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Women on Wales frontline feeling pressures at work and home during pandemic, says UNISON

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WOMEN in key worker positions across Wales are losing sleep, spending more on household bills, and worrying about the pandemic’s impact on their children’s education and mental health, according to a survey published today (Wednesday) by UNISON.  

The findings are based on responses from over 2,700 women including teaching assistants, nurses, council workers and police staff. They provide a comprehensive insight into the emotional, physical and financial impact of Covid on critical public services staff who are keeping Wales running.   

The report Women Working Through the Pandemic includes the experiences of those providing a wide range of essential services in Wales including education, health, social care and policing, either in their usual workplace (51%) or from home (36%).   

It shows the desperate situations key workers are facing and why they need proper time off and a pay rise, says UNISON.  The findings are released ahead of UNISON’s Empowering Women virtual conference, which opens later today with a keynote address from new general secretary Christina McAnea.

Some have described being left to pay all the bills after the death of their partner from Covid or resorting to wrapping themselves in blankets to save on electricity bills.

The results show the huge strain of working during the Covid crisis with nearly two thirds (67%) not sleeping well, more than half (51%) not taking regular breaks and a significant number (58%) feeling stressed most of the time.   

The impact of the pandemic on children is also a source of anxiety for many. Of the women who are parents, three in five (62%) are worried about the mental health of their children and more than two fifths (48%) are concerned about how their education is being affected. 

The emotional impact of not being able to see friends or colleagues face to face – or look after themselves properly – is a major issue. The vast majority (92%) miss catching up with close friends in person, and many (50%) do not have time to reflect and destress. More than a third (37%) say they are experiencing loneliness.

Women who can least afford it are paying the biggest price, according to UNISON. Of the 2,700 who took part in the survey – half (53%) – earn £18,000 a year or less, and a more than a third (38%) have an annual salary of £15,000 or less.   

More than two fifths (44%) have seen their spending increase – especially on energy, food, technology, transport and housing. Reasons include having children off school all the time, a partner working from home or being furloughed.   

Three in ten (30%) say they had to dip into savings to cope with financial difficulties. One even revealed they had bought a caravan to live in to protect their vulnerable family members from catching Covid.      

More than half (53%) said being unable to get a regular hair cut or colour is affecting how they feel about themselves. Almost half (44%) are not exercising regularly.     

UNISON is calling on the government to ensure employers offer staff more flexibility over when they work and not to take long hours for granted, fund childcare properly so it’s affordable and accessible for key workers and maintain the £20 increase to the universal credit allowance.       

UNISON Cymru Wales regional secretary Karen Loughlin said: “Public services would have come to a standstill without the vital jobs done by women in our schools, hospitals, police forces and local councils.  

“But employees are exhausted. They’re worn out from meeting work demands during Covid while caring for relatives, looking after children and dealing with debt. Those on low wages are the ones shouldering these burdens most of all.  

“All women deserve better and this country’s economic recovery depends on them. But their mental and physical health is at stake.   

“The government needs to step up by providing the funding and support to make their working lives easier.”   

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Completing the Census will help improve the county’s services

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As Census Day approaches, everyone is reminded of the benefits of taking part in this once every ten years survey.

The Census gives an accurate picture of the population and the needs of the people in the county, and affects the funding that is allocated to Ceredigion from Welsh Government annually and therefore the funding that’s available to provide critical services in the county. As a result, it is vitally important for everyone to take part in this year’s survey.

Every household in the county will receive a Census Pack in the coming weeks, which will include either a letter with a unique access code for online completion or a paper questionnaire. The Census Packs will include instructions on how to complete the questionnaire.

The last Census, which was held in 2011, showed that 75,922 people lived in Ceredigion, including 11,318 students. The most popular occupation for the county’s residents was farming, with 2,063 people identifying themselves as farmers, and 676 people noted they were nurses.

Data from Census 2011 supported the identification of Ceredigion (and three other local authorities in Wales) as target areas for the £2 million Arfor Innovation Fund Scheme.The data highlighted Ceredigion as a suitable area for the scheme, due to the county’s high proportion of Welsh speakers, and inflow of older people and outflow of younger people. Consequently, almost £500,000 has been made available by the Welsh Government to Ceredigion, to support Welsh language businesses and entrepreneurs in the area.

In addition to this, the data collated during Census 2011 helped to develop play and recreation areas at Llanddewi Brefi, Llanon, Ponterwyd and Cardigan. By using this data, it was possible to apply to the Welsh Government Rural Communities Development Fund (RCDF) and show how much these services are needed by local residents.

