With vaccinations gathering pace and a glimmer of light at the end of Covid’s long tunnel, there’s a new air of optimism as people tentatively begin making future plans. But after a year combining home school, home working and everything in between, many women worldwide are exhausted … with dwindling finances to-boot.
Research from UN Women revealed that 25 years of progress towards gender equality could be completely wiped out in a year due to the pandemic, and as the aftermath sees women absorb the lion’s share of domestic chores and family care on top of paid employment responsibilities.
Before coronavirus, UK women did 1.8 times more unpaid work than men – a greater disparity than in the US, Canada, Germany, and France. Worse still, UK women’s freebie duties could double post-pandemic. Starved of time and opportunities, plus traditional system biases, and the financial lives of many women post pandemic look bleak.
23% of UK women worry about their lack of savings and 15% fear not being able to pay their bills in future
The Health, Wealth and Happiness report published by protection insurance leader LifeSearch, shows that Covid’s impact packs a punch beyond our bank accounts too:
• Almost half of all women (45%) say their mental health worsened over last 12 months (vs 32% of men)
• 49% of women are less happy than they were pre-Covid (vs 42% of men)
• 43% of women took to comfort eating in the last 12 months (vs 29% of men) and 21% have been drinking more alcohol
• Over one in five (21%) UK women said that having unstable finances damaged their mood and overall outlook
• 23% of UK women worry about their lack of savings and 15% fear not being able to pay their bills in future
It looks pretty dire, but it’s not a lost cause. The Health, Wealth and Happiness report also found glimmers of hope we can build upon. For lots of women, when suddenly confronted with their financial fragility, the pandemic meant a fresh opportunity to regroup. Some 57% of UK women say they re-evaluated their finances during Covid, with almost a quarter (24%) saving more money than usual and 8% paying off bigger chunks of debt than during normal times. These breadcrumbs of progress shouldn’t be ignored. My day-to-day experience tells me that women absolutely have the appetite and drive to shore up their financial futures, the piece that’s often missing – at scale anyway – is the education component.
With the right support from our institutions, women can continue a new trajectory to establish greater financial resilience and take control. We need to look to government and particularly the financial services industry and demand:
• More high quality (non-patronising) financial education and advice for women so more of us can build a clear, manageable financial roadmap towards achieving our goals.
• More accessible financial solutions designed and delivered to address the specific challenges women face. In later life planning, for example, there’s a particularly wide gap.
• More marketing campaigns to encourage conversations around women and money: show that financial management is not something we should devolve responsibility for – it’s something that we should be actively involved in.
We know there’s a gender pay gap and a gender investing gap. We know it’s not an even playing field. We know the UK’s childcare system is the second most expensive of all the OECD countries. We know the discrepancies at play won’t be righted overnight. But with the pandemic – and its legacy – laying the situation bare for all to see, there’s a precious window of opportunity for us to challenge the status quo. Many of us took small steps, and with the right support we can take many more.
The circumstances aren’t ideal. But this time of national and international recalibration seems a perfect moment to pounce on nascent pandemic trends, push for progress and let everyone know: money matters, for women too.