Half of mums made redundant during Covid-19 cite lack of childcare, study reveals

Survey also shows pregnant staff are being asked to return to work despite feeling unsafe, as experts urge the importance of individual risk assessments and flexibility  

Just under half (46 per cent) of mothers made redundant or expecting to be made redundant during the Covid-19 crisis say lack of childcare provision played a role, a study has found.

The survey, by Pregnant Then Screwed, showed that many mothers faced reduced working hours because of childcare issues, with 72 per cent forced to cut back to care for children.

The poll, which asked 19,950 mothers and pregnant women about the impact of the pandemic on their careers, found 65 per cent of mothers who had been furloughed cited lack of childcare as the reason for being placed on the government’s job retention scheme.

Of the employed mothers surveyed, four-fifths (81 per cent) said they needed childcare to be able to work, but half (51 per cent) did not have the necessary childcare in place to enable them to do their job during lockdown. 

Regarding the experiences of pregnant women during the pandemic, the poll found one in 10 (11 per cent) women on maternity leave had been made or expected to be made redundant. Of these women, 70 per cent were black, 27 per cent disabled and 47 per cent single mothers.

The survey also revealed that 46 per cent of pregnant women suspended from work because of their pregnancy had been suspended on incorrect terms. This included 33 per cent on furlough, and another 13 per cent on sick pay or who had been told to take holiday or start maternity pay early.

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Claire McCartney, senior resource and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said the results were extremely concerning and added to an already growing body of evidence suggesting the pandemic was having a “disproportionately negative impact on working mothers”.

"The government needs to look at childcare provision as a matter of urgency as [they] are likely to be limited across the summer holidays and potentially after school when schools reopen in September,” said McCartney.

Joe Levenson, director of communications and campaigns at the Young Women's Trust, said “women have been bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. It is absolutely clear that women’s equality will continue to move backwards in the absence of a strong focus within government and from employers on preventing this from happening.” 

Levenson added that the government needed to invest in childcare, and that employers needed to make flexible working the norm to “ensure no young woman [was] left behind in the country's economic recovery programme".

The research followed prime minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that employers would be encouraged to reopen offices from 1 August, so during the summer break for schools. The plans drew criticism from members of the opposition and his own party, who accused him of failing to include childcare provision in economic recovery plans.

Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of “putting parents in an impossible position” by urging them to return to work when the childcare sector was struggling. Meanwhile, women and equalities select committee chair Caroline Nokes lobbied for Treasury ministers to examine whether the government’s response to Covid-19 has been gendered.

Sam Smethers, chief executive at the Fawcett Society, said the Pregnant Then Screwed survey confirmed “what we have been saying for some time”. 

“We are turning the clock back on women's rights and maternal employment in particular,” she warned. “The government's failure to prioritise childcare will cost the economy dear and will hit women hard. We need an urgent investment in childcare and we need it now.”

Joeli Brearley, chief executive and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said Johnson’s announcement on returning to work “completely [ignored] the realities facing women”.

“This lack of childcare is destroying women’s careers, they are being made redundant, they are being forced to cut their hours and they are being treated negatively all because they are picking up the unpaid labour required to keep the country going,” she said.

The survey also revealed that pregnant employees were returning to the workplace despite being classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ and at high risk of infection. Just under half (45 per cent) of pregnant workers attending work outside the home had not had an individual risk assessment conducted, increasing to 52 per cent for BAME pregnant women, the research found.

A further 46 per cent of these pregnant women did not feel safe from Covid-19 at work, increasing to 59 per cent for BAME pregnant women.

McCartney said: "In the workplace, it’s important that working parents are properly supported by their line managers and that employers offer flexible working and flexibility over role responsibilities during this challenging period where parents are trying to juggle childcare and work responsibilities.”

Brearley said employers must provide pregnant women with a detailed risk assessment on keeping them safe. “The risk assessment should demonstrate that [the pregnant employee is] able to socially distance including on [their] commute. If [the employer] can’t do this then they must allow [a pregnant woman] to work from home and where that’s not possible they should suspend [them] on full pay. Not furlough, not sick pay, not enforced early maternity leave,” she said.

Brearley added that at least five pregnant women had already died from the virus and it was “simply not OK to continue treating pregnant workers as collateral damage throughout this pandemic”.

The results found that self-employed mothers were also suffering, with 74 per cent having had their earning potential reduced because of a lack of access to childcare. Brearley said this was an “absolute disaster” for self-employed women.