Why Coronavirus Has Hit Young Women’s Finances Hardest

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell.
Did you tune into the recent Dominic Cummings press conference? Did you watch as an unelected advisor schooled us all in what it takes to be a good parent (breaking lockdown by driving hundreds of miles to check you can see, apparently)? 
If ever there was a case study in the enduring need for feminism, it was this: a privileged, powerful and unaccountable man telling the whole nation that he is a good father while openly admitting that he had exploited a lockdown loophole – "the exceptional need for childcare" – which had actually been put in place to safeguard victims and survivors of domestic abuse
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The Resolution Foundation has found that key workers are disproportionately likely to be female. They are also more likely to be mothers. 

But here’s the thing: the way this pandemic has been experienced isn’t equal and that’s not because coronavirus is unfairly targeting certain people. A virus doesn’t care what school you went to or how much you earn. It’s because our society was already fundamentally unequal and so some people are more exposed to both the health risks of the virus and the devastating trail of economic fallout it’s leaving in its wake. 
Very early on, this crisis compounded the structural inequality that was already bubbling under the surface in Britain: that private renters are likely to have fewer savings than homeowners, that too many are forced to rely on personal debt to get by, that not everyone has a safe home in which to isolate and that supermarket checkout staff, delivery drivers and care workers – who earn the least and were considered 'low skilled' only a few weeks before lockdown – are actually the people who keep our country going. 
And, as ever, it was clear immediately that women – in particular young women – were bearing the brunt of all the above. They are more likely to have been doing risky frontline work, wearing PPE that doesn’t fit them properly while they do it. 
The Resolution Foundation has found that key workers are disproportionately likely to be female, with employed women more than twice as likely to be in this group as employed men. Within that group, they are also more likely to be mothers, which means they’ve faced a double whammy of doing urgent work while trying to manage childcare during lockdown. 
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Those who haven’t been working are more likely to be facing financial difficulties than other groups. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies found back in April, young women are disproportionately likely to work in restaurants, retail and leisure, which have been worst affected by the lockdown.

On top of worrying about the global pandemic, my health and my family's health, I was worrying about being stuck in the house and taking a 20% pay cut, as well as losing around 10 hours a week in overtime I had been regularly doing before the pandemic.

Georgia, 22
More than this (as though it’s not enough), a new report published today by the Young Women’s Trust – "Ignored, undervalued and underpaid: the impact of coronavirus on young women’s work" adds to the mounting evidence of the burden being carried by women during this national crisis. They have found that young women are taking on significant unpaid caring responsibilities as people fall ill with the virus and children remain unable to go to school or daycare. 
Fifty-three percent of the women who responded to the Young Women’s Trust survey (which was conducted online throughout April) reported being financially affected by the crisis, with 20% having already lost their job or future work because of the lockdown.  
The impact of this on young women’s physical health, mental health and future financial health cannot and should not be underestimated. 
Take 22-year-old Georgia Webb from Manchester. When we were all ordered to "stay home, stay safe and save the NHS" she was studying part-time for her undergraduate degree in history and working part-time as an administrator in a small office. She did this because she couldn’t afford to pay rent and study full-time. 
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Two weeks before lockdown she started working from home but shortly after that, she was furloughed. The effects on her mental health, she says, have been severe. 
"My anxiety skyrocketed and, on top of worrying about the global pandemic, my health and my family’s health (including my two older grandparents with health conditions), I was also worrying about being stuck in the house and taking a 20% pay cut, as well as losing around 10 hours a week in overtime I had been regularly doing before the pandemic," she explains.  
"All this massively built up and I found myself crying a lot, becoming really irritable and losing my appetite for days at a time." 
Her work was her foundation – it gave her financial stability and enabled her to pursue her studies and build a future for herself. "I had only started the job about four months before quarantine and it was the first time in years I had felt stable, happy and actually excited for the future," she adds. 
"It has been hard trying to juggle financial worries, mental health conditions, worrying about family and also studying." 
Contemporary feminism talks a lot about getting more women on boards and encouraging girls to become 'girl bosses' but it rarely focuses on what economic justice for all women might look like. 

Young women aren't breaking and giving public press conferences to explain how hard all of that is, they just get on with it and carry the mental load of the country.

Economic justice should be at the top of the feminist agenda. That's the idea that our economy would be more successful if it were fairer: that prosperity and justice go hand in hand rather than in opposition to one another, that we don’t need to exploit the work of many in order to fuel the personal wealth of a few. For young women, at a basic level, that would look like childcare that is actually affordable and pay for care work that suggests it is actually valued.
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This pandemic has shown us just how gendered inequality is in Britain today. Women are underpaid across the board, undervalued and, on average, performing 60% more invisible but vital labour such as caring, cooking and cleaning alongside their jobs than men are.
And so for Dominic Cummings to brazenly break the rules his own team set for the rest of us and then stand before us, invoking childcare as the reason, displayed not only an egregious disregard for women all over the country but a complete ignorance of the entrenched inequality they face on the part of those in charge.
Young women aren't breaking and giving public press conferences to explain how hard all of that is, they just get on with it and carry the mental load of the country. Not because they’re choosing to but because our society can’t function if they don’t. 
The World Health Organization says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.

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