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6 challenges to embrace in building a caring, green recovery

Last month we launched a paper ‘Challenges for 2021 and beyond’ ahead of the Scottish elections. We called on Scotland’s political parties to respond to the challenges and to commit to invest in an economy that cares. Here we share the six key challenges the politicians must grasp if our recovery is to tackle existing inequality and the climate crisis, while working towards a gender equal economy.

Build a feminist green recovery – so that responding to climate change can tackle existing inequalities in Scotland

This year Glasgow will host the COP 26 climate talks. The recovery from Covid must also set us on a greener path but this path must recognise the need to tackle inequalities as we reduce our carbon emissions.

Core to tackling climate destruction is valuing life-sustaining livelihoods, including the care economy. This means a new deal for care workers whether in social care, unpaid care, childcare, teaching, or health care. It’s time that care jobs are recognised as green jobs.

Invest in care – to build a system that puts wellbeing at the centre and invests in the people who are supported by it and the care workforce

Care work is overwhelmingly carried out by women and is a key sector in our economy. Yet it is undervalued and has suffered from chronic underinvestment. This lack of investment must be recognised as both a cause and consequence of an unequal society.

Perceptions of care work have changed through the course of this pandemic and now is the time for significant investment in our care services and those who work in them. Building services with the participation of those who use them, with local flexibility underpinned by a human rights approach and a clear gender analysis.

Transform the worlds of paid and unpaid work – to provide time for both women and men to care

During the Covid-19 crisis the reliance on unpaid care work has increased, with social care and support packages cut, reductions in respite care and a closure of childcare and schools. Each one of these changes and closures has impacted women most – women who were already undertaking the majority of unpaid care work pre-pandemic, and who undertook even more throughout 2020-21.

It's time for ambitious change that seeks to redistribute caring and unpaid work responsibilities between women and men, and between the family and the state.

Create a caring social security system – that provides people with a dignified safety net when they need it

Social security should provide everyone in society with a safety net and support when needed. Yet the Covid-19 has highlighted how inadequate the provisions are and this hits women hardest as women have a greater reliance on social security.

The challenge for Scotland in the next parliamentary term is creating a caring social security system and using the powers available in Scotland to increase incomes and lift people out of poverty.

Develop the tax system to promote fairness and equality – using revenue raising powers to tackle inequality

How government generates income through taxes has an important role to play in tackling inequality. Decisions about how best to raise public funds through tax can affect women and men differently. In Scotland, as across the UK, the unequal taxation of income from wealth and income from work represents a tax break for wealthy men.

As we recover from Covid-19 we need to see Government decisions that build fairness into our tax system, and that work together with public spending decisions to tackle inequality.

Deliver gender mainstreaming in policy development – putting theory into practice

In order to deliver on each of the challenges outlined above those making budget decisions in Government must ensure that in each decision recognises the different needs and experiences faced by different groups of women and men.

There are tools that should be used in government to make sure this happens, ensuring Equality Impact Assessments are completed in budgeting and policy decision making processes is a vital piece of this challenge.

These are our six key challenges to policy makers and politicians, and they are challenges that will remain after the election. We need to hear far more from all of the candidates in this election on how they would respond to these challenges. We would encourage everyone to raise them with their candidates at hustings or directly.

Click here to read our full Challenges Paper

Contact us if you’d like to get more involved

Time to up the ambition for a green care led recovery

Today the Scottish Budget will go through stage 3 and, barring the unexpected, will pass into law.

The budget is one of the most significant pieces of legislation the Government passes each year. It provides funds to policy initiatives and political commitments. As we live through the Covid pandemic and its economic consequences it also sets the tone for recovery. Decisions within the budget affect all our lives, everyday.

These decisions can have profound effects. From austerity measures brought in by Westminster in response to the 2008 financial crash, which evidence shows has most significantly affected women on lower incomes, to construction investment which focuses job creation in male-dominated sectors. Budget decisions make real Government priorities and for too long these have not taken into account the different economic realities of women and men.

The budget represents investment in what we value through our economy, and in turn what can be seen as valued in society. Whose work we value. The value placed on paid and unpaid work. The value placed on equality and fairness.

Important additional announcements in the lead up to today’s vote demonstrate how public money can be used to tackle inequalities, from the introduction of free school meals to all primary aged children to free bus travel for all under-22s. But this budget is taking place in extraordinary times and calls for extraordinary measures and there is an opportunity to use the recovery process to tackle structural inequalities in our society.

