Gendering the UK's social policy response to the COVID-19 crisis

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: The Policy Institute

Abstract

The COVID-19 outbreak and resultant economic crisis have led to governments around the world, including the UK, taking extraordinary action to support citizens, many of whom are facing unprecedented shocks to their livelihoods. For example, the UK has launched the Job Retention Scheme (JRS), the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), and changes to benefits. The JRS pays workers who are not needed during the pandemic at 80% of their earnings up to £2500 per month, while the SEISS pays a taxable grant of 80% of average annual earnings for the previous three years to self-employed people earning less than £50,000 per year. The Government has also increased the support provided by existing benefits such as Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit.
Bodies such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommend that government support should target those most affected by the economic fallout from COVID-19. Women form one of these groups - research has already shown that women in the UK are more likely than men to have become unemployed or to have reduced earnings, largely as a result of over-representation in precarious, low-paid work and shut-down economic sectors. School and nursery closures have intensified women's disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work, and gender intersects with wider structural inequalities which place particular women - including single mothers and BAME women - at greater risk of negative economic consequences.

To mitigate these impacts and ensure a gender-sensitive recovery from the crisis, there is an urgent need for gendered perspectives to be built into emergency and long-term social policy responses. However, there is currently a lack of knowledge on how this can successfully be done. To fill this gap in knowledge, our project explores whether the current UK social policy response is gender-sensitive in design, access, and impacts. We do this by (1) documenting and comparing social policy responses around the world to investigate whether the response in the UK is more or less gender-sensitive than that of other countries (2) assessing the reach of UK government social support to different groups through a gendered analysis of uptake and (3) exploring the impact of different policy approaches on longer-term indicators of gender inequalities through and after the crisis. The project will highlight the policy options that are most likely to mitigate gendered economic and social risks in the short and longer term and promote the most gender-equitable recovery from the crisis.

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