Women have been ‘disproportionately furloughed’ under UK Government scheme, report claims

The UK Government’s furlough scheme may not be doing enough to address the economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis on women, a report has claimed.

The study found women who were furloughed were more likely to be furloughed for longer periods, while furloughed women had worse perceptions of their job security than those of furloughed men.

The report said that by providing a blanket response for all industries and workers, the furlough scheme did not take into account these “highly sectoral and gendered” impacts of the pandemic, and the government had therefore failed to consider the likely implications of the policy for equality in the UK.

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The researchers at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London said that “pre-existing vulnerabilities”, including women’s greater likelihood of being low-paid and on insecure contracts, may also be factors, along with childcare and home-schooling demands.

Some women who were initially furloughed in March last year may have been unable to return to work due to these demands and may have been able to remain on furlough for longer.

In July last year, 31 per cent of women who had been furloughed at any point during the pandemic had worked zero hours since lockdown began in March 2020, compared with just 20 per cent of their male peers.

Meanwhile, among workers who had been furloughed at any point between April and July last year, women were 12 percentage points more likely to say they had a greater than one in five chance of struggling to pay their usual bills. However, among workers in general, women and men were equally likely to say they would have no trouble paying their usual bills.

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Dr Rose Cook, senior research fellow at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, said: “The furlough scheme has undoubtedly prevented mass job losses.

"However, our results suggest that in 2020, once furloughed, women were disproportionately furloughed for longer periods, and had worse perceived job and financial security than their male peers.

"This provides yet another example of why gender-sensitive policy making is needed to prevent women losing out even further than they already have from the impacts of pandemic.”

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