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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.

It's time to hear from you

As we kick off the new year the Scottish Women’s Budget wants to hear from you.

It’s a tough start to 2021 with renewed lockdown measures, a faster spreading virus, and the knock impact for jobs, care and support. 2021 needs to become a year of transformation as we start to recover from the impacts of Covid-19, and tackling inequalities must be at the heart of this recovery.

SWBG will be working to tackle gender inequalities through gender responsive budgeting to build a caring, gender equal economy in Scotland. Our member’s voices are crucial to our developing work and that’s why we want to hear from you.

Join our members Have Your Say events or

take part in our members survey

As Covid continues to wreak havoc women are facing particular challenges. Many have found themselves at 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. But all too often in jobs that are underpaid and undervalued. Other sectors which have a predominately female workforce 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.

Alongside this, women have picked up more of the additional unpaid care work within households, with an expectation that during this second round of school closures women will again be making tough decisions about how to work and care for children. Recent analysis by the UK Women’s Budget Group, Engender Scotland, Close the Gap, the Fawcett Society and other partners across the UK shows that mothers on the lowest incomes are eight times more at risk of losing their job due to school closures in the UK.

The Scottish Women’s Budget Group will be working throughout the year to see how decisions on public spending can work to tackle gender inequalities and challenge the recovery to Covid-19 to build a gender equal economy.

It’s time we build back together, join us and share your views in at our January events or in our members survey.

Not a member yet but want to get involved? Join us!

Reflections and reading recommendations from 2020

For most of us 2020 may be a year we want to forget. But there are important lessons to be had if the recovery from Covid-19 and the economic fallout is going to work to redress the inequalities that have been laid bare this year.

Covid-19 has affected people’s lives across the world. Families have lost loved ones. Jobs have been lost. Isolation has grown. Support has been lost. But these impacts have not affected us all equally. There’s been decisions in households across Scotland about having to continue in a job without the personal protective equipment you need; or about giving up work because there was no one to look after your children.

Women have faced particular challenges and many found themselves at 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. But all too often in jobs that are underpaid and undervalued. Alongside this, other sectors which have a predominately female workforce 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.

What is clear is that the impact of Covid-19 has sharpened existing inequalities and risks many more people being swept up in a rising tide of poverty.

This must now be seen as a time for transformation. As we recover from Covid-19 we need to consider together what we value in our economy, how public spending invests in these values, and how we can stand together to create change. Throughout the lockdown people demonstrated the desire to come together to support others or show solidarity. From clapping on doorsteps, to community mutual aid groups and the fantastic work of grassroots organisations across the country. 2020 has shown us that we can come together and provide solutions.

As 2020 draws to a close we wanted to share some good reads from the year to help us think about what’s needed as part of the recovery process:

Caring Economy Now – final report by the UK Commission for a Gender Equal Economy calling for transformative change to the economy and where public spending is invested;

Gender and Economic Recovery – Close the Gap and Engender bring together 9 principles for economic recovery which we fully endorse;

Carrying the work burden of Covid-19 – working class women in the UK research from Nottingham University Business School;

Covid-19 and economic challenges for migrant women policy briefing from the UK Women’s Budget Group;

Our World Reimagined webinar on a Gender Equal Economy part of a webinar series run by GCVS;

Supercharged: A Human Catastrophe on Inequalities, Participation and Human Rights before, during and beyond Covid-19 from Glasgow Disability Alliance;

Towards a Feminist Green New Deal from WEN (Women’s Environmental Network and the UK Women’s Budget Group;

Gender differences in the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on unpaid care work and psychological distress in the UK.

As 2021 dawns it is an important year for change. Join us as we work to tackle inequalities through gender responsive budgeting, working to ensure that public spending decisions recognise the different challenges faced by women and men. Over the coming weeks and months we’ll be sharing events and training for you to get involved and be part of the change.

New developments at the Scottish Women's Budget Group

We have some exciting news to share from the Scottish Women’s Budget Group. We are now officially set up as a charity and have received a small amount of funding to help develop and grow the work of SWBG. This brings us into a new phase of development and growth for the group. Our aim is to continue to produce robust analysis to influence policy as Scotland starts its journey of recovery from Covid-19 and build on our long-standing approach of building knowledge and application of feminist economics analysis by offering training and creating accessible resources for our membership and beyond.

To help make this happen we need to hear from you!

Please take this quick survey to share your views on training from the Scottish Women’s Budget Group.

As Scotland builds its response and recovery to the Covid-19 pandemic let’s ensure we build a gender equal economy, a caring economy for all. Working together across communities in Scotland analysing proposals at local and national government all our voices are needed to make the case for change. As a first step to help make this happen we’d like to know the type of training you, or groups you work with, would be interested in to engage more with the decision-making process. Please take our quick survey so we can build our programme for our members.

As part of a UK wide project, the Commission on a Gender Equal Economy, we are pleased to share the recent report Creating a Caring Economy: A Call to Action. This call to action is going to take all of us to push forward a different vision, that puts gender equality, wellbeing and sustainability at the heart of building an economy that works for people and planet. You can watch back the fantastic launch event of the report, including our own Angela O’Hagan sharing her thoughts on the particular connections to work in Scotland, watch back here.

We’d also love to hear from you if there are others ways you’d like to get involved with the work of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group or to book a briefing event.

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