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Women’s (un)paid work, class and COVID-19 in the UK

Date and time: 2-3.00 pm, Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Please register on Eventbrite and we will send you the link to the Microsoft Teams event.


Do ‘unsettled times’ such as those created by the Covid-19 pandemic create an opportunity for ‘gender undoing’ (as opposed to ‘gender doing’) (Risman) and for challenging and changing everyday work practices (Elson)? Or has the pandemic intensified existing gender and class-based disadvantages both at home and in the workplace, bringing with it the prospect of an attack on - or at best a stalling of - equality in work in the UK? In this paper, we explore the impact of COVID-19 on the paid and unpaid work of working class women, including comparisons with women and men in other class groupings.

We know already that working class women are more likely than other women to work part-time and to work in low-paid sectors and jobs (the ‘5C’ job-areas: cleaning, catering, clerical work, cashiering and caring). The pandemic has highlighted the essential work of working class women, work which brings with it severe risks to working class women’s working lives and well-being. For example, for women working in close contact with customers, clients and patients, COVID-19 brings work intensification and life-threatening health risks (e.g. those undertaking personal care in over-stretched care homes and hospitals). For many others, national and regional lockdowns have increased work instability, financial hardship and insecurity.

As well as the impact on paid work, the division of domestic labour has been brought into sharper focus with lockdown. There was limited research on class differences in the division of domestic labour before the pandemic: some research shows middle class men are more likely to share housework, especially if the female partner is also working; other studies show that working class men have more traditional attitudes but are more likely to ‘pick up the slack’ if the female partner is working and they are less likely to draw on the services of paid cleaners. Overall, the picture is one of ‘stalled progress’, with working women in couples still doing a disproportionate amount of housework and child- and other care, before the pandemic. We explore whether anything has changed since the pandemic began by asking, in partnered households with children, who is more or less likely to do the housework and caring for children with school and nursery closures, self-isolation and home-schooling?

Class also shapes the places and spaces where paid work is carried out. During lockdown, middle-class families have been more able to take advantage of flexible working arrangements, including working from home, in order to help them manage their additional responsibilities. The availability to work from home does not necessarily spell good news for middle-class women, however, in terms of the sharing of housework and childcare with partners.

This paper draws on new survey data on the impact of COVID-19 on women and men in the UK. In 2020, participants in the ‘UK Household Longitudinal Study’ were invited to take part in new monthly surveys and 17,450 participants filled in a first-wave questionnaire in April. Our study looks at employed women and men, and class variation in their experiences, over time. The project ‘Carrying the work burden of the Covid-19 pandemic: working class women in the UK’ is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19 (Project ES/V009400/1), and is in partnership with the Women’s Budget Group.

Please feel free to share this invitation with colleagues and students who may be interested.

For more information about CREW, please visit our website. Should you have any questions or comments about this webinar, please contact Erika Kispeter.