8 January 2021

  • Parents on the lowest incomes are nine times more likely to report risk of losing their job due to school closures in the UK.
  • Twice as many mothers report they would have to take time off with no pay due to school closures or a sick child as fathers (15% of mothers compared to 8% of fathers).
  • 57% of fathers compared to 49% of mothers report they would be able to work from home during school closures.
  • Overall, 4% of parents report being at risk of losing their job if schools close and no additional support is in place for childcare.

New data analysis published today shows the pressures facing families over school closures and managing paid work. The analysis from Women’s Budget Group, Fawcett Society, Women’s Budget Group Northern Ireland, Women's Equality Network Wales, Close the Gap and Engender shows that for parents on lower incomes are reporting significant financial implications of school closures with nine times more parents on the lowest incomes (annual household income of £20,000 or below) reporting risk of losing their job compared to higher-income parents (annual household income of £40,000 and above).

Furthermore, 12% of parents earning below £20,000 a year and 13% of parents earning between £20,000 and £40,000 said they would have to take time off on no pay if schools closed or their children had to self-isolate compared to 7% of parents earning more than £40,000 annually.

Polling also showed that mothers who work part-time are more likely to report they would have to take time off on no pay due to school closures (20% compared to 12% of mothers who work full-time).

Dr Mary Ann Stephenson, Director of Women’s Budget Group, said:
“With England now in lockdown and strong restrictions in the devolved nations, parents of school-age children working from home will be struggling once more to combine lesson supervision with paid work. During the Spring lockdown, mothers were disproportionately responsible for the extra care responsibilities, including home-schooling and more likely to be interrupted in their paid work.

As this data shows, mothers are more at risk of having to take time off on no pay when schools close. Workers can be furloughed due to caring responsibilities and this has helped many parents to keep their jobs during the pandemic. Now that part-time furlough is possible, parents should be able to request to be furloughed and potentially share care responsibilities between themselves.”

Felicia Willow, Fawcett Society Interim Chief Executive, said:
“Since furlough began, we’ve seen some positive developments introduced by the government, including the right to take furlough for childcare reasons, as well as the ability for furlough to be taken part-time and potentially shared between parents.

But women remain on the side-lines of the government's coronavirus response. We know that there is more to be done to reduce the disproportionate impact of Covid on women, and we urge the Government to put women at the centre of its decision-making. A rescue package for our childcare sector, clear guidance on how parents can manage furlough effectively and equally, and an equality impact assessment on how decisions such as school closures continue to have a more negative impact on mothers than fathers, remain absolutely essential and more urgent than ever.”

A spokesperson from Engender said:
“With Scottish schools returning to remote learning for most pupils until at least February, women in Scotland will again find themselves disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Recent polling shows that mothers are almost four times more likely than fathers to be the main caregiver for their children, and that women are almost four times more likely than men to undertake the majority of household takes like cleaning and laundry. Engender research into the impact of Covid-19 on women's caring roles in 2020 showed that the incompatibility of paid work and home-schooling or childcare has seen mothers withdraw from paid work, at a cost £15m a day in Scotland.

"School closures are more likely to affect mothers in employment, as polling shows that they are less likely than fathers to be able to take time off on full pay to provide care. Women, already overstretched by balancing paid work with domestic roles are now seeing their unpaid work increasing further with additional childcare and support for remote learning. As we move into another period of lockdown, the Scottish Government must ensure that necessary public health measures do not further entrench women's inequality."

Catherine Fookes, Director of Women’s Equality Network Wales, said:
“In Wales, the polling shows that mothers are almost four times more likely than fathers to be the main caregiver for their children (63% v 17%). School closures will hit women on low incomes particularly hard, with those on incomes less than £20,000 almost five times more likely to lose their job or working hours due to childcare responsibilities than women on higher incomes. We can see clearly that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on women in work and call on Welsh Government to ensure affordable, high-quality childcare provision is available for all.”

Alexandra Brennan, Coordinator at Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group (NIWBG), said:
"As we face the current COVID-19 surge, it is essential that the government prioritises the need for a comprehensive childcare strategy. Recent polling shows that women in Northern Ireland are 4 times more likely to take on the majority of active childcare duties than men (56% vs. 13%). Therefore, it is women who will face the brunt of school closures, as many did when the pandemic began last March. Despite this, a sufficient childcare strategy was absent from the recovery plan developed for the initial wave of COVID-19. We call on the NI Executive to stop taking advantage of women’s unpaid labour and establish a childcare strategy."

Rebecca Graham, from Standard Life Foundation, said:
“While the closure of schools should help to protect the health of staff, it does of course increase the demands on parents who again find themselves having to juggle home-schooling with their existing responsibilities, and we know from the first lockdown that working mums are particularly likely to be affected. Maintaining income levels will be an important part of ensuring the resilience of families so employers and the Government must consider what can be done to protect the incomes of parents hit by school closures.”

Notes on methodology

Our research is drawn from data collected by Survation with fieldwork conducted 18th November- 2nd December 2020. The survey was conducted via an online panel. Invitations to complete surveys were sent out to members of online panels. The population sampled were parents in the UK with children aged 14 and under. The sample size was 1,308.

Press office contacts:

Women’s Budget Group
Thaira Mhearban: [email protected] / 07838 222067/ Communications Officer
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson: [email protected] / 07957 338582/ Director

Fawcett Society
For further information, please contact:
Fresh Communication/ 0117 369 0025
Nathalie Golden: [email protected] / 07769 66 66 27
Lisa Sutherland: [email protected] / 07801 97 99 87

Alys Mumford: [email protected]/ 07889805785/ Communications & Engagement Manager

Close the Gap
Anna Ritchie Allan: [email protected]/ 07711 926 833/ Executive Director

Women’s Equality Network Wales
Catherine Fookes: 07511 939235/ [email protected]
Megan Evans: 07716 433192/ [email protected]

Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group
Alexandra Brennan: Coordinator/ [email protected]

Standard Life Foundation
This study was funded by Standard Life Foundation. The Foundation funds research, policy work and campaigning activities to tackle financial problems and improve living standards for people on low-to-middle incomes in the UK. It is an independent charitable foundation registered in Scotland.