Politics

Row over whether Government pandemic policy is ‘skewed’ in favour of men


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row broke out today over whether Government policy during the pandemic has been biased in favour of men.

Environment Secretary George Eustice refused to accept the findings of a report by a committee of MPs that prompted claims that Government policies have “repeatedly skewed towards men”.

The Women and Equalities Committee found that existing gendered inequalities in the economy have been “ignored and sometimes exacerbated” by the pandemic policy response.

They said they were “gravely concerned” by potentially unlawful and discriminatory practices towards pregnant women and those on maternity leave during the pandemic.

Tory MP and committee chair Caroline Nokes said: “Government policies have repeatedly skewed towards men – and it keeps happening.

“The government must start actively analysing and assessing the equality impact of every policy, or it risks turning the clock back.”

Committee chair and former minister Caroline Nokes

/ NurPhoto via Getty Images

However, when Ms Nokes’ allegation was put to him on Times Radio, Mr Eustice replied: “No, I don’t accept that.”

The Cabinet minister added: “I’m not quite sure what policies she has in mind.

“During this coronavirus pandemic, the Government has just been working relentlessly to try to deal with the greatest public health challenge of our generation.”

He added: “There’s been no conscious consideration to say we are adopting policies that are more in favour of men than women and I don’t really understand what particular issues she might be referring to.”

It was put to him that it was not conscious Government decisions that were affecting women but “passive” ones that hit those who are self-employed, pregnant and involved in childcare.

The Cabinet minister repeated that he did not accept that and listed support for the self-employed, furlough, business support and funding for childcare, adding: “We’ve done a lot of different things to try to address all of those particular areas.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “No, I don’t accept that.”

/ Chris McAndrew / UK Parliament

The committee said the economic impact of coronavirus has affected men and women differently – because of existing economic inequalities, the over-representation of women in certain types of work, and Government actions.

They raised concerns that priorities for the recovery are skewed towards male-dominated sectors, with “build, build, build” rhetoric and images of high-vis jackets and hard hats.

Women are often more likely to be on insecure employment contracts and furloughed women have also been less likely than men to have received a discretionary top-up on their earnings from their employer, beyond Government subsidies, the report said.

A spokeswoman said the Government had done whatever it takes to protect lives and livelihoods with economic schemes worth over £200 billion.

She added: “Covid-19 is prompting a culture shift with more people than ever before working flexibly, and the Government wants to harness that as we recover. By doing so, we could see more equal sharing of care work by parents, and more flexibility from employers, enabling us to unleash the potential of everyone across the country.”



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