A new study by social inequality experts, led by the University of Nottingham, will examine the effects of COVID-19 on the burden of work for working-class women in the UK.
As the effects of the pandemic roll out, the year-long study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19, will assess how working-class women, who often juggle paid employment with the duties of running a household, have been affected by the additional pressures of increased demands, both at work and at home.
A previous report by the study’s lead academic, Professor Tracey Warren, found that working-class women perform indispensable paid work across the ‘5C’ jobs of caring, cleaning, catering, clerical work and cashiering, while simultaneously doing the majority of essential unpaid domestic work, such as caring for relatives, shopping, cooking and cleaning. The report says that their ‘double burden’ of work is substantial but under-valued.
Professor Tracey Warren, in the Nottingham University Business School, and Professor Clare Lyonette at the Warwick Institute for Employment Research, will work with the Women’s Budget Group to analyse data from the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) flagship ‘UK Household Longitudinal Study’. New questions have been added to the survey which will help the researchers to understand what is not yet known about how working-class women are responding in real-time to the various and as yet, potentially unknown, pressures imposed by the virus.
A major part of the project will be dedicated to exploring the types of work being undertaken by women, and the commonality and diversity in their overall experiences according to class, as the impact of coronavirus continues.
Questions include whether women have given unpaid support to family and friends living apart and in what form; what additional difficulties are being faced by working class women during the pandemic in terms of financial hardship and health-related risks; work intensification or work insecurity; and domestic work and care during lockdown.
Dr Tracey Warren, Professor of Sociology, said: “We know that working-class women already worked tirelessly through their ‘double-burden’ of work at paid employment and then at home before coronavirus. Now we can get a very clear picture of the whole of the UK and how the pandemic has affected women.”
The pandemic has created job loss, work instability, financial hardship and great insecurity. There has been time squeeze and work intensification for some, a desperate search for new jobs for others, alongside more unpaid care with school and nursery closures. If they are unable to manage the existing and additional pressures placed upon them, workplaces, child and elder care will all be severely affected.
Professor Clare Lyonette said: “For some women, such as cleaners and non-essential shop workers, the pandemic has put jobs at risk and cuts hours, with stark financial ramifications. For others in close contact with customers, clients and patients, such as those undertaking personal care in care homes and hospitals without full PPE, it brings life-threatening health risks. We aim to identify the problems for – and differences among – working class women, generated by the pandemic.”
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Women’s Budget Group, said “We have already started to see that working-class women are being hit particularly hard by the Coronavirus pandemic, with job losses for some and increased hours and pressure for others, while unpaid work increases. As the furlough scheme ends and evictions re-start the situation is likely to get much worse. This important research will provide much needed evidence of the extent of these impacts, which the Women’s Budget Group will use to inform its work to influence the Government response.”
The research, funded by ESRC, as part of UKRI, will explore the extent to which women’s domestic and caring roles faced pressure under lockdown rules, in areas such as difficulties in grocery shopping, and the ramifications of lockdown for families in financial hardship, with restricted inside and outside space, and limited access to the internet and computing facilities for home-working and home-schooling.
Working with the Women’s Budget Group, the study will investigate the ways in which working class women carry the work burden of the pandemic and identify the policy needed to protect them.
The Women’s Budget Group will help to disseminate early findings and urgent policy solutions to employers, unions, government, key charities and lobby groups this year to enable women to continue their critical work.