Why The Pandemic Shadow Stretches Longer For Mothers and Primary Carers
Research tells us that rates of depression and anxiety have increased during the pandemic
A. When lockdowns occur, and
B. When case numbers rise.
Unfortunately we have needed lockdowns to occur to mitigate the rise in case numbers and subsequently mitigate the number of people with severe illness overwhelming the hospital system. If our healthcare system stays afloat, more people with severe disease can get the treatment they need, and fewer people die.
Data indicates that women* and young people are more likely to experience pandemic-related mental ill health than men and older people.
[*I note that people who fall outside of the gender binary are not represented in these statistics, but are likely to experience mental ill health in general due to marginalisation, and marginalised peoples in general are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and disaster generally than those who fit the “norms” of colonised society, e.g. white, cis, straight, abled, neurotypical.]
Modeling for suicide prevention strategies conducted last year indicated that financial support for those out of work would help significantly to prevent rising rates of suicide during lockdowns, hence JobKeeper and JobSeeker were implemented.
However many jobs have still been lost during the pandemic, and 78% of those jobs have been lost by female workers.
Double the number of single mums than couples mums exited the workforce when lockdowns and school shutdowns came into force.
The “Great Reopening” doesn’t mean the 90 000 jobs lost by women will magically reappear.
With a lack of suitable welfare payment options, more women than ever are now receiving, and will continue to receive JobSeeker financial support payment. Designed with young men temporarily out of work in mind, the rate of payment is $315 per week. Average rent for an apartment in Greater Sydney is $495 per week. Clearly, the current rate of the JobSeeker payment is well below the amount needed to make ends meet.
27% of female recipients are carers of children (i.e. mothers or mother-figures). A high percentage of these were already in low-paying work, as well as receiving the payment.
It is still near impossible to cover the cost of basic living, and there are literally no other suitable jobs for them to “seek” while also meeting the care needs of their children.
71% of female recipients receive the payment for longer than a year. JobSeeker entrenches the situation of vulnerable groups including single mothers and their children (including those leaving domestic violence), disabled parents, migrant families and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living below the poverty line.
It is important to recognise that many people do not live with one of these social positions but many (i.e. a disabled, single mother from a non-English speaking background). Recognising the intersections of disadvantage in our social framework is vital to work towards equity and social justice.
As the states open back up, lockdowns will indeed reduce, but cases will rise. With high vaccination rates, the hope is that hospitalisation rates will remain low, but the impact of “living with COVID-19” on mental health is unclear. One thing that is clear is that financial strain will not magically disappear for all families.
The disregard shown to those performing “the most important job in the world” of raising our children and the devaluation of both care work and human lives is a mental health time bomb for mothers and marginalised people that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and the white-male-dominated governments’ gendered, racist, ableist and classist response to it.
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