Troubling stories reveal true extent of covid impact on young women

28 May 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating existing inequalities for young women, leaving many feeling underpaid, undervalued and worried about the future, a new survey has found.

In its survey, Young Women’s Trust heard evidence about the impact coronavirus is having on the work, finances and wellbeing of almost 200 young women aged 18 to 30. [1]

This new research comes as studies show young women are disproportionately likely to work in the sectors that have been worst affected by the lockdown and are facing financial difficulties as a result. [2] 53% of the women who responded to the survey reported being financially affected by the crisis, with 20% having already lost their job or future work because of the lockdown.

Young women reported taking on significant unpaid caring responsibilities as people fall ill with the virus and children remain unable go to school or daycare. They are also making a significant contribution to their communities as key workers, facing substantial health risks themselves. [3]

Evidence from young women included:

Coronavirus is pushing many young women into greater financial hardship

“Two weeks before lockdown I just started my apprenticeship, so my employer had to let me go. And I had not been referred for furlough. Meaning I have no means of income except from my pay of two weeks which is only an apprentice wage.” 

“I am awaiting my first [Universal Credit] payment since I stopped working just before the crisis. So [that] has left me with no money to buy essentials.” 

Young women are taking on significant amounts of unpaid care

“I’m trying to teach my son whilst teaching and supporting all my students, whilst also making sure we are safe and have all the things we need. It’s mentally exhausting and I’m barely sleeping through the stress of it all.”

“I am working from home with a toddler. It is not safe to work during my contracted hours because my toddler is active and therefore, I have to work throughout the night – which leaves me exhausted during the day.” 

As key workers, young women feel unsafe, overworked and stressed

“I have asked my employer to furlough me as I am six months pregnant, they are refusing and telling me to apply for Statutory Sick Pay.”  

“Working in a pharmacy without PPE is very scary as I’m putting myself at risk and as the NHS needs as much equipment as possible, it’s being taken away from pharmacies and putting staff at more risk by not being able to wear PPE. My parents have underlying health conditions and are relying on my wages to help pay for food.”  

Pressures from coronavirus are worsening an existing crisis in young women’s mental health

“I’m worried about my son having learnt enough whilst off school so he is academically fine. And I’m worried about all our mental health. We live in a tiny flat with no green.”

“It is affecting my mental health drastically. I am also a recovering addict – this is a major struggle especially living alone, not having my regular support/appointments (over the phone aren’t the same) and not having work to go to.”

Young Women’s Trust has laid out a five-point plan for the government to put young women at the heart of the recovery from the economic fallout of coronavirus. This includes: safeguarding jobs; ensuring the benefits system can provide security for young women; valuing their levels of unpaid work; protecting them at work; and, making sure there is a focus on the most vulnerable women.

Joe Levenson, Director of Communications and Campaigns at Young Women’s Trust said:   

“Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, young women, especially those struggling to live on low or no pay, were too often ignored, undervalued and underpaid.

“As vital workers and caregivers, young women are currently at the core of the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, but as our research shows, they are facing financial hardship, taking on yet more caring responsibilities and their mental health is suffering.

“We are especially concerned that women’s equality will move backwards in the absence of a strong focus within government and from employers on preventing this from happening – and are urging those in charge of recovery planning to ensure that no young woman is left behind.”

Note to editors 

  1. Ignored, undervalued and underpaid: the impact of coronavirus on young women’s work, finances and wellbeing was based on an online survey between 3 and 21 April to gather the experiences of young women. 198 young women aged 18 to 30 took part and shared their experience.
  2. Institute for Fiscal Studies briefing note, published 6 April 2020: Sector shutdowns during the coronavirus crisis: which workers are most exposed?
  3. Resolution Foundation briefing note, published 28 April 2020: Risky business: Economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis on different groups of workers
  4. The Young Women’s Trust has multiple case studies available of young women experiencing the issues highlighted by this report.
  5. The organisation will be issuing a separate statement ahead of the Equal Pay Act on Friday 29 May. If you are looking for a case study or want to receive that statement, please do get in touch.
  6. Young Women’s Trust is a feminist organisation campaigning for economic justice for young women.