Impact of Covid-19 on Women’s Rights
Women are at the forefront of responding to the Covid-19 crisis and they must be at the forefront of the Welsh Government’s policy response too.
17 WEN members, representing thousands of people, joined with us recently and wrote to the First Minister asking for key actions from Welsh Government to ensure women’s rights and equality doesn’t regress as a result of the pandemic. You can read our full letter below.
Dear First Minister Mark Drakeford AM
We are deeply worried about the threat to women and girls’ equality in the form of the impact of Covid-19. 80% of people employed in human health and social work activities in Wales are women. 42% of women in Wales are working part-time, compared to 14% of men. It is women who are at the forefront of responding to the virus as health workers, teachers and carers in the home. It is women who are at risk of being trapped at home with abusive partners. It will be women, particularly those who are disabled, Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) or on low incomes who are likely to be hardest hit by the pandemic.
Welsh Government has done much good work on moving forward gender equality, for example with the Gender Equality Review but we must ensure that this crisis does not lead to women and girls’ rights regressing. Having consulted with our members they are most concerned about the impact of the pandemic in five areas:
- Economic impact – a risk of women falling into poverty
- Impact of the Corona Virus legislation on disabled women and girls
- Impact of the Corona Virus on BAME women and girls
- Violence against Women and Girls – a risk of increased VAWDASV during the crisis
- Health impacts – ensuring data collection is gender-disaggregated during crisis
The situation is developing rapidly but taking each area in turn we recommend the following:
We are concerned that many low-income families and women will be pushed into poverty by the crisis. The immediate priority must be to provide an urgent safety net for these groups. BAME women are especially vulnerable. They have lower incomes, a higher proportion of income from the alternative economy, fewer savings, little or no access to credit or loans, and a very short period over which they can survive if their incomes stop.
We welcome the Bevan Foundation’s six recommendations for Welsh Government action such as Free School Meal payments and a relaxation of Education Maintenance Allowance grants. We ask that the Minister for Education requires that the Free school meals payments are paid directly to families and that all counties in Wales are compelled to do this. The immediate priority is stopping people going hungry.
We would also ask that Welsh Government’s budgets and contingency plans dealing with the virus are allocated once a rapid gender impact assessment and analysis has been completed. If these rapid gender assessments are not done, we risk seeing a further entrenchment of inequality and the positive work Welsh Government and NGOs have done to advance women’s equality is at risk of being undermined.
In the short term, we would also urge you to press the UK Government for Universal Credit to be reformed urgently to cope with increased demand: by removing the five week waiting period, by extending the pay-back period, as well as by changing the eligibility criteria so those who cannot look for work due to self-isolation or childcare responsibilities can receive payments during the pandemic. We would also ask you to press the Westminster Government to increase the rates of child benefit, carers’ allowance, parental leave payments and benefits payments for disabled women.
In the longer term, we would like to suggest a serious investigation into the implementation of a Universal Basic Income for Wales as a means to remove the stigma of claiming benefits, allowing all people to live with dignity, and way of delivering some of your aims around a feminist nation.
Impact of the Corona Virus on Disabled Women
Our member Disability Wales has raised concerns that the Coronavirus Act (Commencement No 1) (Wales) Regulations 2020 suspends key provisions in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, unless services are needed to protect an adult from abuse or neglect or a risk of abuse or neglect. Unlike the suspension of the Care Act (2014) duties in England, there is no express requirement to avoid breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights included.
Disability Wales are extremely concerned that services could be withdrawn without undertaking an assessment to verify whether there would be a breach of human rights. Therefore, many thousands of disabled women could be left without any essential support or any rights to request this support. Rather than removing disabled people’s right to social care support Welsh Government must treat our essential social care service as key infrastructure, alongside the NHS, and as such, it must immediately provide the necessary funding to keep this vital service running.
