An Unequal Burden: New briefing outlines how Covid-19 has affected women’s employment, financial security and unpaid work.

Women’s inequality has been exacerbated by the social, economic and labour market implications of the Covid-19 crisis. However, the lack of gender-sensitive, sex-disaggregated data created barriers to achieving a full understanding of women’s experiences of the pandemic. In particular, intersectional data relating to the experiences of disabled and Black and minority (BME) women in Scotland during the crisis is almost entirely lacking.

Recognising these critical data gaps, Close the Gap joined with other women’s organisations across UK including Engender, the UK Women’s Budget Group, the Fawcett Society, Women’s Equality Network Wales and the Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group in a polling project funded by abrdn Financial Fairness Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust to collect quantitative survey data on the impact of Covid-19 on women.

As part of the project, three rounds of polling were conducted from November 2020 to July 2021. Alongside Engender, we published briefings looking at the Scottish-level findings across the experiences of women with caring responsibilities; women’s wellbeing, mental health and financial security; and the impact of the pandemic on young women.

This week, Close the Gap has published a new briefing collating the project findings in the realm of employment, training, skills and poverty. Our headline findings include:

  • Just over one-third of young women (35%) had their furloughed salary topped-up by their employer, compared to over half of young men (53%)
  • Around one-fifth of BME women (21%) and disabled women (19%) felt they were unfairly chosen for furlough as a result of their race, sex, age, disability or health condition. By contrast, only 1% of non-disabled women, and 1% of white women felt unfairly chosen for furlough.
  • Women were more than twice likely as men to be worried about how they will pay their rent or mortgage in February 2021 (24% women compared to 10% men).
  • In July 2021, more than two-thirds (37%) of young disabled women were not confident that they would have enough money for the next 12 months, compared to just over a quarter (27%) of non-disabled young women and 18% of non-disabled men.

This survey data provided additional evidence to illuminate how the economic and labour market consequences of the pandemic were impacting women’s financial security, wellbeing and experience of employment.

UN Women estimates that the pandemic risks setting women’s equality back 25 years. In line with this analysis, our polling data highlights that the pandemic has exacerbated gender inequality in a range of ways, particularly around women’s poverty and the unequal distribution of caring responsibilities.

In highlighting the specific experiences of BME women, disabled women and young women, the findings once again underscore the importance of gathering and utilising intersectional gender-sensitive sex-disaggregated data in policymaking.

The lack of disaggregated data has been compounded by a failure to mainstream gender equality considerations into policy and programmes developed in response to the crisis. This is despite gender mainstreaming being a legal requirement of the public sector equality duty.

As we emerge from Covid-19, it is vital that Scottish Government and its delivery agencies embed gender mainstreaming approaches and improve the range of intersectional gender-disaggregated data used in the labour market, skills and anti-poverty policymaking. Without such action, policymaking will continue to cement women’s economic and labour market inequality.

You can read the full briefing here.

The Child Poverty Delivery Plan maintains a strong focus on work and earnings, but the need to address women’s poverty is less visible

The Scottish Government has published its updated Child Poverty Delivery Plan setting out the actions it will take to tackle child poverty across 2022 to 2026. The impact of Covid-19 and the ongoing cost of living crisis have contributed to a rising tide of poverty in Scotland, rendering the refreshed Plan more important than ever.

There have been concerns and criticisms that the progress on tackling child poverty is insufficient to meet the Scottish Government’s legally binding targets. Indeed, as highlighted by the Poverty and Inequality Commission, by some measures child poverty has actually worsened in recent years.

Close the Gap is pleased that Best Start, Bright Futures has maintained a strong focus on work and earnings. The Scottish Government has recognised that work is not always a route out of poverty and that the focus needs to be on improving access to fair work with decent wages.

As a result, there are welcome actions in the Plan including the development of a strategic plan for current Scottish Government childcare commitments; employability programmes designed to meet the needs of parents; and continued commitment to the delivery of fair work in sectors such as social care. The Plan also responds to the equality sector’s concerns around placed-based models and commits to adopting intersectional approaches to the priority family groups.

