Covid-19: Women were twice as likely to break UK lockdown rules, study shows

Responsibilities to care for family led more females to flout the rules, researchers said

Two women keep their distance as they meet in a park after aspects of the UK coronavirus lockdown were eased in May 2020. Getty Images
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Gender inequalities meant women in the UK were almost twice as likely as men to break Covid-19 lockdown laws preventing people from meeting, a study has found.

Responsibilities to care for family members led more women to flout the rules, according to the research by the University of York.

That meant they formed support bubbles out of “necessity” before they were legally allowed to, the researchers said.

“The results of our study suggest there wasn’t enough consideration given to caring obligations and how the new laws would have a disproportionate impact on women and other groups facing inequalities,” said Prof Joe Tomlinson from the law school at the University of York.

The findings surprised the researchers because previous studies showed men are much more likely to break the law than women.

“However, our results are not about women being wilfully non-compliant,” Prof Tomlinson said.

“Many participants told us how they broke the law by enlisting grandparents to help with childcare or meeting with other mothers for support. They were forming ‘bubbles’ out of necessity before it was officially allowed.”

The researchers interviewed almost 1,700 people across the country to investigate how the public responded to lockdown rules.

The main drivers of compliance were the fear of disapproval from others, the feeling breaking rules was morally wrong, and a general commitment to abiding by the law.

Researchers said more rule bending crept in as time went on.

But there was also a radically different understanding of the law by some.

More than 80 per cent of people who were questioned believed the “two-metre rule” was a legal requirement, when in fact it had been only guidance.

“We found that many people believed that legal requirements over the course of the pandemic were more onerous than they were in reality,” Prof Tomlinson said.

“This confusion may have increased compliance with many of the guidelines, but misleading the public in this way runs the risk of undermining the legitimacy of law.”

Overall, the study showed the British public is “very willing to follow the rules,” Prof Tomlinson said.

“The power of law in generating compliance is something policymakers should bear in mind for future public health responses as our study highlights a deep psychological difference,” he added.

More than 117,000 fixed penalty notices were issued in England and Wales under lockdown regulations between March 27, 2020 and June 20, 2021 for breaking the rules.

But lockdown breaches were not confined to the public.

Many celebrities and politicians were also caught partying or meeting others when people were not supposed to be mixing.

They included government adviser, Dominic Cummings, pop star Rita Ora and former prime minister, Boris Johnson.

In April this year, Mr Johnson was issued with a fixed penalty fine of £100 ($115) for breaching lockdown rules. This made him the first British prime minister to be punished for breaking the law in office.

Updated: September 06, 2022, 12:41 PM