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.