Women are more likely to be reliant on social security than men, and account for the majority of carers for children, older people and disabled people. Consequently, women will also benefit from the further increase in the Scottish Child Payment, which Close the Gap campaigned for as part of the End Child Poverty Coalition, the introduction of Scottish Carer’s Assistance and welcome action to mitigate the benefit cap.

However, we are concerned that the Plan does not adopt a gendered lens to the analysis of and policy responses around employment. While the Plan highlights the Scottish Government’s prior commitment to developing a strategy to better mainstream equality throughout policy and delivery, there is a lack of gender mainstreaming within the Plan itself.

Language is important, and the continual use of ‘parents’ throughout the Plan ignores the well-evidenced barriers women with caring responsibilities experience in employment, skills and progression. As a result, insufficient attention is afforded to the inextricable links between women’s labour market inequality and child poverty.

For example, the section on childcare does not mention women or mothers specifically. This is despite clear evidence that childcare provision is the most immediate barrier to women being able to work, train and study. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s gender equality index shows that 85% of those who are ‘economically inactive’ due to caring are women.

The lack of focus on gender equality is particularly concerning as the Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA), published alongside the Plan, contains good evidence and analysis on women’s poverty. However, this analysis is not visible within the Plan itself and it is therefore unclear how the EQIA influenced the content of the Child Poverty Delivery Plan.

The Plan does acknowledge that women face “disadvantage in the labour market, with challenges on entering and sustaining employment, lower pay, more precarious work and discriminatory hiring and firing practices” but there are no actions explicitly designed to address this beyond a vague commitment to continue taking targeted action on the gender pay gap.

Close the Gap has called for action on the undervaluation of women’s work, a key cause of women’s and children’s poverty, and the gender pay gap. We’ve also advocated for gender-sensitive upskilling and reskilling support and action to put hours-based flexible working options, including high-quality part-time work, at the heart of fair work.

Instead, there is a continued reliance on pre-existing strategies and interventions which are not well-gendered including No One Left Behind, Individual Training Accounts and the Flexible Workforce Development Fund. As we highlighted in our consultation response, it is highly unlikely that any of these actions will have any notable impact on women’s poverty.

On the whole, this feels like a missed opportunity to embed gender equality into the Scottish Government’s anti-poverty work. This represents a regression, with less focus on women’s poverty than was afforded within the last Child Poverty Delivery Plan. While Every Child, Every Chance stated that there was “conclusive evidence that poverty and gender are inextricably linked”, this understanding is not evident in the refreshed Plan.

This diminished focus is at odds with the growing evidence base on the links between women’s poverty and child poverty. Women are being particularly impacted by the harsh cost-of-living crisis and women who were already more likely to be experiencing poverty have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 job disruption. This has heightened financial insecurity for Black and minority ethnic (BME) women, disabled women, and lone parents, 92% of whom are women.

Given the inextricable links between women’s poverty and child poverty, this means that meeting Scotland’s child poverty targets necessitates explicit and concentrated action on women’s labour market inequality. This was a time for building on the actions in the previous Child Poverty Delivery Plan and applying increasing focus on women’s poverty. Instead, the sharp focus on women’s poverty is diluted within this Plan.

Close the Gap’s advocacy will now focus on implementation. We will be calling on the Scottish Government to adopt gender mainstreaming approaches in the design of all strategies and interventions developed as part of this Plan. Gender-sensitive, sex-disaggregated data must also be gathered for all programmes so that we can measure how they are tackling women’s poverty specifically. The forthcoming Adult Learning Strategy and Fair Work Action Plan are key opportunities for the Scottish Government to show their commitment to embedding gender equality into the implementation of the Plan.

Expanding Equally Safe at Work: Piloting with NHS, Scottish Government and the third sector

We're pleased to announce that we will be expanding Equally Safe at Work as part of the Gender Beacon Collaborative which was a recommendation of the First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls. This expansion follows a successful pilot of Equally Safe at Work with councils. The accreditation programme will be tailored for delivery with NHS boards, the third sector and in Scottish Government.

