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Covid 19 is increasing inequality – and our economy won’t cope

Covid 19 is increasing inequality – and our economy won’t cope

by Simone Roche MBE

Our Northern Power Women community has been discussing the stark reality of life and work right now. The mood is less optimistic than before, but we haven’t lost momentum. And, believe me, this country is going to need people like us.

Back in April I talked about how we, like many, were seeing some positives potentially coming out of the pandemic: new ways of working, a different attitude to the home/work/travel balance; a more thoughtful, compassionate leadership mindset; the potential to rebuild differently.

But, four months on, I’m already hearing of organisations slipping back to the pre-Covid ways. Presenteeism, old school leadership and disregard for parental / care responsibilities are all creeping back into our working lives. All of which are most detrimental to, you’ve guessed it, women. Are we really that hard-wired?

On top of that, who can and who can’t return to work, and who gets financial support, is – just like the wider effects of the pandemic itself – exposing inequalities based not just on gender, but also on age, wage, employment status (ie, small business owners, self-employed), class and ethnicity.

The doughnut way of thinking

You may have heard the announcement recently that Amsterdam is adopting economist Kate Raworth’s doughnut model to help the city rebuild its’ economy post-Covid. Her model (shaped like a doughnut) sets out that GDP is not a true measure of progress. To hugely precis: progress and a thriving economy should be measured through a bigger goal – delivering human societal needs, but within the environmental limits of the earth. No one should be left in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, without the essentials needed to lead a good life, based on the UN’s sustainable development goals. Essentials such as food and clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, gender equality, income and political voice. Anyone not attaining these minimum standards is living in the doughnut’s hole.

As Amsterdam’s deputy mayor, Marieke van Doorninck, said in a Guardian interview: “I think it can help us overcome the effects of the crisis. It might look strange that we are talking about the period after that but as a government we have to … It is to help us to not fall back on easy mechanisms.”

And that’s just it, we mustn’t slip back. We need to think holistically, we need to build new – and, to do that, we can’t afford to ignore large swathes of the population. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because they have a fundamental role to play.

But the evidence so far is not encouraging – for women, for the black, Asian and minority ethnic population, for the under 25s, and for the ‘forgotten’.

Melinda Gates has published a warning, that unless leaders recognise the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on women – in terms of health, economic and societal damage – recovery will be longer and slower and could cost the world economy trillions of dollars.

A recent Pregnant Then Screwed survey is a tough read. Fifteen per cent of mothers either have been made redundant, or expect to be made redundant and, of those, a shocking 46% have said that a lack of childcare provision played a role in their redundancy – and 65% of those furloughed say a lack of childcare was the reason.

Covid 19 is having a devastating effect on the black, Asian and minority ethnic population. Here, all sorts of factors seem to be at play, not least socio-economic: eg, geography, age, deprivation and career. The NHS, for example, naturally has higher exposure to the virus and a disproportionately high number of staff from ethnic minorities.

Under 25s have also been particularly hard hit, as reported by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, particularly those just starting out on the career ladder, with work placements cancelled and job offers withdrawn. For those still in education, there are seemingly no clear plans for next year’s A-levels and GCSEs. This year’s exam results chaos initially saw A-level students from disadvantaged backgrounds being the worst affected and private school students benefitting the most. And, while the government eventually backtracked and reverted back to the original teacher assessments, its grading algorithm had revealed a very telling systemic bias against students from poorer areas. 

And then there are those dubbed ‘the forgotten’ and ‘excluded’ – such as the newly self-employed, new businesses, or owners of limited companies – all left unsupported by the government’s existing Covid-19 financial support measures. An estimated 3.1 million tax payers.

All of these groups are falling out of work, out of the economy, and into the doughnut’s hole. How frustrating to know that lazy thinking and reluctance to change is holding us back from recovery.

Research consistently shows that the companies whose leadership has the most gender and ethnic and cultural diversity are now more likely than ever to be more profitable than their less diverse peers. So, it seems like utter madness to ignore what’s going on.

It’s time to level up – and we can help make that happen

Our three asks are:

Come and have a seat at our table… while some of our Northern Power Women are already at a table in the boardroom, in Local Enterprise Partnerships and combined authorities, on panels, and involved in policy making, it’s time to have a table of our own. So, get in touch, and come and join a network who will support you. We represent a huge range of industries and sectors and we’re a diverse and talented bunch. And our Power Platform  is there to share opportunities for board memberships, speaking opportunities, thought leadership papers and more.

Invest in us  as directors of businesses, support us so as not to be forgotten; as carers, support us with childcare and the choice to work more flexibly; as entrepreneurs, support us to lead the way to innovate and create new wealth; and, as humans, support us in looking after our people, their mental health and wellbeing, through care and culture. In September we’ll be publishing our new rules for the new norm – explore, debate, and embed them into new policy and legislation. Read our stories hopefully they will inspire others. 

 Invest in our future talent  help us to support our future – young and old, the apprentices, the recently redundant, the SMEs ready for growth.  We have inspiring stories and proactive campaigns – Supporting Apprentices, Covid Changemakers, and others.  Use this opportunity to galvanise this business community around supporting future talent, future skills and industries – with green digital and diversity embedded in its core.   

We have a wealth of knowledge and skills ready and waiting to support our country and our people in moving forward positively. 

Northern Power Women is a 60,000-strong network, born initially out of a need to accelerate gender equality in the North. But now our diverse community is spread out across the UK and spans all sectors, genders and demographics.

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