Budgeting for equality, opportunity and community: the SWBG's asks for the Programme for Government
Our Coordinator, Carmen Martinez, reflects on how the Programme for Government 2023 to 2024 could work for women in Scotland.
The impact of the cost-of-living crisis has dominated the public debate for over a year. Individuals and communities have felt the consequences of increasing energy prices, more expensive basic goods, and higher mortgage repayments and rental costs. The problem, far from being resolved, threatens to deter progress towards agreed national and international goals, but most importantly, it threatens to erode the work towards women’s equality that organisations across Scotland have contributed to for so long.
Amidst the economic context and finance projections in the medium term, the Scottish Government’s missions for 2026,detailed in the new Prime Minister’s strategy, ‘A fresh start’ (Scottish Government, 2023), recognise three critical areas to improve the lives of people across the country:
- ‘Equality': 'tackling poverty and protecting people from harm’
- ‘Opportunity': 'a fair, green and growing economy’
- ‘Community': prioritising our public services’
We welcome the Scottish Government’s vision and commitments to these areas, as well as their approach to delivering these, including the acknowledgement of how these areas intersect and can feed into the Cabinets’ policy work. However, to ensure that this strategy works for women, this blog explores what the Scottish Women’s Budget Group (SWBG) would like to see as part of the next Programme for Government, and how this could be achieved.
1. Equality and the cost-of-living crisis.
Mounting evidence reveals the difficulties encountered by women as they navigate the current cost-of-living crisis. Women are more likely to work part-time and have caring responsibilities, which explain why they also have lower levels of savings and wealth compared to men (WBG, 2022). This is particularly true for women from Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black ethnic groups, disabled women, single parents (of which at least 90% are women) (OPFS, 2020), survivors of abuse, unpaid carers, and women with no recourse to public funds (WBG, 2022). Our Women’s Survey 2023 exposed the implications of rising costs in Scotland and some of the mechanisms that women are currently using to cope with these. Some of the key findings showed us how:
- 23% of women respondents are taking on more debt. This figure rises to 40% for single parents.
- 41% of women stated that they are using their savings to make ends meet.
- The areas with the greatest impact of increased costs for women were energy and food costs with 46.3% of our respondents telling us they are struggling with energy costs and 37.1% with food costs. For disabled women, these figures are even higher, with 56% and 51% respectively.
An intersectional gendered analysis of these figures makes it obvious that women, especially disabled women and single parents, are at the losing end of the current economic crisis. In this context, and in line with the Scottish Government’s mission on equality, the SWBG would like to see the Programme for Government making explicit calls to prevent further inequality and increasing poverty rates amongst women by prioritising the following measures. First, the Scottish Government must widen eligibility for cost-of-living support and consider the additional costs that disabled people experience. This should be done in conjunction with any retrofitting and other energy efficiency measures targeting the poorest households, particularly those of disabled women and those with children. These actions would also prevent these households from getting into debt, while creating better living conditions for women and children. As an additional advantage, this action would have a positive impact on health outcomes.
We would also welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to reducing transport costs. This is an important area for women as primary users of public transport, making shorter and more frequent journeys than their male counterparts. Our Women’s Survey 2023 also looked at women’s experiences of public transport and associated costs and found that 28% of respondents were struggling to manage transport costs, rising to 41% for disabled women and 54% for single parents. Furthermore, 53% of women stated being very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with the cost of public transport. Measures such as introducing price caps, widening access to free public transport provision to those in receipt of benefits, and investing in community transport schemes would have a great impact on women’s lives while contributing to Scotland’s commitments to Net Zero by 2045. Finally, the SWBG would urge the Scottish Government to invest in childcare. The average cost of full-time nursery for under two-years old represents 42% of the average wage in Scotland, or £1,106.52 per month (Daily Record, 2023), a substantial amount for any household, and especially for those already struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. Of the 199 women responding to our Women’s Survey 2023 who had childcare costs, almost 28% stated they struggled to manage childcare costs. This figure increases to 60% for women from ethnic minority communities. On top of the difficulties that this may pose to many parents, increasing evidence suggests that the lack of holiday childcare for children with disabilities is pushing families into poverty (ITV news, 2023). From this perspective, implementing a flexible childcare system that works for people, particularly mothers, is a key step to tackle poverty, and an obvious one to ensure that Scotland meets its gender equality goals (Scottish Government, 2020) as part of its 2030 Agenda.
2. Creating opportunity in a fair, green and growing economy that works for women.
The SWBG is supportive of Scotland’s Just Transition to a Net Zero and climate resilient economy and is aware of the opportunities that this transition could bring to communities across the country. In line with this argument, we are calling on the Scottish Government to make this transition feminist by recognising the role of care as essential social infrastructure and the untapped potential that the care sector has in delivering fairness and dignity while contributing to a low carbon economy.
Placing care as social infrastructure at the core of the Just Transition is also a key step to ensure gender equality, as women make up most of the care workforce, and most of unpaid carers. From this perspective, care can also be seen as a cross-cutting issue with implications for equality. Any economic strategy looking at creating opportunity in a fair economy must consider care work, so this is valued and compensated for, either through greater provision or through the support of a social security system which acknowledges the role of carers in society.
