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How has the pandemic deepened existing inequality in employability?

Richard Alberg, Chief Executive Officer, Aptem

The last 18 months have been transformative. The coronavirus crisis spearheaded intense change throughout society.

From global lockdowns to the economic decline, we have faced unprecedented circumstances that have changed the world.

Businesses rapidly adopted new ways of working to survive, such as remote working, new communication styles, new strategies and widespread behavioural change.

The rapid transformation has been positive for many.

Working from home has provided flexibility for people to re-enter the labour market, new emergent technologies have, in some cases, opened up employment geographically, and the digital transformation undertaken by many businesses has provided new roles.

However, for some, the pandemic worsened existing inequalities.

Gender 

A Women’s Budget Group report found that while women make up around 47% of the UK’s workers, they represented 52% of all those furloughed. The report extrapolated HMRC data which showed that by the end of February 2021, 2.3 million women were furloughed, compared with 2.1 million men.

For many women, the pandemic brought unique challenges, such as absorbing more unpaid work and juggling motherhood and work, while also facing higher redundancy and furlough rates.

Outdated stereotypes also contributed towards women being worse off because of the pandemic. Assumptions about who takes responsibility for care, who should juggle home-schooling, family care requirements and work are deeply ingrained in society and in some families, regardless of parents’ working status. Employers can and should be working to mitigate imbalances at work, such as flexible parental leave which guarantees that fathers who take it will not face repercussions.

Race and ethnicity 

The pandemic was particularly hostile for young black workers. According to ONS figures, more than 40% are unemployed, almost three times as many as white workers. Between October and December 2020, 41.6% of young black people were unemployed compared to 12.4% of young white people. 

Before the crisis, many black workers held less secure jobs such as zero-hour or fixed-term contracts, or cash-in-hand roles. With the pandemic putting a stop to many of these types of roles, plus the stringent requirements for furlough schemes, many people ended up unemployed.

More needs to be done to reduce barriers to entry into the workforce for young black workers. The implementation of specialised, tailored support would be beneficial, alongside more research into the structural hurdles.

Disability 

For many disabled people, the pandemic has caused a jobs crisis. While the pandemic’s effects on other groups have been spoken about widely, the plight of disabled people has often been ignored. 

Research Fellow Vera Kubenz, from the University of Birmingham, said disabled people had been widely “excluded from [the government’s] plans” for pandemic response, and discussed the “worrying lack of data on how disabled people have been affected” by the crisis which has led to policy that doesn’t take disabled people’s unique needs into account. 

According to Office for National Statistics data, between April and June 2020, the unemployment rate for disabled people was almost double that of others. Many disabled people relied on more insecure forms of work before the pandemic as those were the jobs that offered most flexibility in terms of hours and availability. However, as we moved towards a remote-working model these jobs disappeared.

Employers have a responsibility to prioritise the needs of disabled workers and jobseekers if post-pandemic working means a mix of office-based and remote working. Organisations must encourage more disabled people into work, as this pandemic has proven that flexible and accessible working is possible. 

Our white paper, will provide more insight on how the pandemic has affected pre-existing inequalities and will explore how the pandemic has deepened them, with a focus on employability.

Richard Alberg, Chief Executive Officer, Aptem

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