Challenge Poverty Week: The next Child Poverty Delivery Plan must prioritise action on women’s labour market equality

Across Scotland an increasing number of women, and their children, are locked in the grip of poverty. We know that women are more likely to be in poverty than men; are more likely to experience in-work poverty; and are more likely to experience persistent poverty than men. The pandemic has exacerbated these trends, with women who were already struggling now under enormous financial pressure.

The impact of the pandemic on women’s employment and incomes has implications for child poverty because of the inextricable links between women’s poverty and child poverty. Women’s incomes remain a critical factor in child poverty with evidence showing that where women’s disposable income is reduced, spending on children decreases.

However, poverty is not inevitable and Challenge Poverty Week highlights that with strong action across a number of policy areas, we can tackle poverty in Scotland. As women’s experience of poverty is directly tied to their experience of the labour market, a key area when urgent action is required is employment.

Women account for 60% of workers earning less than the real Living Wage in Scotland. Work that is seen as “women’s work”, such as cleaning, care and retail, is systematically undervalued in the labour market because this work is done by women. This results in the low pay associated with those jobs and sectors and has lifelong impacts for women including having higher levels of debt, less savings and fewer assets.

Women are more likely than men to have caring responsibilities and therefore face the additional pressure of finding work that allows them to balance earning with caring. This sees women further concentrated into low paid and insecure work, as most part-time work is found in the lowest paid jobs and sectors, often leading to women working below their skill level. Research from Living Wage Scotland found that women in part-time work stand to benefit the most from Living Wage accreditation.

In Scotland, only 24% of jobs were advertised with flexible options by the end of 2020. The pandemic has also highlighted a clear disparity in access to flexibility, with low-paid and lower-skilled workers less likely to have access to homeworking. The lack of flexibility in full-time employment across the labour market, but particularly in low-paid full-time work, is a barrier to women increasing both their hours and earnings. There are particular challenges for mothers of school-age children, especially single mothers, in covering school holidays while in full-time work.

Women with caring responsibilities, and single parents particularly, 91% of whom are women, are therefore trapped in poverty by a range of employment-related factors including generic employability programmes; the prohibitive cost of childcare; lack of quality flexible working and part-time work, with reliable hours; and difficulties in accessing training and development opportunities. The Scottish Government should prioritise addressing these barriers within anti-poverty policymaking.

A key driver of the Scottish Government’s action on poverty is the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan. Within this Plan, work and earnings is designated a priority area for action. The Plan explicitly recognises that poverty is gendered and highlights the need to advance women’s labour market equality. Actions include engaging with sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, in which women’s low pay is a concern; addressing the gender pay gap; and enabling more flexible working opportunities.

The next Child Poverty Delivery Plan is due to be published in March 2022. Close the Gap are clear that the focus on women’s labour market inequality must be maintained, and further developed, within this Plan. The Scottish Government should ensure that the new Delivery Plan is ambitious, gender competent and reflective of the current context.

Last week, Close the Gap responded to the Scottish Government’s call for evidence on the Child Poverty Delivery Plan. In our response, we call for a range of actions on women’s labour market inequality including tackling the undervaluation of ”women’s work” in sectors such as childcare and social care; the introduction of a gender-sensitive minimum income guarantee; further increases in the funded childcare entitlement; and ensuring greater access to gender-competent employability and skills support.

An overarching ask relates to the process of policymaking. Gender mainstreaming is a strategy to proactively embed gender analysis in all policy and legislative development. But despite being a requirement of the public sector equality duty, gender mainstreaming is not yet visible within Scottish Government policy development. Some of the current Plan’s actions, particularly in the realm of upskilling and reskilling, have not been gendered by design. These actions are thus unlikely to tackle the causes of women’s poverty.

We also called for improvements in the range of gender-sensitive sex-disaggregated data gathered in the evaluation of the Child Poverty Delivery Plan. While the current Plan, and the accompanying Equality Impact Assessment, commit to making progress in addressing gendered data gaps on poverty in Scotland, there does not appear to have been significant progress in this area.

Children’s access to resources, safety and wellbeing cannot be divorced from the circumstances of their mothers. Achieving Scotland’s child poverty targets requires urgent and concentrated action to eradicate poverty and inequality experienced by women. While the Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018-2022 recognises this explicitly, the actions on women’s labour market inequality have not been sufficiently prioritised. Ultimately, unless the Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022-2026 prioritises action to advance women’s equality and secure women’s incomes, Scotland will fail to meet child poverty targets.

You can read Close the Gap’s full response to the consultation on the Child Poverty Delivery Plan here.

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