Only 38% of women in the UK believe the Government’s Covid-19 response has focused on issues that matter most to them

31 March 2021

Less than one third of young women and disabled women believe the government is acting in their best interests.

Just 38% of women in the UK believe the Government is focusing on issues that matter most to them in its response to the pandemic – this compares to 50% of men, according to new polling published today by six leading gender equality organisations. This new research demonstrates that the government must do more to support women and girls as focus turns towards recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, it is essential that women have a voice at Government’s decision-making table.

The polling, carried out by Survation for six women’s organisations: Close the Gap, Engender, Fawcett Society, Northern Ireland Women’s Budget GroupWomen’s Budget Group, and Women’s Equality Network Wales also shows that less than a third (29%) of women believe women’s specific needs have been considered or addressed in the Governments response to Covid- 19 compared to 34% of men.

Research over the past year has shown that women have been hit hardest by the social and economic impacts of Covid-19 with Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority women, young women, women in low-income households, disabled women, single mothers and those with caring responsibilities particularly badly affected.

Today’s polling shows that amongst groups most affected by the pandemic only 31% of young women (age 18-30) believe the UK Government is acting in their best interests compared to 52% of older women (age 46+), while only 32% of disabled women agree that the UK Government is acting in their best interests compared to 45% of non-disabled women.

The findings also further highlight that those at the sharp end of the pandemic, the majority of whom are women, have experienced a decline in their overall wellbeing and mental health.

  • Almost half of women (47%) report that their mental health has worsened since the pandemic began compared to one third (34%) of men. Rates were highest among young women (55%), disabled women (54%) and women in part-time employment (59%).
  • One third (32%) of young women and one quarter (25%) of disabled women and mothers started to seek support or sought more support for their mental health.
  • 47% of women reported that their quality of sleep had worsened since before the pandemic compared to 38% of men.

    Given this disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women – and the under representation of women in government – it is not surprising that they feel their needs have not been met by the UK Government’s response. Action is urgently needed from the Government to ensure that women’s voices and talents, in all our diversity, are not overlooked and the pandemic does not turn back decades of progress on women’s rights and equality.

    Dr Mary Ann Stephenson, Director of Women’s Budget Group, said:

    “There has been growing evidence that the pandemic and the Government’s response risks putting equality for women into reverse. So, it isn’t surprising that so few women believe their needs have been met by Government. Over the last year Women’s Budget Group  amongst other equality groups have repeatedly warned the government about the need  to carry out impact assessments of their response to the pandemic. This is the fallout of not heeding these warnings. We urgently need a targeted strategy for vulnerable groups that tackles the unequal economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

    Felicia Willow, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, said:

    “Over the past year, our research has revealed time and again that the pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on women. Government policy to date has failed to understand and protect the needs of women and, in some cases, has simply worsened inequality. This research demonstrates that this hasn’t gone by unnoticed by women. If the Government wants to show that it supports women, there needs to be more women at the decision-making table. We need the Government to commit meaningfully to improving equality for all kinds so that women – and particularly those who face multiple levels of discrimination- don't continue to lose out."

    Emma Ritch, Executive Director of Engender, said:

    “As we approach the anniversary of the first COVID-19 lockdown, it is clear that women in Scotland and across the UK have seen life get much harder during the pandemic. Twice as many women than men in Scotland say their mental health has worsened since before March 2020. Young women, disabled women, and Black and minoritised women were more likely to work in sectors that have been shuttered and are now reporting that they are struggling to make ends meet. Decision-makers need to take steps now to protect women’s jobs, incomes, and health as we move into recovery.”

    Anna Ritchie Allan, Executive Director of Close the Gap, said:

    “This data underscores that the Covid response is failing to meet women’s needs. Young women, disabled women, low-paid women, single parents and women in part-time work are even less likely to believe that the UK Government is acting in their best interests. Covid-19 has negatively affected women’s employment, financial security and mental health. We need action now to ensure that economic recovery doesn’t worsen women’s inequality.”  


    Catherine Fookes, Director of Women’s Equality Network Wales, said:

    “One year on from the first Covid-19 lockdown, and there continues to be an urgent need to address the clear and growing inequalities exposed by the pandemic. Throughout the year, our research has shown that women, and in particular disabled women, BAME women, and lower income women have all been impacted disproportionately by the pandemic and the policies enacted in response. It is clear from the latest polling that a majority of women in the UK do not believe the issues that matter most to them are being addressed. We need to see a diversity of women in decision-making positions so that our political institutions reflect the society we live in and a wider breadth of experiences to address the needs of all women with targeted policies and funding.”

    Alexandra Brennan, Coordinator at Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group (NIWBG), said:

    "From this data it is clear that support for crucial policy initiatives like the implementation of the Real Living Wage, no threshold for Statutory Sick Pay, ending the two-child limit and the lifting of 'no recourse to public funds' exists across the political spectrum. The UK Government's current approach is not representative of these ideals, which perpetuates the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and others. This briefing shows that inclusive reform is both desperately needed and widely supported."

    Rebecca Graham, from Standard Life Foundation, said:

    “We have seen so much evidence over the last year showing that while support mechanisms such as the Job Retention Scheme and the uplift to Universal Credit are welcome, they are simply not enough to prevent increasing inequality. The needs of groups including women on low incomes, Disabled women and Black, Asian and minority ethnicity women must be given specific consideration and the recommendations of groups representing them heard in making decisions on ongoing support.”


    Together, we’re calling for:

  • More representation: The government needs to include more women at the decision-making table and create strong structures to engage with the women’s and wider equalities sector.
  • Stronger safety net: This pandemic highlighted the importance of social security to alleviate and prevent poverty. The holes in this safety net were also put to stark relief. Child benefit, a crucial source of women’s and children’s income, should be increased and support for low-income families and unemployed people improved to provide better living standards. Legacy benefits (including Job Seeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance) should be increased in line with the £20 uplift to Universal Credit.
  • Sectoral support: Post-COVID recovery needs to include support for hardest hit sectors like retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism, sectors that are important employers of women and young people.
  • Investment in care: Urgent funding is required for the early years sector to avoid widespread closures which would have a huge impact on women’s employment. Sustainable funding and longer-term major reform are sorely needed for both the early years and the social care sectors.

    Further findings of the research:

    Women do not feel the UK Government’s response has met their needs:

  • 43% of women said the UK Government is acting in their best interests in its response to the pandemic compared to 50% of men
  • 24% of women said their physical health needs had been met by the UK Government’s response compared to 32% of men
  • 21% of women said their financial needs had been met by the UK Government’s response compared to 27% of men.

    Women’s mental health and wellbeing is suffering:

  • 53% of women said they were finding it harder to both stay positive day-to-day and about the future compared to 43% of men
  • 34% of women reported that their diet and nutrition had worsened since before the pandemic compared to 26% of men
  • 45% of women reported a decline in their levels of exercise compared to 36% of men.

The pandemic is exacerbating already existing inequality:

  • 35% of women on low incomes (household income of £0-19,999 annually) believe they will come out of the pandemic in more debt than before compared to 19% of women on high incomes (household income of over £40,000 annually) and 34% of disabled women believe they will have more debt compared to 24% of non-disabled women
  • 35% of mothers worry that they will struggle to make ends meet in the next three months compared to 21% of women without children
  • 30% of Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority women are worried about how they will pay their rent or mortgage compared to 17% of white women.


Notes on methodology:

Our research is drawn from data collected by Survation with fieldwork conducted 18th February 2021. The survey was conducted via an online panel. Invitations to complete surveys were sent out to members of online panels. The population sampled were people  in the UK aged 18 and over. The sample size was 1,004.