Empowering the Freelance Economy

Freelance Mums: your numbers are rising, but so are your health risks, says report

Many working mothers have put their health in peril over the pandemic
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It has been documented that it is increasingly hard to balance our lifestyles. Why it is then that working mothers, especially freelancers, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic? New research by specialist lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp has revealed why women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic and are likely to do so for years to come.

The flexibility and remote-working model of freelancing have often brought the solution to the daily juggle of raising a family and bringing in income for parents. With many women losing their jobs over the pandemic, we could see even more female freelancers come to market. But if they do, they must take care of their health, as this Bolt Burdon Kemp report reveals.

Over the pandemic some alarming stats emerged:

  • Women have had to balance 47% of their working hours with childcare, vs 30% for men 
  • Pre-pandemic, women already shouldered around 60% more unpaid work than men
  • 133,000 more women than men were placed on the furlough scheme between March-August 2020
  • In the UK, nearly three in five of all key workers are women
  • 77% of healthcare workers are women
  • 83% of social care workers are women
  • 1.2 million working women within the UK have no sick pay eligibility

One of the reasons we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of female freelancers over the past decade can be a jagged pill to swallow. The gender pay gap has a lot to do with it. Females often have lower salaries than men, so that is a compelling reason why in heterosexual marriages and partnerships the one with the lower pay, often the female, stays at home to raise the kids. The female’s salary would all too often be eaten up by a full-time nanny or childcare plus commuting costs. In same-sex parental relationships, this can be sometimes even more financially and emotionally challenging if one of you feels they have to sacrifice their career even if just for a year or two.

That said, to make ends meet parents will often look to go freelance to have the flexibility to continue their career and raise a family. The office working parent can sometimes even envy the freelancing parent because they seemingly “have it all”. But over the pandemic, some harrowing stats have revealed that working mothers [and we would also say many working fathers] have put their health in peril. And for some, there may be no turning back.

Growing evidence suggests that the NHS’ necessary shifts over the pandemic to postpone annual scans and other proactive health checks have particularly caused women’s health issues to fall by the wayside and its working mothers who have been hit the hardest. With confounding factors including delays in check-ups, lack of access to sexual health services, taking on more childcare duties than men, and having higher levels of anxiety around attending appointments, many predict the pandemic’s repercussions to working mothers health could be catastrophic. As medical negligence specialists, Bolt Burdon Kemp has investigated this further.

One million women in the UK may have missed lifesaving NHS breast screening, while 600,000 cervical cancer tests failed to go ahead, their research found.

  • 1 in 8 women will be affected with breast cancer in their lifetime 1 million breast cancer mammograms have been missed due to pauses between March to July 2020
  • It is estimated that 8,600 women caught in the backlog could be living with undetected breast cancer – and that their diagnosis could be delayed due to the impact of COVID-19
  • Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found up to 600,000 smear tests failed to go ahead in the UK across April and May 2020 (in addition to 1.5 million appointments missed annually)

Both breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings have now restarted across the UK, and it is vital that women do what they can to attend screenings. However, a survey by gynaecological charity The Eve Appeal found that, of those that had have received invitations to smear tests this year, 28% have not attended them. 

“The Covid pandemic has had a significant impact on reducing the uptake of cervical screening rates even further,” said Hannah Travis, Senior Solicitor in the Medical Negligence team at Bolt Burdon Kemp. “Firstly, there was a short period of time where screening was not taking place and secondly, there was the understandable fear from women attending a medical setting for screening because of the pandemic and risk of being infected.” 

A survey by Zegami – a data visualisation platform for medical imaging analysis – found women (34%) were more likely to miss seeing a medical professional than men (24%) due to anxiety surrounding the virus. Aside from this, other contributing factors have affected women’s abilities to put their own health first. 

“Many [women] were working on the front line with their time available to attend routine appointments significantly reduced. [As well as this,] some women may have been prohibited from attending due to their childcare and or carer responsibilities, and at a time when schools or nurseries were closed – respite care was unavailable, and childcare bubbles were non-existent,” said Travis.

There are some other cancers that many don’t realise most often affect females more so than males, according to Hugh Adams, Brain Tumour Research’s Head of Stakeholder Relations. A brain meningioma is one of them. 

“This is the most commonly diagnosed brain tumour, and it is more prominent in adult females than adult males, with research suggesting hormone replacement therapy may contribute to its increased risk,” said Adams. 

Because the symptoms of meningioma can be very broad – from headaches to hearing problems –it’s likely many women would attribute these to something less sinister.  Some tumours can be growing for years and become very large with no symptoms at all.

Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40, according to The Brain Tumour Charity.

Looking out for symptoms at home 

When it comes to women’s cancers, there are some early signs that you can check for at home. The Eve Appeal explains there are 21,000 gynaecological cancer diagnoses in the UK every year, but many aren’t aware of key symptoms that could ensure an earlier diagnosis, and a better outcome. 

Below are some potential signs and symptoms of cancers given by the Eve Appeal, the NHS and Brain Tumour Research.

Ovarian cancer: Persistent bloating; persistent pelvic/abdominal pain; difficulty eating; feeling full quickly or feeling nauseous; change in bowel habits; needing to urinate more. 

Womb cancer: Bleeding in between periods, after menopause or after sex; heavier periods; vaginal discharge (pink/watery/brown/prune colour). 

Cervical cancer: Bleeding between periods or after sex; pain during sex; unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge.  Vulval cancer: A lasting itch; pain or soreness; thickened, raised, red, white or dark patches of the skin of the vulva; a lump on the vulva. 

Vaginal cancer: Bleeding between periods, post-menopause, and/or after sex; bad-smelling/blood-stained discharge; pain during sex; a vaginal lump; persistent vaginal itch. 

Breast cancer: A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts; discharge from either nipples, which may be streaked with blood; a lump or swelling in either armpits; dimpling on the skin of your breasts; a rash on or around your nipple; a change in appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken. 

Brain cancer: Some of these symptoms may be very subtle at first, but may include changes in vision, worsening headaches, hearing loss or tinnitus, memory loss, loss of smell, seizures, or weakness in arms or legs.  As with all symptoms, many of these may not always point to cancer, but it is essential to call your GP and make them aware of anything you’ve noticed, as soon as you’ve noticed it.   

The message here is to book an appointment for any annual scans now to avoid delay or to get added to a waiting list. If you have private insurance, you can request a referral from your NHS GP to possibly fast-track a scan or appointment with a private specialist.

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