Women experience a range of gendered barriers which prevent them from entering and progressing in the labour market, resulting in women’s concentration in low-paid work and undervalued work, placing them at greater risk of poverty. Women’s experiences of men’s violence make it difficult for women to do their job to the best of their ability, and in some cases, women are forced out of work entirely, creating additional barriers to gender equality at work.

What is Equally Safe at Work?

Equally Safe at Work supports employers to review, update and develop employment policies and practices to advance women’s equality in the labour market and prevent violence against women (VAW). It provides a framework for change and sets out the advice and guidance on how to develop best practice. It’s comprised of six criteria which include: leadership, data, flexible working, occupational segregation, workplace culture and VAW.

Equally Safe at Work was piloted with an early adopters group of councils, with four receiving bronze accreditation. The evaluation of the pilot found that the programme was an effective mechanism for progressing gender equality at work. As a result of the pilot, employers introduced initiatives to address occupational segregation, developed policies on VAW, ensured all jobs advertised included flexible working, and completed training on flexible working and VAW.

The expansion of Equally Safe at Work will see new early adopter groups in the NHS and third sector, and Scottish Government, participate in a pilot and work towards the accreditation standards. We're working with experts in health and social care, learning and development, HR, gender equality and VAW across different sectors to oversee the development of the Gender Beacon Collaborative.

Next steps

We will be developing a community of practice which will bring together employers from third sector, the Scottish Government, NHS boards, local authorities and the private sector to engage in shared learning opportunities, and to disseminate good practice. This will also provide a variety of perspectives and insight into levering change in different sectors.

Earlier this week, Close the Gap hosted information sessions for employees in NHS boards to introduce the pilot, what’s involved, and the benefits of involvement. In the next stage of development we'll be inviting employers from NHS boards to join the early adopters group, alongside third sector employers.

If you're interested in finding out more, please contact our Programme Officer, Nikki Chung, on for more information.

Latest data on Scotland’s gender pay gap highlights women’s continued inequality in the labour market

The gender pay gap represents the divergent experiences women and men have not only in employment but also in education, training, care and other unpaid domestic labour. As the key indicator of women’s labour market inequality, data relating to the gender pay gap is critical to Close the Gap’s work.

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) produces data on the average hourly earnings of women and men in the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). Each year, Close the Gap analyses this data in order to assess how the gender pay gap has changed over time.

The latest data shows that there has been a marginal narrowing of Scotland’s gender pay gap of 0.3 percentage points from 2020 to 2021. This means that the gender pay gap remains a persistent feature of the Scottish labour market and currently sits at 10.1%.

This aligns with the general trajectory of the gender pay gap which has remained relatively stable over time. For example, from 2015 to 2019, the gender pay gap declined by only 1%.

By contrast, data from 2020 showed that the gender pay gap had declined by almost 3 percentage points from the previous year. However, as we outlined last year, this should be treated with caution. 2020 data came with reliability warnings around the collection of data during public health restrictions, and the impact of the pandemic on the gender pay gap was unclear.

As the more substantial decline in the gender pay gap has not been replicated within the latest data, it is likely that changes to the gender pay gap in 2020 reflected Covid-19 job disruption, rather than underlying pay trends. The pandemic brought significant changes to working hours and 8.8 million employees across the UK were furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme when the 2020 data was collected.

ASHE data also enables us to analyse the gender pay gap by occupation, industry, working patterns and age groups. Close the Gap analysis of this data forms the basis of our annual gender pay gap statistics paper. The key findings from our latest paper include:

  • In 2021, women working full-time earn 6.6% less than their male counterparts, while part-time women earn on average 26.9% less than men working full-time. This illustrates the systemic undervaluation of "women's work" which continues to be concentrated in low-paid, part-time jobs.
  • The majority of part-time workers are women (75%) and just under half of employed women (41%) are working part-time, compared to 13% of men. In order to capture an accurate picture of women’s experiences of the labour market, it is important to include part-time workers in gender pay gap data and not rely on the full-time figure alone.
  • Women continue to account for the majority of low-paid workers in Scotland. Meanwhile, the highest female earners continue to earn substantially less than their male counterparts, with a gender pay gap of 17.6% for those in the highest earning percentile.
  • After the age of 22, women’s average hourly earnings are lower than their male counterparts. This means there is a gender pay gap for all age groups from age 22-29 to the over 60s group.
  • The gender pay gap for those aged 40 and over is higher than the national average. This reflects the ‘motherhood penalty’ and the lower incidence of women moving into higher-paid managerial occupations after the age of 39.

