Women providing two-thirds more childcare than men during lockdown, ONS finds

Experts say working mothers have ‘borne the brunt’ of the coronavirus crisis and urge employers to take action

Women delivered 78 minutes more childcare a day than men during the first weeks of lockdown, the latest official figures have shown.

During the first weeks of lockdown (26 March to 26 April) in households with children under 18, women were carrying out an average of two-thirds more childcare duties per day than men, the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data suggested.

The data showed that women spent 77 per cent more time on childcare than men overall, as women were also undertaking non-developmental childcare such as feeding, washing, dressing and supervising children. Women provided an average of three hours and 18 minutes of childcare overall (including supervision) per day, while men provided two hours.

This gender gap increased further when it came to the care of children under five, as women undertook an average of 78 per cent more care than men per day. Women spent an average of 265 minutes per day caring for children under five, while men spent 149 minutes. This gap decreased for children aged between five and 10 years, as women dedicated an average of 232 minutes per day, compared to men’s 193 minutes per day.

The ONS suggested this may be because younger children are “more likely to require more nurturing childcare such as washing, feeding and cuddling”.

Women also spent more time on unpaid work and less time on paid work than men. On average, women spent 282 minutes a day on unpaid work and 136 minutes on paid work, compared to men who spent 232 minutes on unpaid and 181 minutes on paid work. This meant men undertook more than 45 minutes more paid work a day.

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Overall, the figures showed that working parents with school-age children struggled to maintain a work-life balance, particularly because schools and childcare facilities remained closed during the early weeks of lockdown, with 20 per cent citing childcare as a disruption to their working day. With many parents having to homeschool their children while continuing to work, the amount of time devoted to developmental child care increased by 169 per cent (equating to 40 minutes) compared to figures from 2015.

Working parents were also nearly twice as likely to be furloughed (13.6 per cent) compared to those without children (7.2 per cent).

Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, warned that parents trying to juggle childcare and work have in some cases had “no choice but to quit their job or reduce their hours”.

"Schools may be going back in September but childcare options over the summer holidays remain limited,” she said. “This latest research should serve as a reminder to HR professionals that they need to get line managers to have regular catch-ups with their teams about their options. This could include a range of flexible working arrangements, altered role responsibilities or for part-timers to split their hours over more days."

Sophie Walker, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, told People Management there was no doubt that women had “borne the brunt of this crisis, as the ONS figures are the latest in a steady stream of reports showing the stark impact that hours of additional unpaid care in lockdown is having on women's professional productivity and future job prospects”.

Walker said the figures highlighted the government’s lack of gendered response, the threat to women’s jobs and the urgent need for childcare provision to ensure “women do not carry the burden of this crisis any longer”.

Joeli Brearley, chief executive and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said the organisation’s advice line had been “flooded with calls from women who feel that working without childcare during the pandemic has made them more susceptible to redundancy”, adding that the figures highlighted the need for the government and employers to urgently address long-term challenges.

“There's a real risk that unscrupulous and unsympathetic employers will let this colour their judgement during redundancy consultations and select mothers for redundancy based on this,” said Brearley.

Brearley added that while the government had “paid no attention” to the impact childcare was having on women throughout lockdown, employers could still take action.

“We're at a very critical point in our recovery but organisations have a golden opportunity to learn lessons from this experience and this data. It's a chance to implement workplace practices that support the redistribution of care in the home like equal parental leave or onsite childcare provision,” she said.

Sam Smethers, chief executive at The Fawcett Society, told People Management: “This is why we urgently need a rescue package for the childcare sector so that when furloughing ends parents will be able to get back to work as the prime minister is instructing us all to do. Without it we risk widening the gender gap between women and men and leaving mothers in particular behind."