LOCKDOWN is easing, the shops and pubs have reopened. There is a sense that the challenges of the last few months are finally coming to an end. But not for everyone.

The impact of Covid-19 for women, in particular working mums, could be catastrophic.

The Gazette has put the spotlight on the gender inequalities faced by women because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and how statistics already show it is disproportionately impacting working mums.

With lockdown restrictions easing, many workers are expected to return from furlough leave. But those with childcare responsibilities face the difficult decision of how to manage a possible request to return to work, while still looking after or educating their children, the majority of whom won’t be back at school until September.

Research by The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and University College London reveals that women are more likely to bear the responsibility of childcare and home-schooling during the pandemic, even in couples where both parents are working. It found that mothers are only able to do one hour of uninterrupted work for every three hours of fathers.

Jasmine McCarthy, who runs the popular Caterpillar Music classes in Basingstoke for children, said she feels “left behind” by the government.

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The mother-of-three built up her business to fit around her children, but as a result of taking time off after having a baby, is now financially worse off, explaining: “The hardest thing for me is that even though the government are claiming to be helping the self-employed and ‘not leaving anyone behind’, because I took maternity leave in 2016, they’re counting it as me not earning anything that year due to receiving maternity pay, so it reduces my allowance by a third.”

She added: “Also, as a small business owner working with children, we have received no guidance on when we can reopen at all. The majority of those working in this industry are women.

“The more I think about it, the more the women are behind.”

Another working mum from Basingstoke, who didn’t want to be named, told the Gazette: “As a freelancer, I’d already taken the decision to be self-employed, working part-time hours, so that I could work around my children, one being at school and the other in nursery part-time.

“The pandemic has seen my workload plummet, like so many others. But unlike my male counterparts, it’s been noticeable that the women I network with, either have the children with them or they often mention household/domestic issues. It’s also been noticeable that far more women are having to negotiate the terms of their return to work because of the uncertainty they face in childcare provisions.”

Another working mother told us: “I sacrificed my career progression when I became a mum, becoming self-employed and working part-time. But this has meant that during lockdown, my husband’s job has had to take priority, as the main source of our household income, meaning I’ve had to look after our children whilst still trying to juggle my work, pretty unsuccessfully.”

A report by CityBank has found that of the 44 million expected redundancies worldwide, 31 million are women. Research by IFS has shown that mothers are almost 50 per cent more likely than fathers to have lost their job or handed their notice in since lockdown began.

One of those is Tracy Hinnigan from Lychpit, who was initially furloughed from her part-time job for a HR outsourcing company.

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The 39-year-old mother-of-two found out last week that she was being made redundant, and is now worried about finding similar work which fits around looking after her seven-year-old and four-year-old.

She said: “With part-time work it’s very hard to find a job in this industry. I love working and I miss it terribly. I don’t want to apply for full-time positions and have to put the children in after-school clubs.”

The oversight of how mums are meant to manage childcare until September whilst returning to work, has been attributed by some to a lack of women in top positions in the government.

In March, Boris Johnson created four new committees to deal with the pandemic. However, not one of these is chaired by a woman.

Stacy Hart, Basingstoke branch leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said: “Prior to the pandemic, women already carried out 60 per cent more unpaid work than men, now added childcare and home-school, essential shopping, household chores and caring for vulnerable people, are tasks disproportionately being carried out by women.

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“Working mothers in particular are facing the brunt of this, to the detriment of their careers. There are plenty of studies to back this up from the ONS, Institutes for Fiscal Studies, LSE and more.

“We are calling for women to be better supported through this pandemic, particularly as restrictions are eased, and WE continue to push for equality in childcare/parenting, care work, flexible working, pay, and representation.”

One study has also shown that one in four women who have been pregnant or on maternity leave during the pandemic have experienced unfair treatment at work.

The Telegraph reported that the lockdown will delay the closing of the gender pay gap by another 30 years. With many women already losing out on pay and pension contributions, they are now at risk of not having a job at all.

Basingstoke MP Maria Miller is looking to tackle this problem, and has a new Bill set to be debated on July 8 on the issues of maternity protection.

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She told the Gazette: “Over the past few weeks there have been worrying reports from different parts of the country of pregnant women being treated badly at work. I have introduced a new Bill to the House of Commons to give extra protections to pregnant women and new mums who still face unacceptable levels of unlawful discrimination at work, with more than 50 000 every year feeling they have no option but to leave their jobs. My Bill would bring in protections similar to those already in place in Germany.”

The MP also acknowledged the impact of the pandemic on mothers, adding: “Covid19 has everyone under pressure, particularly families with school aged children. The Government’s ‘Furloughing Scheme’ has given some financial peace of mind to more than 13 000 people in Basingstoke and thousands more have signed up for other financial support. But all of the research shows mums and mums-to-be can be some of the hardest hit as they are the most likely to be juggling work with caring responsibilities.

“Many families will be pleased to see that because cases of C19 have reduced to much lower levels, all schools should be able to safely reopen to all children from September. And I have pressed the Government to clarify quickly how summer holiday childcare will be allowed to operate, particularly given the number of grandparents who will continue to be ‘Shielded’ until the beginning of August.”