There is no getting away from it, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on young women's work, finances and wellbeing. The coronavirus, which led to the introduction of lockdown measures and social distancing, has created an economic crisis for many young women, according to a recent survey by The Young Women's Trust. Almost 200 women in the survey revealed the significant impact on their work, finances and wellbeing.

In today's society, young women (aged 18-35yrs) are more likely to be working in low paid and undervalued jobs. They were already bearing the brunt of unpaid work caring for children, family and friends before the pandemic, and on average, they carried out 60% more unpaid work than men (ONS (10 November 2016) 'Women shoulder the responsibility of 'unpaid work'). Not surprisingly, this has increased during the lockdown. If you are caring for people who are sick with the virus or helping people who are shielding, you simply cannot work. For many women, work has not been an option because local nurseries, day-care settings and schools have been closed.

Astonishingly, 36% of women are keyworkers, compared with 18% of men (Resolution Foundation (28 April 2020) 'Risky business, Economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis on different groups of workers'). These are the jobs where workers feel unsafe, overworked, and stressed. And the other sectors that are primarily staffed by women were closed down indefinitely; restaurants, shops, leisure, travel and tourism. More than 78% of those who have lost their jobs since the crisis began were women. And two-thirds of these were aged between 18 and 34 (PricewaterhouseCoopers). As businesses start to re-open - the proposed date is 15 June - many women are likely to find that their employer won't open because they cannot abide by social distancing rules, or will cut jobs. The government has not introduced additional legislation to protect workers legally and is relying on existing health and safety laws.

Many young women at the start of their career who had begun apprenticeships, were let go. Others on zero-hours contracts lost work. Employers have put many new positions on hold – creating no direct route into the workplace. Many young women have reported that they are now skipping meals so that they can feed their children. They are borrowing from family, taking out overdrafts and paying on credit cards. Many are going into debt to pay rent and make ends meet. The government has secured financial support for many individuals, but many young women are falling through the cracks. And the cracks are growing wider. 

Before the crisis, young women were most at risk of mental ill-health. Many of the women who responded to the Young Women's Trust's survey said that they were more stressed and anxious because of the crisis. Those with existing health conditions hadn't been able to access care services and faced delayed appointments. 

It is not hard to see the far-reaching impact of this issue on young women's financial security, mental health and wellbeing and ultimately, their sense of belonging. The very women who we need to be mentally robust to support our economy and help us bounce back are being locked out of society and are suffering significant hardship as a consequence. Only time will tell how deep-rooted this issue has become.

What changes do we want to see?

The crisis has exposed existing gender inequalities in Britain. As a society, we need to recognise and value unpaid carers and review the affordability of high-quality childcare. We need to create a benefits system that offers immediate, practical support in times of crisis. Strong guidelines are needed to protect workers, which should be legally enforced to protect people's basic rights. The government needs to listen, understand the experiences of young women, and collect informative data on which to base effective public policy.

Advocacy Focus

We are a values-based organisation, and place physical and mental wellbeing at the heart of all we do. We actively tackle the stigma of mental ill-heath and have created a culture that enables our team to turn up to work as the best version of themselves. We recognise how crucial young women are in providing high-quality independent advocacy across the North West. Many of our team are mothers, have caring responsibilities, battle with their own mental ill health or are navigating their way through the menopause. Many of them have worked through this pandemic from home, with a child on their knee or whilst running errands for their shielded family members or friends.

What are we doing to help young women?

Young people: Our services in Rochdale, Trafford and Bradford are for Looked After Children. We offer Child Protection Advocacy in Trafford for young people over the age of 12 who are the subject to multi-agency child protection plans. We are committed to giving young people a voice in their care planning.

Self-advocacy: Our Self-Advocacy Toolkit and our Advocacy Friends project give people the tools to represent themselves in health and social care matters and to support each other in the wider community.

Community Advocacy: We have a 'Pen-demic Pals' and a telephone befriending service to reach out and connect with people over 18. These vital community services equip people with the knowledge and skills to be able to deal with health and social care services with confidence. We can also help young women to access mental healthcare services, or help them to feel more confident to voice their views and wishes when dealing with mental healthcare services.