The cost-of-living crisis doesn't impact us equally
By Yve Barry, Engagement Officer at Scottish Women's Budget Group
As we reach a pivotal point during this cost-of-living crisis with rising energy and soaring inflation matched with stagnating wages, the prospect of families falling deeper into poverty whilst listening to promises of one-off payments from government, we must remember that this crisis doesn’t impact the nation equally.
At SWBG, we have continued to demonstrate the exacerbating inequalities that have come to the fore during this crisis. While we listen and read the news stories about worsening situations of families and individuals, we also must remember that many groups of families and individuals have unmet, intersecting needs that are worsening because of this crisis. One of these groups is women. More generally, women are more likely to experience poverty and its effects. This is due to the fact they often have lower levels of savings and wealth and restricted in accessing an increase of paid work than men due to caring responsibilities. Within this large overarching group, women from certain ethnic groups, as well as disabled women, and single parents will be hit hardest by these rising costs (Women’s Budget Group, 2022).
Our survey results, that have been distributed widely and shared on recent blog posts, highlight many issues for women in Scotland today. Even though it was conducted between 9th February and 10th March of this year, the cost-of-living crisis still weighed heavily in the results. We had 425 responses from all the 32 local authority areas in Scotland. 32.71% admitted they were struggling to manage energy costs whilst 45.41% had to make changes to other areas of household spending because of these costs. The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on our respondents back in February and March was clear. As we are approaching winter, it is highly likely these stresses, concerns and cuts have been further entrenched for many of these women.
A large amount of the discourse surrounding the cost-of-living crisis focuses heavily on the rising prices of energy costs. The average energy bill in the UK has risen by 27% as of the 1st of this month as part of the energy price cap. Many women in this country are now currently presented with the choice between eating and heating this upcoming winter, acting as shock absorbers for poverty in their homes (Women’s Budget Group, 2005). Our previous research also highlighted how women were already cutting non-essential expenditure, often sources of essential leisure or socialisation. However, women will also have to deal with unanticipated outgoings or emergency costs they may not be able to afford. These could be essential household repairs or transport costs for health appointments. Small, everyday instances like these are often forgotten about in the bigger picture of the cost-of-living crisis.
Prior to our upcoming research launch with the Poverty Alliance about women’s experiences of the cost-of-living crisis, the initial research briefing published today shares experiences of some women interviewed for the research in August this year – including costs and cuts they are facing. Women also discuss the lack of awareness about the existence of advice or information services, and financial support such as the Scottish Welfare Fund. Overall, these initial findings demonstrate the overwhelming anxiety these women feel because of rising costs. They are having to resort to coping mechanisms such as reducing food intake, energy usage, and falling into debt to survive.
The offer of cost-of-living payments are welcome. However, only to an extent. Whilst people could receive cash support, for many this doesn’t remedy root causes or the rise of intersecting struggles as we rapidly approach winter. The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2022-2023 includes measures to curb these rising costs such as increasing the Scottish Child Payment and extending the age requirements. However, as this research notes, one-off payments can only go so far for those with the lowest incomes and cannot fully stop these households falling deeper into the depths of poverty and destitution. The forthcoming budget measures that are responding to the cost-of-living crisis must include an intersectional gender analysis of proposals to understand how they affect women and men differently, and the impacts on different women.
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