More than 70% of working mothers who asked to be furloughed for childcare reasons have been refused, according to a survey conducted by the TUC. This is coupled with research from the University of Sussex, which shows that 70% of mothers report being mostly or completely responsible for home-schooling.
We can see, therefore, that many working-class mothers have been left in an impossible situation. Not only must mothers support their children’s education, but in most cases they must also go to work – alongside completing the majority of domestic tasks with little to no external support.
Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, has said that the lack of support from the government for working parents is causing huge financial hardship and mental health issues. It is no stretch to realise that such a lack of support has hit working-class mothers the hardest.
Hi @RishiSunak, Did you know 7 in 10 working mums who’ve requested furlough for childcare reasons have been denied? The Govts response to childcare in this pandemic is pushing women into unemployment, and unsurprisingly, a letter does very little to help. #HomeSchooled @wep_uk pic.twitter.com/eg09nq2Tp5
— Helena Moody (@helemoody) January 30, 2021
Women under attack
While the numbers may seem shocking, this latest survey has merely confirmed the worrying trend that has been set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic – the wholesale reversal of the progress made by working-class women over the last five decades.
Sectors in which women are disproportionately represented, such as retail and hospitality, have been decimated by the pandemic. This has resulted in mothers being 1.5 times more likely than fathers to have lost their job or to have been furloughed over the last year. Women are also bearing the brunt of redundancies.
Young women were hardest hit by redundancies & mothers are 1.5 times more likely to have lost their job, quit or taken furlough.
— David Hume Institute (@davidhumeinst) November 20, 2020
This exodus from the labour market has left many working-class women more vulnerable to abuse and domestic violence, which a lack of financial independence makes it hard to escape from. Indeed, this situation only seems to be getting worse as lockdowns continue. December 2020 was the busiest month during the entire pandemic for domestic violence call outs.
Hypocrisy and shallow gestures
The Tory government has been slow to act, despite all evidence pointing to this increasingly dire situation for women.
Laura Farris, the Conservative co-chair of the Women and Work All-Party Parliamentary Group, has said that employers should just “embrace the spirit of the job retention scheme” and be “generous” in their approach towards their female workforce.
The attitude of the Tories towards this situation is clear: defer to employers and hope they do the right thing. But appealing to the bosses to protect women’s jobs over profits is a dead end. Such a plea is like asking a tiger not to eat its prey.
The Tories themselves know that the bosses will not take notice of any ‘advice’ that may affect their bottom lines. We need only look to the last decade to see that any ‘support’ for women’s rights from the Conservative Party rings hollow.
All of the rollbacks in the last year in terms of the conditions facing women come on the back of over a decade of austerity. These cuts that have completely eroded the safety nets – won through victories of the labour movement – that once existed for working-class women.
Cuts to social services have already seen women in poverty take on extra unpaid domestic duties. Meanwhile, cuts to the benefits system have forced single parents (of which women make up the vast majority) to disproportionately rely on foodbanks to feed their children.
This callousness by the ruling class is only set to continue as the crisis of capitalism deepens.
The TUC have put forward a number of demands. These include: a temporary legal right to furlough for parents and carers; 10 days’ paid leave for carers; and an increase in sick pay.
Such reforms would certainly offer an improvement. But even if these were granted by the Tories, it would be a case of too little, too late.
The trade union movement and the Labour Party need to demand full furlough pay for all working parents who need it, no questions asked; and an actual living wage that does not leave families on the breadline.
Instead of the timid (or non-existent) ‘opposition’ offered by Keir Starmer, we need a bold socialist programme that offers a real alternative for society’s most vulnerable. Only this can truly reverse the downward slide facing working-class women.
What is needed is a rational and planned economic system that can provide universal reproductive healthcare, free and easily accessible childcare services, and genuine financial independence. This must include the provision of decent jobs and housing for all, and communal services that reduce the burden of domestic tasks such as cleaning and cooking.
Socialists fight for any reform that tackles gender inequality and discrimination. But we must also be clear: it is capitalism and class society that lies at the root of women’s oppression – isolating women in the home, and using sexism to divide the working class, in order to increase the exploitation of both women and men for the sake of the bosses’ profits.
Capitalism is completely crisis-ridden, incapable of permanently securing the changes needed to liberate women from the burden of oppression. What we need is socialism.