What’s been disappointing in both the Scottish and UK Budgets has been the lack of ambition in putting care at the forefront of recovery planning. Instead there’s been a focus on ‘hard hat’ projects for major investment. The Scottish Budget has allocated £6billion to capital investment projects with a focus on physical infrastructure. Thankfully there is recognition for this capital investment to look towards our next great challenge, that of tackling climate change. But there’s been no investment approaching this scale of ambition for our social infrastructure, such as care services. Without money to back the warm words to carers, the danger is that value in our care sector is only recognised by clapping with our neighbours.

There is still opportunity for Scotland to build a more ambitious recovery, with more funds coming to Scotland through Barnett consequentials as a result of last week’s UK Budget. This is an opportunity to start investing in a green, care led recovery.

Core to tackling climate destruction is valuing life-sustaining livelihoods, including the care economy. This means a new deal for care workers whether in social care, unpaid care, childcare, teaching, or health care. These are low carbon jobs that have positive multiplier effects when accompanied with sufficient investment. They are also roles that are disproportionately carried out by women, showing that a green and just stimulus centred on care can be a strong lever for tackling inequality.

This is a challenge not only for the current budget but also as political parties in Scotland prepare their manifestos for the forthcoming election.

It’s a challenge the Scottish Women’s Budget Group and our members will be raising and it’s an opportunity for political commitment to build ambition for a transformative recovery, that builds a green, caring economy.

My top three highlights of SWBG’s training webinar ‘Introduction to Gender Budgeting’

Guest blog by Carmen Martínez

Last month I attended Scottish Women’s Budget Group’s webinar ‘Introduction to Gender Budgeting’, the first of a new training series on gender responsive budgeting organised by the group.

Aimed at both professionals and the general public, the webinar explored the concept of gender budgeting and demystified some of the prejudices associated with the term. Through a combination of videos, theory and group discussions, the organisers succeeded in creating the perfect setting for us to learn, debate and above all, to challenge the traditional viewpoint where budgets are gender neutral.

1) It is not about having separate budgets, just a more equal one.

Gender budgeting looks at the gendered impacts of fiscal policy. Its aim is to promote gender equality by taking into consideration the lived experience and needs of women and men, girls and boys in every stage of the budget process.

It involves in-depth analysis of expenditure and revenue raising policies, and most importantly, it challenges the system of national accounts by making care and unpaid work visible, advocating for adequate budgetary funds to finance a high-quality social security system.

2) Benefits of embedding gender in the budgetary process.

Gender responsive budgeting shows a strong commitment to advancing gender equality and women’s rights. It also improves accountability and transparency, principles which are vital for the good management of public finances. Likewise, it improves performance and results by effectively linking resources with the implementation of policy objectives, benefiting both women and men.

3) Reasons for getting involved with the SWBG.

This approach to analysing budgets is not new. In fact, examples of it can be traced back to the 1980’s. Its full implementation is however not without challenges.

Gender budgeting needs gender-disaggregated data and, most of all, political will. How to overcome reluctance to accounting for gender when discussing fiscality? On the one hand, by raising the profile of this distinct way of designing budgets. On the other hand, by engaging civil society (you) in policymaking, making the case for gender analysis in every stage of the budgetary process, ensuring women’s voices are heard and their needs reflected in the budget.

The Scottish Women’s Budget Group has a number of training events in the pipeline. Whether you are looking to learn more for your work, a community group you're involved with or you are simply a curious newcomer keen on learning more about the intricacies of gender responsive budgeting, you can stay up to date with future events by joining their mailing list here.

Find the dates for the next training sessions here, if you are interested in bespoke training for your community group then contact Heather on

Reaction to the Scottish Budget 2021/22

Responding to Finance Minister’s Budget Statement on Thursday 28 January

This budget was an opportunity to set the direction for Covid-19 recovery in Scotland to build a caring, wellbeing economy. If Scotland is to emerge as a ‘fairer, stronger and greener country’ we need to re-envision what we value in our economy and that starts with investment in care.

We’ve heard signs of hope for this investment but this comes after years of systemic underfunding of care, we needed to see much more. In contrast over £6billion was committed to capital investment projects, it is frustrating to see the repeated focus only on ‘hard hat’ projects. The Finance Minister spoke of a transformational programme of infrastructure investment but for this to be truly transformational it needs to take a more expansive approach so that investment in social infrastructure, recognition of the value and contribution of the care economy, and investment in facilities and workforce development in social care and childcare were key components for long-term, stable investment.

The decision to support the lowest paid public sector workers with a 3% pay increase is an important step and there will be a majority of women in roles affected by this decision, including care workers. It needs to be a step towards improving working pay and conditions within the care sector.

The Scottish Government has taken underwhelming steps to recognise and value the role of care in our economy, we hope that in the process of review additional long-term commitments can be made to support our care services and those who work in them.