Impact of the Corona Virus on BAME women
The rapid rate at which restrictions have been introduced has had an immediate effect on BAME women and their families’ capacity to survive.. BAME women and their families are under immediate strain. Figures show that BAME women are more likely to be living with dependent children and more likely to be living in large families. Research
shows that BAME communities experience high rates of child poverty.
Removing the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments is absolutely critical for them, as is instigating a Free School Meals payment. While we welcome that this has been promised across Wales, we urge Welsh Government to ensure all local authorities provide the payment with policies consistently implemented across Wales.
Opportunities to communicate with other women informally at the school gates or doctors’ appointments are now removed and isolation and vulnerability is greatly heightened. Many BAME women do not possess mobile phones and cannot connect with their support networks. Many families do not have access to WIFI or computers. They are feeling frustrated as their children are not able to keep up with schoolwork.
Women who have already experienced domestic violence and other forms of violence against women, are feeling trapped and frightened. We are therefore calling for specific targeted financial support for BAME women and families as a matter of urgency. Raising awareness of the Special Assistance Fund, and ensuring that the third sector can let their service users know about it, and help them access it would be extremely helpful.
Impact for Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence
The removal of the no recourse to public funds restrictions is very welcome, however it is essential that this is clearly communicated so that it is delivered in practice. For example, migrant women must not be fearful of using essential public services such as VAWDASV specialist services and health services. The VAWDASV sector is also asking that VAWDASV support workers must be recognised as Key Workers across all local authorities, in line with Welsh Government policy. Welsh Women’s Aid has a comprehensive response, in line with the letter you have already received from them, on further measures needed. These 3 key asks are:
- Strong public messaging and guidance on VAWDASV
- Resourcing and building capacity for specialist provision
- Recognition of VAWDASV as emergency/essential provision
We are very pleased the Welsh Government took swift action to enable early abortion services to be procured via tele and video conference tools and medication that terminate a pregnancy to be taken entirely at home. It is vital that these new methods of communication are fully accessible to enable all women and girls, including disabled women and girls, to make informed choices.
Arrangements need to be made to help those – especially women, who make up the majority of carers – who are disabled, isolated and/or caring for others and are on lower incomes, to pay the inevitably increased utility costs, such as water, electricity and gas. This is a major concern to many of women in Wales who are living with chronic illness, who are often single parents, and on reduced incomes. While we recognise too that Universal Credit payments are going to increase, this will not help those on legacy benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP), many of whom are in Wales and are living with long term illnesses.
Welsh Government should also ensure that data on testing and health outcomes of Covid-19 are gender-disaggregated so we can learn how women and men are affected by the virus and learn from it going forward.
If we at WEN Wales can be of any assistance during this crisis in reaching out to our 34k strong network of women and girls, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Catherine Fookes, Director, WEN Wales
Cerys Furlong, Chief Executive, Chwarae Teg
Professor Emma Renold, Cardiff University
Leila Usmani, Project Development Worker, Race Alliance Wales
Debbie Shaffer, Founder, Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales
Rhian Davies, Chief Executive, Disability Wales
Siobhan Corria, Head of Inclusion, Action for Children
Shavanah Taj, General Secretary, Wales TUC
Dawn Jeffery, Director, Welsh Women’s Aid
Mrs. L.B.Tedik, Wales South Representative, Soroptimists International
Rocio Cifuentes, Chief Executive, Ethnic Minorities & Youth Support Team Wales (EYST Wales)
Ginger Wiegand, All Wales Policy & Research Lead, EYST Wales
Mair Stephens, Chair, NFWI-Wales
Morgan Fackrell, Chief Executive, Cardiff Women’s Aid
Mutale Merrill, Chief Executive, Bawso
Maria Constanza Mesa, Director, Women Connect First
Joy Kent, Founding Director, Joy Unlimited
Shahien Taj OBE, Director, Henna Foundation
Frances J Beecher, Chief Executive, Llamau
Victoria Slade, Chief Executive, Cynon Taf Community Housing Group