Thousands of self-employed women are missing out on Covid grants, new research finds
Less than two-thirds (60%) of women eligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) claimed the grant by the end of January 2021, according to analysis by the Local Data Project led by the Women’s Budget Group.
The figures revealed that of all the SEISS claims that had been made, only 28.8 per cent were by women. This is despite them making up 34.8 per cent of self-employed workers. This equates to 632,000 self-employed women making SEISS claims, which totalled just over £1.4 billion by January.
In comparison, 68 per cent of eligible men claimed SEISS – that’s around 1.6 million men and a total of nearly £4.8 billion.
Government failed to consider ‘employment situation’ for women
Further analysis also showed that women claimed £2,200 on average through the SEISS, while men claimed £3,300. This difference is explained by self-employed women generally earning lower in comparison to men.
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the UK Women’s Budget Group, said: “Our gendered analysis of SEISS highlights how the government has failed to consider the employment situation for women.
“The IFS found that approximately 1.3 million people will be ineligible for SEISS because less than half their income comes from self-employment. As the majority of self-employed women are part-time, this has put them at greater risk of being excluded from the government’s self-employed support package.”
Professor Julia Rouse, Head of the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “We would expect that women on average would get a lower amount because they earn much less than men. Some of this is because women tend to work in sectors where the pay is much lower. But generally, the gender pay gap in self-employment is massive compared to those in employment.”
Main issue for excluded self-employed women is ‘hybridity’
Professor Rouse – who is also part of the Women’s Enterprise Policy Group, which lobbies for better policy for women in business – added that the way the government worked out who would be eligible for SEISS placed many women at a disadvantage from the start.
According to her own research, around 750,000 new and part-time self-employed people were excluded from government support.
She explained: “In recent years, we have seen a steeper growth in women becoming self-employed compared to men. We can assume that proportionately more women were not eligible for SEISS on that basis.
“But the main issue is hybridity. We know women tend to start a business more slowly, often combining employment and self-employment. So, if you earnt less than 50 per cent of your earnings from self-employment in the 2019-20 tax year, you did not qualify for SEISS.
“The government never gave a good explanation as to why it chose to exclude people for whom self-employment is a second job. They could easily have assessed whether or not their total income hit the £50,000 threshold. This was a poor policy decision.”