Economic research at the University of Essex has warned of job losses of around the 6.5 million mark as a result of Covid-19.
That would equate to about a quarter of the UK’s total jobs, with more than half of the positions in certain sectors being lost. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that the virus lockdown has so far hit younger workers the hardest. They are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to work in a shutdown area.
The IFS also found that the virus was likely to have a bigger effect on women’s earnings because of a disproportionate amount of women working in retail and hospitality. 17% of female employees work in shutdown sectors, and 13% of men.
Similar effects have been seen in the US, where women make up a smaller percentage of the working population, but a majority of the people who were laid off.
Rising unemployment should reignite the call for a shorter working week without loss of pay. Calls for the four day week often focus on increasing productivity, but we should concentrate on far more important benefits.
By sharing out work, by creating more jobs on fewer hours, we can help those in work with long hours and struggling with work-life balance, and also create jobs for those without work. For those working part-time who wished to work the same hours, the change would mean a pro-rata pay increase.
It is harder to find well-paid permanent part-time work. Shortening of the standard working week should be used to level up conditions between full and part time workers.
A standard working week that is shorter would make it easier for women and men to more equally share unpaid caring work. At the moment the financial incentive is to have one parent concentrating on career development and working long hours in a better paid role, with another working shorter hours in a worse-paid supplementary role in order to care for children.
That isn’t the only reason women do more unpaid labour at home. We also need a cultural shift toward sharing out of social reproduction.
For all those losing or about to lose their incomes, and for the overworked struggling to balance leisure, paid and unpaid work, we need to cut the working week.