Bill Scott, Chair of the Poverty and Inequality Commission, has today written to the UK and Scottish Governments to call for further action to reduce the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on people on low incomes.

Commenting on the letters, Bill said:

“The coronavirus outbreak risks driving more people into poverty as those who are sick or self-isolating lose pay. While I welcome the action that has been taken by the UK and Scottish Governments so far, more action is needed to protect the self-employed and low earners, who are least likely to have savings to support them through loss of earnings or a waiting period for Universal Credit.

“That’s why I wrote to Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey calling on her to extend Statutory Sick Pay to the two million workers who earn less than £118 per week and to the self-employed.

“Now that we have moved into the delay phase of the outbreak, I am also asking her to immediately lift work search requirements which may require people to use libraries and other communal settings in order to access a computer. This would reduce the risk of people spreading coronavirus by complying with work search requirements.

“I have also written to the First Minister to ask what contingency plans are in place to ensure that children who would normally receive a free school meal will continue to have access to free meals if a decision is taken to close schools.”

Copies of both letters are attached.

Letter to First Minister – Impact of coronavirus

Letter to Sec State Work and Pensions – Impact of coronavirus

International Women’s Day

Written by Katie Schmuecker

This International Women’s Day there are women in Scotland who are caught in a rising tide of poverty, with their incomes restricted by patterns of work and the division of caring responsibilities – whether that’s for children, disabled or older people. This simply isn’t right in a society that prides itself on justice and compassion.

Getting a job is an effective way out of poverty for most people. But in Scotland women are less likely to be in work than men, leaving them more vulnerable to poverty.  Over the last decade the employment gap has been narrowing, but there is still some way to go, especially for lone parents, disabled women and women from some BAME groups. While a job isn’t always possible, where people are able to work it can help them to build a better life.

Having a job is one thing, but having a good job is quite another. A big problem for women is the quality of the jobs they do – and how their work is valued. Employed men are one-and-a-half times more likely to be in full-time work than women in Scotland. This reflects the caring roles that women are more likely to take on, constraining the hours they can work. With part-time jobs generally lower paid, the risk of being pulled into poverty is greater. One in five female employees are paid less than the real living wage (£9.30 per hour) compared to less than one in seven male employees.

Social security should be providing a public service that can be relied on to help balance working and caring, and to top-up household income so people aren’t dragged under by poverty. With women more likely than men to rely on social security for at least some of their income, it is particularly important for them. But changes to the tax and benefit system by the UK government since 2010 have hit women six times harder than men.

The Scottish Government can make a difference by helping more women into work, driving up the quality of part-time work and supporting men and women to balance family life and working life. It can also help make sure social security offers people a lifeline when waters get choppy. These are live issues in Scottish policy debates. Over the coming years the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Commission will look to play its part as critical friend to the Scottish Government, scrutinising its plans and track record, and advocating ways to reduce poverty and inequality – for everyone.

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