The Government are committed to helping all employees during this challenging time. The coronavirus job retention scheme is an unprecedented scheme to protect employment, and it has supported more than 9 million jobs. As always, equalities legislation requires that employers must not discriminate based on gender, or pregnancy and maternity, in the workplace.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that women are 47% more likely to have permanently lost their jobs since the start of the crisis and 15% more likely to have been furloughed. We know that social distancing has severely impacted hospitality, leisure and retail, where women are disproportionately employed in customer-facing roles. What steps can my hon. Friend take to ensure that women do not emerge as the accidental casualties of the crisis?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question and, in particular, for highlighting the situation with regard to the hospitality and leisure sector. I speak to many of the people in that sector on a daily basis. We are actively monitoring the impact of covid-19 on the labour market, but it is too early to draw any firm conclusions. Equality legislation requires that employers must not discriminate based on gender, and this law continues to apply.
As with any other economic downturn, it is women who are at risk of being worst hit by the economic consequences of coronavirus. As childcare responsibilities overwhelmingly fall on women, the closure of schools and childcare facilities could mean that many women are forced to leave work or to reduce their hours as the furlough scheme is wound up. The U-turn yesterday on free school meals is welcome and will help many families, but what will the Minister do to ensure that women are able to return to work in a flexible way in order to balance childcare commitments and not lose out financially, particularly as schools are not yet fully open?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. It is important that we manage to supply childcare. That is why women should be able to go to their local authority. They may not get their first choice of childcare provisions, but their local authority will be able to guide them. None the less, it remains the case that there should be flexible working: if people can work from home, they should be able to work from home, and employers need to be mindful of that.