Information gathered as part of the Census enables local and national governments to plan services for various sectors, including healthcare, social care, schools and transport.

Councillor Ellen ap Gwynn, Leader of Ceredigion County Council, said: “Not only is the Census fascinating, but it also gives the best possible estimate of our population today. Over the years, we have been able to use this data to plan services, by tackling and prioritising the needs of our communities in Ceredigion. I urge everyone to complete this mandatory survey in order to gain a true picture of the county’s fabric. Who knows what the data from Census 2021 will bring? But one thing is certain, taking part will benefit the residents of our county.”

Census Day will be on 21 March 2021, but households will soon receive Census Packs in the post explaining how they can take part. The Census will include questions about your sex, age, work, health, education, household size and ethnicity. And, for the first time, there will be a question asking people whether they have served in the armed forces, as well as voluntary questions for those aged 16 and over on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

In Wales, households will also be asked a specific question about their Welsh language skills. And those who wish to complete the Census in Welsh can do so both online and in paper form. 

Because these things matter to us all, everyone needs to complete the Census. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) runs the Census in England and Wales and is independent from government. Your details are protected by law and information published is always anonymous.

For more information and to find out how you can access help, go to www.census.gov.uk or call the contact Centre on 0800 169 2021.

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Elin Jones backs calls for business rates holiday extension for independent businesses

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CEREDIGION’S Member of the Senedd, Elin Jones, has backed calls by the British Independent Retail Association for the extension of the current rates holiday for non-essential businesses in 2021/22.

Many local independent businesses have been closed for the best part of a year, and many will be in a more precarious situation now than when the initial rates holiday was announced last year. Many businesses will be looking forward to the easing of restrictions over the next few months, but Elin Jones warned that many would benefit from the continued business rates holiday.

Elin Jones said:

“Every effort must be made to secure the future of independent businesses in Ceredigion. They are such an important feature of life in Ceredigion, both as employers, and as a draw for people to our towns and villages.

“Normal trading will eventually resume, and these businesses will be able to flourish again, but local businesses owners know that this cannot be rushed. Therefore we must continue to sustain our businesses until they are once again back on an even keel.

“It will take a while for footfall to resume, and extending the business rates holiday is one way to help in this time of need.”

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MP makes Budget case for support for self-employed and small businesses in Ceredigion

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BEN LAKE MP has called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the government’s financial support package for businesses and self-employed workers in next week’s Budget as many struggle to stay afloat during continued lockdown restrictions. 

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak is to set out the UK Government’s budget on Wednesday 3 March, almost a year since the last Budget on 11 March 2020. 

To help businesses and our local high streets over coming months, the Ceredigion MP has called on the Chancellor to extend the lowered rate of VAT at 5% for hospitality and tourism for a year to March 2022 and to extend the business rates relief package. 

Mr Lake also called on the Chancellor to retain the furlough scheme for the duration of pandemic restrictions, as recent figures show more than 178,000* in Wales are still receiving government help from the CJRS. He also urged the Chancellor to expand the existing eligibility criteria for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme in order to offer some help to the many individuals who have not received a penny in Government support thus far. 

Ben Lake MP said: “For many businesses and self-employed workers, the financial support government has offered over the last 12 months has been a lifeline. Now, as we are finally starting to see light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, we cannot remove this lifeline prematurely. Extending this help for a little longer, and expanding the criteria to help those that have been excluded thus far, would offer small businesses the support they require to ‘bounce back’ from the pandemic.” 

Many businesses who are still not open due to lockdown measures are also now expected to start repaying their Bounce Back Loans. This is despite their situation largely remaining unchanged since they took out the loan, or in some unfortunate instances, worsened as they have not yet been able to trade.  

UKHospitality has estimated that the hospitality sector lost around £72 billion in sales in 2020 and faces, frankly, a debt mountain, including £4.2 billion in state-backed loans.  

Mr Lake said:  “It is important that businesses that took out bounce back loans and CBILS are required to pay only when they are in a position to do so – once they have ‘bounced back’ from the pandemic. Affording such a level of flexibility, and thus preventing avoidable business failures, would protect jobs, the taxpayer’s investment in the recovery, and the integrity of our financial system.

“We remain in the early stages of a vaccine-led recovery, and it is likely that we will have some form of restrictions for many months to come. Having done so much to protect the economy and the workforce, we must not withdraw support prematurely, as to do so would risk throwing away the investment taxpayers have made in the last year, and potentially our economic recovery.” 

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