The pandemic has had a “devastating” impact on workplace equality amid a continuing gap between the pay of men and women, according to a new report.
The Fawcett Society said the UK was at a “coronavirus crossroads” as large numbers of working women say they are worried about their job or promotion prospects due to the pandemic.
The charity published research on the impact of Covid-19 on equality to mark Equal Pay Day, the date when women are said to effectively start to work for free because, on average, they are paid less than men.
The society said changes caused by the pandemic, such as fathers spending more time at home, could accelerate gender equality.
A survey of over 8,400 adults found that the amount of time fathers spent caring for their children has doubled since the start of the crisis.
On the other hand, the survey also showed that a third of working mothers have lost work or hours due to a lack of childcare.
Equal sharing of care in the home would create more equal opportunities in work, reduce the so-called motherhood penalty and cut the gender pay gap, said the Fawcett Society.
General secretary Sam Smethers said: “Throughout the last century, crises comparable to the pandemic have been forks in the path of history.
“The Second World War gave birth to the welfare state; the winter of discontent led to a new Thatcherite era.
“The coronavirus crisis puts us at a crossroads again and it is clear that this applies to the gender pay gap.”
The headline gender pay gap has narrowed but the data has been distorted by the pandemic, and a true picture will not be known until 2021, said the report.
The group said women faced “significant risks” of unfair redundancies after furlough and the possibility of the childcare sector “collapsing”, but it also found signs of hope that more mums would be able to access flexible working.
The survey revealed a “worrying picture” for the future of women in work, particularly for those from ethnic minorities, said the report.
Ms Smethers added: “This new data demonstrates once again that it is Black, Asian and minority ethnicity women who have suffered disproportionately in the pandemic. We must recognise the racial and gender inequality that exists in the UK and how they intersect. This is why we need gender pay reporting by ethnicity.
“Gains that have been made in the 50 years since the Equal Pay Act are at risk of being eroded.
“As the Government begins to look towards rebuilding the economy, it must invest in our childcare and social care infrastructure, embed flexible working and improve paid leave for dads.
“Government must also make the right to equal pay a reality by giving women the right to know what a male colleague doing the same work is paid.”
Labour said progress to close the gender pay gap has slowed “significantly” under the Conservatives and, at the current pace, will not be closed until 2052, meaning women in their mid-30s now will never know equal pay in their working lives.
Marsha de Cordova, shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, said: “The Government has failed to tackle the gender pay gap and has ignored the impact this crisis has had on women. The Conservatives’ indifference risks the clock being turned back on women’s equality.
“We need urgent action to modernise equal pay legislation and restart pay gap reporting. The government must act now to prevent this crisis from further cementing women’s economic inequality.”
Joe Levenson of the Young Women’s Trust, commented: “Young women on low pay were already struggling to get by before the coronavirus crisis hit and since then many have suffered a loss of earnings due to having their hours cut, being furloughed or losing their job.”