A generation of young women ‘paying the price’ for the pandemic

23 November 2020

A major new report and polling from Young Women’s Trust has found that an estimated 1.5 million young women have lost income since the start of the pandemic and over two thirds (69%) of young women claiming benefits this year say they did so for the very first time.

The survey of 4,000 young people aged 18 to 30, carried out for Young Women’s Trust by Yonder Data Solutions, also found that only 1 in 9 (11% of young women) were confident in the government’s ability to do what’s right for them. [1]

These findings form part of a major new report, Picking up the pieces: Young women’s experiences of 2020, published today by the charity, which supports young women aged 18 to 30 living on low or no pay. It exposes how millions of young women across the country have struggled and felt ignored throughout this crisis and the toll it has taken on their careers, finances, home life and mental health.

The survey also found:

  • an estimated 750,000 young women have had to go to work despite fears for their safety and protection against the virus.
  • half of young women who are parents (51%) said they were unable to apply for or left a job because they could not cover childcare costs, up from a third of young women when the same question was asked last year
  • a significant number of young women across England and Wales (43%) reported they had been offered a zero hours contract (compared to 35% of young men) and
  • over half of young women (57%) said they were worried about their mental health up from 51% last year. [2]

The report features compelling testimonies, gathered by young women who trained and were paid as peer researchers, about what life has been like for them during the pandemic. It also looked at young women’s attitudes to the government and the role activism plays in their lives.

One woman told peer researchers for the report that during the pandemic: “There was no childcare. I was the teacher. I was the mother. I was the maid. I was the carer. I was everyone. Everything.” Many young women speaking to researchers expressed the inequalities they experienced in workplaces including hospitality and at home which has put them at risk of catching coronavirus and left them worried about the future.

Other findings include, the toll of young women’s work and finances and the impact this is having on their mental health:

  • 13% of young women skipped meals to make ends meet, as did 30% of young women with a mental health condition and 35% of young women who are single parents
  • A third of young women (33%) applied for a job since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis in March 2020 and didn’t hear anything back, and this was even higher for 18-24 year old women at 41%
  • 16% of young women say they have worked without the protection or safety equipment they needed.
  • 17% of young women felt they ‘have no one to turn to’. This rose to 30% of young women with a disability or long-term health condition, and 45% of young women single parents.

Young women continue to face inequalities, discrimination and harassment in the workplace:

  • Over a third (36%) of young women said they would be reluctant to report sexual harassment for fear of losing their job, an increase from 25% of women last year. This is even higher for young women with a disability or long-term condition (50%).
  • Three quarters (76%) of young women aged 18-30 said they thought women faced discrimination in the workplace, and women aged 18-25 are even more likely to think so (81%).
  • 1 in 5 (21%) young women say they have been paid less than male colleagues in their workplace to do the same or similar work.
  • Almost a quarter of young women with children said they had been discriminated against because of being pregnant, on maternity leave or returning to work after maternity leave (23%).

Young women fear equality is getting worse and politicians don’t listen to them – but activism is on the rise:

  • There has been a significant decline in the number of young women who think women’s equality has got better. Just 8% of young women said that women’s equality has got better in the last 12 months (compared to 18% of young men who thought that), down from last year when 15% of young women agreed with this statement, and 2018 when 26% agreed.
  • 61% of young women said they felt ignored by politicians, (rising to 72% of young women with a disability or long-term health condition.)
  • 70% of young women say that their confidence in politicians has got worse in the last 12 months compared to 66% of young men.
  • Two thirds of 18 to 24 year old young women called themselves a feminist (66%), 1 in 9 young women of that same age group (12%) said they’d taken part in a demonstration and protest, two thirds (67%) said they’d signed a petition and almost half (45%) have shared or posted about a campaign on social media.

Our researchers asked young women what the government needs to do to improve their lives now and in the future. They said:

  • Provide safe and secure work opportunities for young women, including ensuring their ‘Jobs Plan’ invests in the sectors young women work in, like hospitality and care and also allow new routes for them into work
  • Reform the benefits system to better support young women during this crisis and beyond. This they reported, was particularly needed for carer’s benefits and those trying to access work
  • Ensure the response to coronavirus is informed by data and the voices of diverse young women on the economic and wider impacts on their lives
  • Accessible mental health support is provided which is tailored to young women’s experiences and
  • Investment in digital resources and better remote support for young women, especially those living alone, single mothers and those experiencing domestic abuse.

Report author Esther Sample, Research Lead at Young Women’s Trust said:

“Young women are facing an unprecedented crisis, with many walking a tightrope of financial worry, unsafe work and a complex and unfair benefits system and are now paying the price for the pandemic.

“We’ve heard from young women who are skipping meals to make ends meet and an estimated 1.5million have lost income as a result of the pandemic, and so it is hardly surprising that so many of them say their mental health is suffering and their confidence in politicians to do what’s right for them has plummeted.

“A plan for young women that focusses on longer term, safe work, a fair benefits system and accessible mental health support are all needed to right the wrongs we have seen since this pandemic started. If the government truly wants to help the country recover from the crisis, they need to reconnect with young women, especially those facing additional discrimination and barriers.”

Dionne Boateng, a peer researcher who interviewed young women for the report said:

“Sadly I wasn’t surprised that many young women are still having a tough time at work and home, more likely to experience workplace discrimination and caring for children and family.

“But unfortunately 2020 has seen new forms of sexism creep in too, leaving young women at risk and feeling helpless because of the virus. Young women I spoke to had worked with limited PPE, often on zero hours contracts, with no social distancing and forced into work that wasn’t safe and barely allowed them to make ends meet.

“Now more than ever, giving young women equal opportunities and the chance to contribute their skills and experiences, not only makes sense socially, it makes sense economically too as the country tries to recover from this pandemic.”

Note to editors

1. A survey was carried out for Young Women’s Trust by Yonder Data solutions (previously named Populus Data Solutions). A representative sample of 4,020 18 to 30 year olds in England and Wales, with panel services provided by Populus Live, were surveyed between 28 September and 12 October 2020. In addition, a booster sample of 568 was carried out among Black and Mixed Ethnicity respondents. Findings were significance tested at 95 %.

2. The ‘an estimated 1.5 million young women have lost income since the start of the pandemic’ and ‘an estimated 750,000 young women have had to go to work despite fears for their safety and protection against the virus’ figures have been calculated by extrapolating the survey findings against 5.3 million young women aged 18 to 30 based on ONS population projections for the UK.

3. Read the full report Picking up the pieces: Young women’s experiences of 2020