In early April 2020, during the UK-wide lockdown, the Women and Equalities Committee launched an inquiry to identify the impact of Covid-19 on protected characteristics. 

Aimey Sherwood

Aimey Sherwood

To complement the Law Society’s response to the inquiry, we conducted an online survey which sought to examine the impact of the current crisis on members of the profession with protected characteristics, and identify the specific challenges various communities may be facing.

In total, 89% of respondents expressed being affected by the Covid-19 crisis, or the government’s response to it, and 41% reported encountering specific impacts due to a protected characteristic.

29% of respondents listed one impacted protected characteristic, with 12% listing more than one and indicating that intersectionality, where respondents identified as more than one characteristic, exacerbated their experience.

The most commonly reported characteristics were disability (18.4%) and gender (16.4%).

When looking at the responses of those who identified as disabled, we see that 94% of these individuals reported experiencing an impact due to their disability.

Where disability was the only characteristic mentioned, the most commonly cited effects were a decrease in mental health and increase in feeling isolated.

Disabled respondents also reported delays to routine medical appointments, increased wellbeing support and adjustments from employers and, a greater flexibility through remote working.

With remote working often a required reasonable adjustment for many disabled solicitors, the profession being forced to adopt this way of working, and the success of it, has most certainly been a positive to come from the pandemic.

We have recently launched a survey in partnership with Legally Disabled on this topic to capture the thoughts and experiences of disabled members of the profession.

We hope these insights into the necessary adaptations to locations, hours and adjustments will inform a more flexible, more inclusive and more supportive profession for the disabled people who are a part of it.

All disabled solicitors and aspiring solicitors are invited to complete the survey by 16 August 2020.

For those who cited gender as the only impacted characteristic, juggling childcare and work was the biggest difficulty. 23% of all respondents said they experienced this challenge.

Many also mentioned that in dual-earning families, expectations that women will assume a larger share of childcare and caring responsibilities meant women’s working patterns were much more affected than men’s.

Flexibility in working hours and workloads should be afforded equally to both parents, carers or guardians.

Similarly to individuals who identified as disabled, individuals who identified race as their impacted protected characteristic cited increased isolation as their biggest issue at 12%.

This is also in line with responses from the entire sample of respondents with 25% reporting experiencing a negative impact on their mental health and 29% feeling more isolated.

Isolation and a decline in mental health are often directly correlated so it is no surprise that these issues were felt almost equally by the survey pool.

They are a sinister duo that has indiscriminately impacted a huge percentage of people of all characteristics during the pandemic.

LawCare reported 48 calls related to Covid-19 from 10th March to 18th May with 16.6% contacting them due to worsening of their existing mental health conditions.

Some of the most common reasons people reached out to the mental health charity include; heightened anxiety due to issues such as financial situation caused by furlough, increased workload and relationship strain.

LawCare have shared this information on their website alongside their wealth of helpful mental health resources. Visit their website here.

Of the Law Society’s survey, respondents also reported experiencing other impacts to a lesser degree such as; not having the appropriate technology to work remotely, greater risk of redundancy and furlough and a rise in domestic abuse during lockdown.

Both the variation and number of impacts shows the significant effect Covid has had on protected characteristics and on people’s day-to-day experiences.

While it is clear that the pandemic brought its own spectrum of issues, often personalised depending on the characteristic, it also exposed a wealth of inequalities and challenges which readily exist within society, regularly making life more difficult for many.

It is true that a great number of us, likely almost all of us, have suffered to some extent due to Covid, however, it is imperative we acknowledge how specific communities have been impacted, understand other people’s experience and, also, recognise these pre-existing inequalities.

As we approach a new normal, we have a great opportunity to take advantage of this forced change in ways of life and working and use it to embrace and support diversity and inclusion more than ever before.

It does sometimes take a crisis, an extreme and unavoidable change to how life is lived, for positive action to take place.

The pandemic has confronted us with inequality and discrimination and challenged us to be better.

Who are we to say no?