The Gender Pay Gap Manifesto: the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections are an opportunity to realise fair work for women

The focus on the gender pay gap has never been sharper, yet we are still very far from meaningful progress on the inter-related barriers women face in entering and progressing in employment and we have not yet realised fair work for women.

Scotland’s gender pay gap remains stubbornly high at 13%. Women’s employment is also becoming increasingly precarious with women accounting for two-thirds of workers earning less than the living wage and 55% of workers on zero-hour contracts are women. Work that is seen as ‘women’s work’, such as cleaning and care, is systematically undervalued in the labour market. The need for women to balance earning with caring when they return to the labour market sees women concentrated in part-time work, predominantly found in the lowest paid jobs and sectors, contributing to the gender pay gap and women’s higher rates of in-work poverty.

The economic and labour market challenges resulting from the ongoing coronavirus crisis have served to highlight women’s inequality in particularly stark terms, and cemented the need for policy change to address women’s socio-economic inequality.

It is often repeated that as employment law is not devolved to Scotland, it is not possible for the Scottish Parliament to address the causes of Scotland’s gender pay gap. This is untrue. Many of the causes of the gender pay gap are not unlawful, and are therefore outside of the scope of employment law. In fact, closing the gender pay gap requires action in a number of key policy areas such as education, early years and childcare, and economic development.

It might not feel like it at the moment, but the Scottish Parliament elections are scheduled to take place next year. This election presents a vital opportunity for political parties to show leadership on gender equality and take the bold action that is needed to realise fair work for women. Of course, this is particularly vital now that coronavirus has shed further light on the problems of precarity and inflexible workplace cultures.

For the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, there was a lack of specific policies relating to the gender pay gap across the parties’ manifestos, and the manifestos contained very few policies relating to gender equality more broadly. This time round, we think it’s time for cross-party support for closing the gender pay gap in Scotland.

To this end, ahead of the election, Close the Gap have published The Gender Pay Gap Manifesto with key policy recommendations to realise fair work for women. The manifesto focuses only on those policies over which the Scottish Parliament has power to enact change now.

We make 12 policy recommendations across a range of policy areas, which will help to make fair work a reality for women in Scotland. Our manifesto builds on A Fairer Scotland for Women, Scotland’s first gender pay gap action plan and covers the policymaking process, funded childcare entitlements, the ELC workforce and automation. Some of our policy recommendations include:

  • In line with the Scottish National Investment Bank, public bodies should be required to produce a Gender Equality Strategy and conduct regular equal pay reviews;
  • Create an occupational segregation commission to drive public bodies’ activities to tackle occupational segregation;
  • Designate childcare as a key growth sector, along with social care, and work towards addressing undervaluation and occupational segregation in the workforce; and
  • Develop an action plan to address the data gaps used to develop and evaluate skills policy.

We’ll be engaging with political parties, and MSPs to gather support for these policies. Taking substantive action on women’s labour market inequality will enable the Scottish Parliament to realise the ambitions of fair work and inclusive growth. Women’s inequality in the labour market is a drag on economic growth and productivity, and occupational segregation is correlated with sector skills shortages. Research by Close the Gap has highlighted that closing the gender gap in employment is worth £17 billion to the Scottish economy.

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll also be highlighting some of our specific policy asks over on our social media and on the blog.

You can read the full manifesto here.

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