The challenge remains how to guarantee that appropriate levels of investment match the policy ambitions for a care system in urgent need of reform. Our care cost modelling research found that an increase in social care funding of £3.3bn is vital to realise the ambitions of a transformative scenario which would see:
- Increasing access to free care to those with critical needs and moderate needs.
- Increasing qualifications and pay to Nordic levels, with care workers paid an average of £15.21 per hour.
This scenario assumes that higher take-ups would relieve informal care needs further and eliminate unmet needs.
Most importantly, however, our care cost modelling research draws attention to the potential that investing in care has for revenue generation. For example, it calculates that additional direct and indirect tax revenue would yield an estimated additional £1.5bn annually (or 46% of the estimated additional investment required in the transformative scenario).
The SWBG would therefore like to see social care funding reach a total £6.8bn to make this transformative scenario a reality as part of Scotland’s approach to a Just Transition, while also contributing to the FM’s missions on opportunity and equality, in a fair, green and growing economy.
3. Building community via a caring social security system and a tax system designed to tackle inequality.
Public services, including social security, play a key role in women’s lives. Due to pre-existing inequalities and their role as primary carers, women are more likely to rely on social security for their income. Perhaps no other event has made the case for a gender-informed Welfare state than the austerity policies introduced in the UK in 2010, which has seen a wide range of organisations across the country reporting on the devasting effects for women ever since. Fast forward thirteen years, the harmful results of such an egregious set of measures are certain: greater inequality, increasing child poverty rates, and worsening health outcomes among others (Fawcett Society 2012; Marmot et al 2020; Social Mobility Commission, 2020). In the current context of cost-of-living, the need for strong public services is greater than ever, and as such, the SWBG believes that this should be reflected in this year’s Programme for Government. We would like to see the beginning of a caring social security system prioritising the following measures:
- Increase level of all Social Security Scotland payments by at least inflation annually;
- Mitigate the young parent penalty and the two-child limit through additional payments as part of the Scottish Child Payment;
- Ensure adequate funding for the Scottish Welfare Fund so there are sufficient resources to meet the demand and increase funding for promotion of the fund;
- Widen eligibility for cost-of-living support;
- Investment in a comprehensive programme of benefits take up.
Parallel to creating more robust public services and a social security system designed to protect people from the uncertainties of life, the Scottish Government must seek additional forms of revenue to build a fairer economy and to finance the (Feminist) Just Transition. We’ve previously mentioned how our care cost modelling research underlines the potential of investing in care for the wider economy, including for revenue generation. Yet, additional receipts derived from job creation within the sector would fall short when considering the cost of financing more comprehensive public services, including a fit-for-purpose security system. Therefore, we would invite Scottish Government to explore and pursue the following measures:
- Kick-start the long-stalled process to reform or replace Council Tax to raise more revenue in a fairer way;
- Commit to reviewing how new local taxes could be used to target wealth and make polluters pay;
- Lay the groundwork for more progressive Income Tax later this year, including by considering the introduction of new tax band;
- Develop carbon taxes, including use of powers on Air Departure Tax.
Putting it all together
‘Equality, opportunity and community’ are important missions covering key policy areas with the potential of making a huge difference in Scottish people’s lives. By using an intersectional gender analysis of the current economic environment, we have made the case for how these missions can better work for women. Inevitably, we contend that this analysis and calls made are critical to deliver fairness as well as greater equality outcomes. As such, we would urge the Scottish Government to include these as part of the next Programme for Government.
We understand the Programme for Government as an opportunity to correct the unwanted effects of a cost-of-living crisis preying on the most vulnerable, particularly women. On a more hopeful note, however, we see it as an opportunity to pave the way towards a more just, caring and resilient Scotland, ready for the challenges of the future.
Fawcett Society. 2012. The Impact of Austerity on Women. Last accessed 26/07/23: The Impact of Austerity on Women | The Fawcett Society
ITV News. 2023. Lack of holiday childcare is pushing families with disabled children into poverty. Last accessed 26/07/23: Lack of holiday childcare is pushing families with disabled children into poverty | ITV News Granada
Marmot, M et al. 2020. Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On. The Health Foundation. Last accessed 26/07/23: Health Equity in England_The Marmot Review 10 Years On_full report.pdf
One Parent Families Scotland. 2020. The impact of poverty on single parent families Stories of Lived Experience 2019- 2020. Last accessed: 26/07/2023: OPFS-briefing-on-single-parents-lived-experience-july2020.pdf
Daily Record, 2023. Top 10 cheapest places parents pay for nursery costs in Scotland - and most expensive. Last accessed: 26/07/2023: https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/lifestyle/money/nursery-care-costs-scotland-regions-29330714
Scottish Government, 2023. Equality, opportunity, community. New leadership – A fresh start. LAst accessed: 26/07/2023: https://www.gov.scot/publications/equality-opportunity-community-new-leadership-fresh-start/
Scottish Government, 2020. Scotland and the sustainable development goals: a national review to drive action. Last accessed: 26/07/2023: https://www.gov.scot/publications/scotland-sustainable-development-goals-national-review-drive-action/pages/8/
UK Women’s Budget Group. 2022. The gendered impact of the cost-of-living crisis. Last access 26/07/23: https://wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/The-gendered-impact-of-the-cost-of-living-crisis.pdf
To join our email list, simply enter your email address below.