As the UK continues to battle the significant social and economic consequences of COVID-19, the Chancellor is urged to address the unequal effects on women and business in his Spring Budget announcement.

Published by leading social enterprise, The Women’s Organisation, the recommendations offer an innovative and evidence-based set of priorities on how women and social enterprise must play a pivotal and equal role in the UK recovery process and the importance of doing things differently.

Highlighting not only the impossible situation faced by thousands of women, including those with children, left without adequate childcare and short-changed by government support, but also deep inequalities of gender, race, disability, and wealth within our society.

Drawing on a comprehensive research data set published in the ‘Rethinking the Economy for an Inclusive and Sustainable Future’ report and combined with “on the ground” experience of business and communities, the recommendations present a road map to achieve an inclusive and more equitable economic recovery.

Maggie O’Carroll, CEO of The Women’s Organisation says: “We are urging the Government to make changes throughout a flawed system which has consistently left women behind. We must use this opportunity to build back differently and ensure women are given an equal chance to influence and implement policy and gain fair access to financial support, which in turn, will improve daily life and support a healthy economy.”

Research figures show that during national and local lockdowns, women have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 battle. Making up 77% of NHS workers, 83% of care workers and home carers, and 54% of all key workers, women also carry out an average of 60% more unpaid care than men.

As cases of violence again women increase under lockdown, BAME workers are more likely to be in low paid and insecure work, and mothers remain at risk of losing their jobs due to inadequate childcare, it is essential the government provides substantial and effective support for women.

Dr Sara Reis, Head of Research and Policy at the Women’s Budget Group worries that “the impact on women’s earnings and employment prospects will widen existing gender inequalities, not least the gender wage gap”.

The Women’s Organisation recommends 3 main pathways to reposition women and BAME people in the UK recovery process and beyond:

  • Embed a culture of inclusivity, diversity, and gender equality across policy making.
  • Invest £1.6bn in a national programme of employment and business support to be implemented locally to help more than 2 million women who lost their jobs and businesses during Covid, resulting in an £8bn economic return.  
  • Reposition the care sector as a high value social and economic contributor to the UK economy and significantly expanding childcare support. 

COVID-19 has generated substantial uncertainty for UK businesses, which are navigating new financial and operational challenges. Some fear many firms are only being kept afloat by the Government business support schemes, which have provided immediate financial aid to many businesses throughout the pandemic and yet short-changed the self-employed at the same time.

The impact of these support schemes on UK businesses will only reveal itself in the long term, as UK banks warn to prepare for the collapse of hundreds of thousands of small firms when the support eventually comes to an end. Given research attributes 60% of new growth within the UK to women, which increases to 80% when gender balance is supported through policy or law, there are clear opportunities for growth despite disparities in the business sector.

The recommendations address the mass decline in productivity and profit being felt by UK businesses, and highlight how entrepreneurship and enterprise creation provide significant opportunities for recovery.

O’Carroll continues: “Although parts of the social and economic landscape have suffered due to the pandemic, it is important to recognise how social enterprises and micro businesses have risen to the unprecedented challenges.

“The growth of self-employment and the creation of micro businesses was a central feature of the recovery from the 2008-2009 recession, highlighting how micro business creation is likely to be a key driver in economic recovery. By providing good quality, sustainable jobs in local communities, micro businesses are tackling the mass unemployment caused by COVID-19 and generating significant social and economic dividends.”

The social economy sector also provides significant opportunities for successful recovery and growth. Social enterprises have been filling the gaps within public and private sector responses to COVID-19 by harnessing their ability to effectively pivot and adapt. However, the figures of diversity echo the marginalisation and inequality faced across the entrepreneurial sector; only 15% of SME employers are women-led and only 5% of SMEs have at least 50/50 representation of BAME groups on their senior management teams.

The Women’s Organisation recommends 3 main pathways to ensure a thriving and equal economy for all:

  • Develop an innovative ecosystem and support infrastructure to promote entrepreneurship and enterprise creation.
  • Deliver specifically designed and appropriate support for women and people of BAME groups to tackle the lack of diverse representation among SMEs.
  • Provide a support package for self-employed parents who are unable to work whilst schools are closed and in post lock reopening

Councillor Joanne Anderson is backing the recommendations and the tremendous impact they will have on communities across the country, she says: “COVID-19 has tested our community strength to well beyond its limits and we’ve found it is women who have consistently carried the weight of the added stress throughout the pandemic.

“The recommendations offer a fresh take on how to invest in our communities and begin to build a sustainable and inclusive economy where everyone gets an opportunity to thrive. We want women, BAME groups and people with disabilities to be valued for their contributions, not completely disregarded when it comes to education, childcare and financial support opportunities.

“I believe our strength is in our diversity. The recommendations set out a clear course of action to create a fairer system which reach and benefit communities UK wide. I am delighted to add my support to this report and fully believe it has the potential to build back differently, post COVID-19.”