While the review process for this budget will take place in a truncated timeframe it's vital this doesn't truncate the process for assessing the impact on equalities through public spending.

On Childcare

We welcome the longstanding commitment to expanding child care provision to 1,140hours. It is now time for this to be delivered, with investment in jobs and the sector to ensure it can be a reality this summer. The expansion of public childcare must continue beyond this commitment with investment to expand the hours available further and decrease the age of children are eligible.

We saw the centrality of childcare to a functioning economy during lockdown, without access to childcare the economy suffered. Pre-pandemic without childcare mothers remained out of the labour market, priced out by the cost of childcare. Plans are needed for longer term investment towards jobs within the sector which are essential to make the additional provision possible. Investment which will in turn yield significant economic benefits to local communities and the Scottish Exchequer.

On social security

The Scottish Child Payment is an important and welcome new part of Scottish Social Security that will reach families for the first-time next month. However, its current rate was set before the pandemic and to keep families afloat needs to go further, faster. Greater investment is needed if we are to reach the child poverty reduction targets the Government has committed to. We support the calls from the End Child Poverty Coalition to increase the value of this payment and work to fast-track its role out. Find out more here.

Women with no recourse to public funds have been thrown into insecurity and possible destitution as no safety net is provided. Work to mitigate this in Scotland needs funding direct to local authorities to support those most in need facing destitution or need to leave an unsafe home.

On unpaid care

Unfortunately an opportunity was missed to increase support to those undertaking unpaid care. Yet, during the Covid-19 crisis the reliance on unpaid care work has increased, with social care packages reducing, reduction in respite care and a closure of childcare. There was, however, recognition of the need to support flexible work options and investment to support advice services. This needs to be backed with financial support direct to carers and care services in the community that provide for people’s needs.

The covid recovery needs to transform the world of paid and unpaid work to recognise the important role unpaid work plays to the functioning of the economy.

On women’s enterprise

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women at work and many may never return to the jobs they once held. The budget acknowledges the disproportionate impact of cuts to public spending on women, yet there are no details of targeted support action. More and more women are turning to business start-up but the budget lacks any commitment to investment in dedicated, needs-based support delivery. Instead blanket support is provided in measures, such as the Non Domestic Rates rates relief, when targeted measures were needed alongside this to ensure a gendered approach.

Women’s enterprise will be crucial to economic recovery and the regeneration of local communities.

On jobs

The commitment to a ‘national mission to create new, good, green jobs’ is an important commitment as we transition to a low carbon economy, it is vital to recognise that these can also be contributed to through investment in the care workforce. Care jobs are green jobs that support local communities.

The list of key sectors including energy transition, construction, transport manufacturing and agriculture and land use management are traditionally sectors dominated by men. Efforts must be made to ensure the investments in jobs do not reinforce and extend inequalities in the labour market but instead efforts are made to support women into training opportunities and take a broader view of green jobs to include investment in care.

The National Infrastructure Mission focuses on creating jobs ‘mainly in the construction sector’ it misses the mark of the wider view of infrastructure that includes social infrastructure.

On Green transition

Care economy jobs need to be considered fundamental to transitioning to a greener, wellbeing economy and need adequate funding and training.

Skills focused policies such as the Green Jobs Workforce Academy and the Climate Change Plan should include measures to tackle occupational segregation to ensure 1) that women benefit from the transition to net carbon zero, and 2) that Scotland is equipped to make the transition.

Scotland suffers from skills shortages in these areas and has a large reservoir of female talent that could be better utilised. The majority of female science technology engineering and manufacturing graduates (STEMM) leave the sector - 70% of women graduates trained in STEM leave STEM specific employment despite being over represented in many STEM specific subjects (Equate Scotland 2020, 8). This is a huge loss of precisely the kinds of skills and expertise that Scotland requires for the transition.

Incorporating a gendered analysis into the plans for transition to net carbon zero would enable policy makers to maximise the opportunities for poverty reduction that the transition presents. It is well documented that women, particularly from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and those with caring responsibilities have been most affected by labour market disruption in the wake of COVID. Measures are needed to ensure that girls enter STEMM and construction industries and that skilled women graduates stay within the sector.

On housing

Despite the £6bn announced for capital investment, there’s been a cut to investment in social and affordable homes by £268million. The Finance Minister underlined the ‘value of a safe, secure and affordable home’ but hasn’t followed this up with investment needed.

Women and their children suffer homelessness in significant numbers. Their risk for homelessness and the choices women make to keep their children housed and safe are inextricably linked with women’s economic dependence, enforced by structural and systemic elements of Scotland’s economy. These experiences are very often framed by women’s experiences of domestic and sexual violence. Thousands of women and children in Scotland are forced into homelessness by domestic abuse every year, safe and affordable housing is a crucial part of rebuilding their lives.

