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All in it together? Usdaw annual conference highlights the unequal impact of the coronavirus crisis

Date: 26 April 2021 Usdaw’s Annual Delegate Meeting today looked at the unequal impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women, disabled, LGBT+ and BAME workers.
Addressing delegates at the online conference, Dave McCrossen – Usdaw Deputy General Secretary said: “The coronavirus pandemic has taught us some vital lessons. It has exposed the reality of contemporary Britain, a country defined by poverty, insecurity and inequality. It has shown that the workers who keep the country going, many of them Usdaw members, are too often underpaid, undervalued and unappreciated. It has shone a stark light on the deep and persistent structural inequalities which cut across the UK.
“There is no doubt that we have all been affected by the pandemic. No doubt that our lives have changed in ways we would never have believed possible 18 months ago. But the health and economic impact of the virus has not been the same for everyone.
“The crisis has highlighted the low pay and poor working conditions faced by many workers on the frontline - mostly women workers. Many working without properly fitting personal protective equipment, or without access to PPE at all. Pregnant women have faced anxiety, uncertainty and discrimination over this period, losing pay or work, with their health and safety poorly protected.
Women have also carried a disproportionate burden of unpaid care, filling the gaps left by the closure of schools, nurseries and social care settings, losing hours of work, pay and in too many cases their jobs. This time last year women's labour market participation was at a record high – over 7 out of 10 working age women were in paid work. In just three months that fell by five per cent.
“And let's not forget that women have not only lost their lives to the virus, they have also lost their lives to violence, as lockdown and social isolation has increased the risk of abuse and violence at home, and cut women off from their support networks.
“This crisis has exposed the deep structural race inequalities that exist in our society and the position of Black workers in the UK labour market. Tragically it took the disproportionate number of deaths of BME workers to bring the truth about racism in society and the workplace into the light. BME workers are more likely to be in low paid and insecure work. They are more likely to experience abuse and harassment at work - as they are concentrated in roles that are more likely to bring them into conflict with the public. They are more likely to be working in sectors of the economy that are non-unionised and so less likely to benefit from the positive work done by unions to negotiate safe working practices, pay protection and job security.
“The impact of this crisis on disabled people and working carers has been immense and yet their experiences have been absent from much of the public, political and media debate. Disabled people have been an 'afterthought' in the Government's approach to the pandemic, over half of those who have died from the virus or from a related illness are disabled, even without the impact of the pandemic, we know that households  where someone is disabled or a carer are more likely to be in poverty. And Covid has made a bad situation worse, as disabled people and carers face rising costs on reduced incomes, they are at the front of the queue when it comes to redundancy, and the back when it comes to employment or promotion.
“Disabled people asked to shield during the crisis have been particularly badly let down by Government, with many at risk of losing their jobs because they could not travel safely to work or carry out their job roles safely and yet many continue to be denied access to the Job Retention Scheme. Disabled workers have found it even more difficult to secure reasonable adjustments, or hold on to them where previously agreed.
“As well as being a physical health crisis we all know that the pandemic is a mental health emergency. Let us not forget the unequal impact of the pandemic on the LGBT+ community. For far too many LGBT+ workers, their experience of the world of work continues to be marred by hostility, stigma and unfair treatment. Many already felt the need to hide their sexuality or trans status in the workplace pre Covid. More feel they must do this now.
“The Pandemic has increased their invisibility and left many thousands feeling isolated and alone. The closure of LGBT specific spaces, the inability to get together with others in their communities, or their experience of being trapped in households unaccepting or hostile to their identities, this has all taken a heavy toll.
“Make no mistake, the unequal impact of the Coronavirus is no accident, in the words of Baroness Lawrence:
“It has been generations in the making. The impact of Covid-19 is not random, but foreseeable and inevitable, it is the consequence of decades of structural injustice, inequality and discrimination that blights our society.  We are in the middle of an avoidable crisis”.
Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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