Covid Scotland: Women’s inequality ‘exacerbated’ by long Covid, MSPs told

Long Covid has become “another means” by which women's inequalities are being exacerbated by the pandemic, MSPs have been told.

Speaking to Holyrood' s equalities, human rights and civil justice committee on Tuesday, women’s rights groups said women, who were more likely to have long Covid, were finding it difficult to maintain paid work as a result.

They also warned women had taken on the vast majority of caring and household work even before the pandemic and called for policy changes such as a further childcare entitlement and better flexible working.

They warned care was “rapidly re-distributed from the state to the individual”, with women “automatically” stepping in to fill the gaps.

A woman works from her laptop from a remote office. Picture: PA

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Ruth Boyle, policy and parliamentary manager at Close the Gap, said a recent TUC survey had found half of respondents said they had experienced some form of discrimination or disadvantage due to long Covid.

The condition is believed to be experienced by close to 100,000 people in Scotland, who are experiencing symptoms weeks and even months after recovering from the initial infection.

She said: “Women are more likely to be experiencing long Covid and, as a result, inadequate employer responses to long Covid is making it difficult for women to maintain paid work.

"In this way, long Covid has become another means by which women's inequality is being exacerbated by the pandemic.

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"We also know that women are less likely to be in jobs that give them access to statutory sick pay. Women hold around 70 per cent of jobs that are not entitled to statutory sick pay, so again this could be another way in which women's financial capacity is increased.”

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Eilidh Dickinson, policy and parliamentary manager at Engender, said: “Even before Covid, women in Scotland living in opposite sex-headed households did around 68 per cent of the housework and 68 per cent of the childcare. And these patterns of the distribution have been stubbornly slow to disrupt and have only been cemented even further by the pandemic.”

Professor Norin Arshed, chair in entrepreneurship and innovation at the School of Business, University of Dundee, said that women had told her their male partners’ jobs were seen as more important – with many female entrepreneurs putting their business “on the back burner” during the pandemic.

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She said: “This story was occurring over and over again. And I think the assumption is there that women are the carers.

"And it's not just child care, it’s community care. It's elderly care. I think, with everything that is being shut down, it was just the given that women would do it.”

Prof Arshed added: “We need to help resolve [this] or take some of the burden of mothers who participate and contribute to the Scottish economy.”

SNP MSP Fulton MacGregor pointed to the fact he was attending the meeting remotely to allow him to perform childcare duties.

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He said: “Even as I am trying to do a lot more, it's only a fraction of what my partner next door does with my three children.”

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