On tax

The Finance Secretary's ambition to deliver a progressive budget that protects incomes is the right one. The action announced on taxation, however, falls short of realising a progressive tax regime for Scotland for the year ahead. While there will be debate over who benefits most from the freeze on council tax, wholescale reform is well overdue. Efforts to support lower-income households will need to be stepped up in order to protect women's incomes and set Scotland on track to meet its child poverty targets.

While income tax rates remained unchanged, this draft budget marked an end to the freeze on Scotland's higher rate income tax threshold. This constitutes a tax break for higher earners - the majority of whom are men - at a time when public finances are tight and higher earners have been better insulated from the financial impact of the pandemic.

On Equalities and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement

We welcome the engagement and commitment to improve and extend equalities analysis demonstrated through the Equalities and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement. A particularly welcome development is the increased alignment between the budget and National Performance Framework.

The introduction of a risk analysis approach is interesting and a useful device to focus attention of public service authorities. It cannot, however, replace or deflect from building understanding of the structural causes of inequalities. Improving knowledge about inequalities and the advancement of equalities must remain a priority for Scottish Government. Building the analytical capacity internally to improve policy analysis and the formulation of policy that can ameliorate the causes and consequences of inequalities. This includes ensuring equalities impact assessments are made across all areas of public spending prior to decisions.

The final innovation in this year's EFBS is the introduction of human rights budget analysis. All of these developments are welcome and, we are told in the EFBS, will feed into concrete recommendations to ministers from the Equality and Budgets Advisory Group (EBAG).

A covid recovery budget that works for women

On Thursday we will hear the Scottish Government’s budget plans. This budget, set in a time like no other, has a lot to live up to. It will lay the foundations of Scotland’s recovery from the economic impact of Covid-19. Attention must be on how the government plans to tackle the stark inequalities that have been so plainly highlighted during lockdown.

Women, black and ethnic minority communities and disabled people are economically the hardest hit by the crisis and the risk of deepening existing inequalities is high. Anti-poverty organisations are flagging the serious concern of a rising tide of poverty across households in Scotland. Women have been on the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis, making up the majority of health and care workers and the majority of workers at high risk of exposure to Covid-19. Alongside this, other sectors which have a predominately female workforce, such as hospitality, have been harder hit by the impact of lockdown and ongoing restrictions of social distancing, with risk of unemployment or reducing working hours remaining high. As we look towards recovery the response needs to recognise these inequalities if we are to have any hope of tackling them.

The decisions made in the budget are a reflection on what we value as a society. If this pandemic doesn’t have us questioning our values then what will?

There is one sector above all that illustrates our mixed-up values. It’s a sector in which the workers are undervalued, and that is chronically underinvested in. The sector contributes £3.6billion to the economy, provides 7.8% of Scottish employment and 85% of it’s workforce identify as women. That sector is, of course, care. Care work underpins Scotland’s economy, yet, because it is overwhelming carried out by women it has suffered this chronic underinvestment. People across the nation stood on doorsteps and at windows to clap for carers through the start of lockdown, this recovery budget is now time to show we care by increasing investment in the care sector and those who work in it.

Care doesn’t only happen in the formal setting. Unpaid care work for our partners, children, parents is happening in homes across Scotland. Again, the majority of these carers are women and again their unpaid care work is too often under recognised and undervalued. During the Covid-19 crisis the reliance on unpaid care work has increased, with social care packages reducing, reduction in respite care and a closure of childcare and schools. Lockdown has exacerbated and exposed the extent to which the economy relies on unpaid care work to function, yet continues to ignore it in modelling, planning and policy. In turn this has impacted on women’s economic situation either through reduced hours at work, necessity to be placed on furlough or losing their job completely. An uplift to Carers Allowance could be a first step in this budget to start to redress the balance, and a vital lifeline especially for the 1 in 4 carers who live in poverty.

Whilst the impacts of this pandemic and lockdown are not being felt equally, public spending decisions can help set the record straight. Crucial to ensuring a gender responsive recovery is for data and analysis on the impacts of Covid-19, and how it affects people differently, to incorporated into policymaking and recovery planning. Investing in our care services and social infrastructure, recognition and valuing the role of unpaid care in our society and a caring social security system that provides a genuine safety net when needed most are all key areas that this budget could support as part of the process of building a caring, wellbeing economy from our recovery.

We shared some areas that urgently need attention in our recent MSP briefing ahead of the budget, read the briefing here.

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