Gender inequality means that women are being hardest hit by the cost of living crisis.

In the context of the ongoing cost of living crisis, Challenge Poverty Week feels particularly important this year. We are already seeing a rising tide of poverty in Scotland, with far-reaching implications for people’s health and wellbeing. The Poverty and Inequality Commission have highlighted that those who were already making difficult choices around heating and eating are now struggling to do either.

As a result of their pre-existing inequality, women are being disproportionately impacted by the current crisis. Women who were already struggling are now under enormous financial pressure as costs continue to rise. This is particularly true for groups of women who were already more likely to be living in poverty including disabled women, Black and racialised women, single mothers and unpaid carers, the majority of whom are women.

There are a number of key reasons why women are being hardest hit by the crisis:

  • Women are more likely to be in low-paid work and are already more likely to be experiencing poverty.
  • Women’s engagement with the labour market continues to be restricted by their caring responsibilities. This creates gendered barriers to women being able to increase their working hours and earnings.
  • Women have lower levels of savings and wealth than men, and are more likely to be in debt. This lowers women’s financial resilience during periods of economic crisis.
  • Women are more reliant on social security and have been disproportionately impacted by cuts to social security entitlements.
  • Women are often “poverty managers” in the home and go without food and other necessities themselves in order to provide for their children. The cost of living crisis is likely to have a damaging effect on women’s physical health and wellbeing as they try to make household budgets stretch.

Every Challenge Poverty Week, Close the Gap highlight the gendered nature of poverty in Scotland and the cost of living crisis has brought women’s increased risk of poverty into sharp focus. Research published by the Scottish Women’s Budget Group and the Poverty Alliance launched earlier highlighted that women are falling into deeper debt as a result of the crisis. Women also reported feelings of shame and guilt as a result of not being able to afford leisure activities or essential items for their children, contributing to the negative mental health impacts of the crisis.

A survey by One Parent Families Scotland found that 56% of single parents in paid work said they were finding it extremely difficult to afford, or could no longer afford, electricity. In line with the fact women account for the vast majority of single parents, 96% of the respondents to the survey were women.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Poverty in Scotland report highlighted the far-reaching consequences that the cost of living crisis is already having on families in Scotland, with this only expected to get worse as we reach the winter. One in four low-income households reported skipping or reducing the size of their meals and 69% of single parents reporting that the crisis was having a negative impact on their mental health. As women are the majority of those on low incomes and account for 90% of single parents, these findings are particularly pertinent for women in Scotland.

There is a growing evidence base that highlights women are being hardest hit by the cost of living crisis. This underscores the importance of a gendered response. We need urgent action to get cash into women’s pockets to prevent them falling into further and deeper poverty. But we also need longer-term action to dismantle those structural inequalities which make women more vulnerable to poverty and financial insecurity in the first place.

This aligns with one of the key messages of this year’s Challenge Poverty Week - that we can redesign our economy to make sure it works for everyone. This requires action to extend coverage of the real living wage to female-dominated sectors; improve access to affordable and flexible childcare; recognise care as a key growth sector; deliver fair work for women; tackle the undervaluation of women’s work; and improve access to high-quality flexible working.

During Covid-19, we saw the implications of the failure to take a gender-sensitive approach to policymaking during a period of crisis. The de-prioritisation of gender equality during the pandemic meant Scotland’s crisis response did not meet women’s needs, cementing their social, economic and labour market inequality.

The impacts of Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis have not been felt equally. The evidence shows that women and their families are falling into further and deeper poverty. This means we need to learn the lessons of Scotland’s Covid-19 response, and fast. If we are to turn the tide on women’s poverty and meet Scotland’s child poverty targets, a gender-sensitive response to the cost of living crisis is critical.

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