from the OP we have:

    “Twice as many (43%) young women from low-income households said their
    financial situation had become worse because of the pandemic…….. compared to 35% of young men from low-income households”

    Two points:

    1) The replies reference households rather the individuals making the responses
    2) The difference isn’t huge and could be explicable for social reasons. Such as that women might be expected to be more truthful in their answers whereas men would be more reluctant to open up about personal difficulties.

    So I’m not convinced unless there is some more objective evidence available which you might be able to share.

  • Noncormistradical, I do understand your point, and realise my point is slightly off topic, so apologies all for that, but my (lived experience) if you will is that it doesn’t work in my field of work.
    Assume the very best of your proposal, the fact is the service users don’t like it and the service exists to support them, people of any colour creed and gender can apply and are recruited and are paid the same. The fact remains though that ( assuming for this argument, competency being equal, though maybe in different ways) give me two ideal people wanting to job share v one ideal who wants full time and I will take the one who wants full time regardless of colour, creed or gender, I will also explain to people who want part time why, job share doesn’t work for a particular role.
    I do not state that it can’t be done in other roles or fields of work, but my lived experience across four different care based organisations and 15 years is that it just doesn’t work. Not for me, although it doesn’t but more importantly for the service users. I accept though that other people may have a different experience, and would love them to share how they made it work. I’d settle for as how job share can be as effective as a single full time, if anyone could share a method as how job share can be better than a single worker in my field of work , all else being equal, I’d be fascinated.

  • Peter Martin 4th Sep '21 - 8:52am

    Meanwhile the Tories are floating the idea of an increase in National Insurance to “pay for” social care.

    So “younger and lower income” women, and men too, will end up with even lower incomes.

    So maybe the LDV would like to address this issue too? I’ll write an article myself if invited to do so.

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Sep '21 - 10:00am

    @Justin
    “my lived experience across four different care based organisations and 15 years is that it just doesn’t work. Not for me, although it doesn’t but more importantly for the service users. ”
    In what ways doesn’t job-sharing work in such situations? Just trying to understand the problem better.

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