Why deeds and not words matter to North East women

June 7, 2021

As the UK seeks to move forward from national lockdowns and social restrictions enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, so too must it make concerted progress across gender equality, says IPPR North’s Amreen Qureshi.

Over the last year, we have listened to women across the North of England.

We have heard that COVID-19 “exacerbated circumstances which were already hard”, that women key workers have been “woefully underpaid”, and that there have been “devastating consequences” for women experiencing abuse.

Even before the pandemic, women in the North East experienced inequalities, illustrated by stark health divides, which included a recent decrease in healthy life expectancy – something not as starkly observed for men in the region – and the country’s largest gender pay gap.

Then COVID-19 hit.

It has had terrible consequences and there is clear evidence pointing to the disproportionate impact it has had on young people, people of colour, and disabled people.

Women have also been affected. They are more likely to be key workers, and to earn and save less than men.

Our analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics shows that about one in four working women in the North East are employed across health and social care – high-risk occupations in the pandemic.

Meanwhile, one in five work in retail, wholesale and hospitality; industries that have been characterised by job insecurity during lockdown.

Additionally, women who experience domestic abuse have found themselves
in increased danger. Data suggests there was a 179 per cent increase in women disclosing they had experienced violence in the North East during the pandemic.

The last year has illustrated how inequalities do not exist in silos; people can experience gender, regional, economic, racial, health and other disparities simultaneously.

This needs to be understood by leaders if we are to develop better policy for women. Although there are impressive women leaders in the North East, men disproportionately comprise the political leadership of the region, including 100 per cent of its metro mayors.

Nevertheless, North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll and his Tees Valley counterpart Ben Houchen can – and should – take the opportunity to demonstrate allyship to women.

They could use their powers to support women to secure well-paid, good jobs and set targets to reduce the gender pay gap by working with businesses. They could also establish advisory panels for a diverse cohort of women to be involved when mapping out a post-pandemic recovery plan.

The Government has promised to build back better, but the reality is that we need to build back fairer.

We need to see deeds, not words from everyone – from national government, to our regional and local leaders – to make progress towards a fairer future for women in the North East.