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.
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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