These findings highlight that we are still very far from meaningful progress on the inter-related barriers women face in entering and progressing in employment. This is despite increasing focus on the gender pay gap, including the publication of Scotland’s first gender pay gap action plan in 2019. Issues remain around employer complacency and a continued lack of gender mainstreaming in labour market policymaking.

Data pertaining to the gender pay gap delivers vital insight into women’s continued inequality in employment, providing a greater understanding of the undervaluation of women’s work; occupational segregation; and women’s low pay. However, there remains a lack of gender-sensitive, sex-disaggregated data on the labour market and intersectional data remains almost non-existent. For example, there are critical data gaps on pay and earnings for Black and minority ethnic women and disabled women. Addressing these data gaps are critical to realising gender equality in the labour market.

At current rate of progress, it will take a very long time to close the gender pay gap. Moreover, lower gender pay gap figures can mask the inequalities that women continue to experience in the labour market. This is not, therefore, a time for complacency in tackling the causes of women’s inequality at work.

You can read Close the Gap’s gender pay gap statistics paper here.

Equally Safe at Work employer accreditation opens to new councils

Following the success of our Equally Safe at Work pilot with councils, Close the Gap is pleased to roll out this world-leading accreditation programme with a new cohort of councils from March 2022 to July 2023.

Equally Safe at Work is an innovative employer accreditation programme developed to support the local implementation of Scotland’s Equally Safe Strategy. The aim of the programme is to support employers to understand how gender inequality and violence against women (VAW) affect women in the workforce, and to provide a framework to generate change. Employers are supported to collect and analyse data, develop, review and update policies, practices and resources, and undertake training. This is assessed through meeting the criteria in six fundamental areas to advance women’s labour market equality:

  • Leadership
  • Data
  • Flexible Working
  • Occupational segregation
  • Workplace culture
  • Violence against women

Equally Safe at Work was piloted with an early adopters' group of councils between January 2019 and November 2020 and four councils received bronze accreditation: Shetland Islands Council, North Lanarkshire Council, Midlothian Council and Aberdeen City Council. As a result of the programme, councils have delivered a range of activities such as developing VAW policies, introducing Gender-Based Violence Support Officers, or developing actions to increase women participating in an existing mentoring programme, and implementing systems to collect intersectional data on employee experiences of VAW.

What’s new with Equally Safe at Work

As part of the roll out, Close the Gap has developed a new tier for councils who are early on their gender equality journey: the development tier. Once councils who are working on the development tier meet the criteria, they will be able to share in learning with other councils working towards bronze and receive tailored support from Close the Gap.

There are now four tiers to the programme: development, bronze, silver, and gold. The bronze, silver and gold are cumulative, and the development tier will support councils who are at the early stage of their equality journey. The development tier, which is comprised of selected criteria from the bronze tier, will enable councils to begin developing gender-sensitive policies and practice that will support them to meet the full criteria for bronze. In addition to the introduction of this new tier, we have also developed e-learning modules on flexible working and VAW, and further guidance on VAW and work to support line managers was created.

As part of the next steps following the launch of the programme with the new cohort of councils, we will also be developing new awareness, raising material and guidance.

The impact of Covid-19 on Equally Safe at Work

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, women’s experience of domestic abuse has intensified, and their experience has been exacerbated by a lack of access to support networks or specialist services. The COVID-19 pandemic has set back efforts to address women’s labour market inequality and end VAW, and has created several transformations to workplaces forging even more barriers for victim-survivors to access support. Employers more than ever have a key role to play in supporting women during this period. By recognising the gendered impact of COVID-19 and engaging with the Equally Safe at Work accreditation programme, employers will be able to better support their employees and develop policies and practice that reflect the experience of women at work. We are looking forward to working with councils over the next year to see where we can affect long term and meaningful change for all women working in councils.

To find out more about the programme, visit the Equally Safe at Work website.