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Women's Survey 2023 Findings

Earlier this year we launched our Women’s Survey 2023 to find out more about women’s experiences of the cost-of-living crisis, transport and housing in Scotland.

We heard from 871 women across Scotland, receiving responses from every local authority area.

Cost-of-living crisis

It was evident from last year’s Women’s Survey that the cost-of-living crisis was a key concern for women, with 32% saying they were unable to manage energy costs before the increase in April 2022. Following this survey, our detailed qualitative research with the Poverty Alliance late last year highlighted powerful testimony about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis for women on low incomes in Scotland. This research highlighted that urgent action was needed as some women reported deepening experiences of poverty to the level of destitution by going hungry and cold. This year we’ve heard more experiences from women as costs continue to rise for households.

We hope this survey will highlight some of the intersectional, diverse lived experiences of women across Scotland as particular groups are more likely to be disproportionately impacted by poverty and insecurity such as disabled women, women from ethnic minority communities and single parents.

Some key findings:

  • 70% of women have not been putting heating on to reduce costs, rising to 80% for women who earn under 20k
  • Almost 20% are skipping meals entirely, which increases to almost 34% for disabled women and 46% for single parents 
  • 65% of women said the cost-of-living crisis has impacted their mental health
  • 41% of women are using their savings to manage rising costs, rising to 46% of women from ethnic minority communities and 47% for single adult households
  • 53% of women in rural areas struggle to manage social care costs

Energy and food costs were the costs women struggled to manage most with 46% of our respondents struggling with energy costs and 37% are struggling with food costs.

The struggle of managing such costs has had a clear impact on women’s mental and physical health. In total, 65% of women said the cost-of-living crisis has impacted their mental health while 47% of disabled women are facing an impact on physical health conditions: “My stress levels have increased which puts an increase on my disability”

Many women reported instances that we would understand as acting like shock absorbers for poverty in their household. These include supporting family who are also struggling, making home adjustments to cut back on costs, and managing household budgets. In response to this, women in the survey called for lower energy, food and housing costs as well as consistent, targeted support for particular groups that are most affected by this cost-of-living crisis.

Women are also reporting taking on more debt and using their savings. This can result in a lack of financial support or buffer to help cope with rising costs. This experience of debt and savings is more exacerbated for particular groups of women such as women from ethnic minority communities, single parents and single adult households. Other impacts to women’s economic situation included changes to employment and retirement, with some women stating that they have had to take on more work to manage rising costs or feel they are unable to retire.

Social care provision in Scotland has been hugely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and has not been immune to recent rising costs. For women who had social care costs, 44% struggle to manage these costs. Other women have been faced with services not returning to pre Covid-19 levels. Women’s experience of accessing childcare is similar with rising costs and limited provision as 28% of women struggled to manage childcare costs, increasing to 60% for women from ethnic minority communities.

Recommendations in this report are informed by women’s responses, understanding that the response to the cost-of-living crisis is not short-term and will require longer-term action from both the Scottish Government and Local Authorities.

Some recommendations include:

  • Increase level of all Social Security Scotland payments by at least inflation annually;
  • Provide an urgent cash injection to support social care in the short-term while working towards a comprehensive; investment in care as set out in our report on social care;
  • Continued delivery of progressive income tax reform;
  • Invest in local authority council services and provide longer-term funding for third sector, community organisations; who provide critical financial wellbeing advice and support women in local areas.

You can access the first of our three reports, 'Experiences of rising costs across Scotland', here: SWBG-Cost-of-Living-report-proof-06.pdf



A key topic we wanted to explore in this year’s women survey was transport. As highlighted in our other Women’s Survey 2023 report, the cost-of-living crisis is impacting women hard. Transport is one of the rising costs that women are currently having to manage. In the survey, women told us about the challenges they face due to these costs, as well as the suitability of public transport and active travel, and safety concerns for travel in general. 

Key findings include:  

  • 28% of women said they were struggling to manage transport costs, rising to 41% for disabled women and 54% for single parents; 

  • 53% of women stated they were very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with the cost of public transport; 

  • 48% of disabled women were either very dissatisfied of dissatisfied with the safety of walking and wheeling routes in their area. 

We asked women about their main mode of transport and followed this up with more specific questions about their experiences as well as suggestions to improve public and active transport in their area. It became clear that many respondents’ main mode of transport was driving due to caring responsibilities, mobility issues, mental health needs, rurality, and employment needs:  

“After school club ends at 5.30, I can stay at work until 5 if I drive. If I got the bus I’d need to leave at 4.30. This would mean reducing my hours and therefore income”.  

However, some women, such as disabled women and women earning less than £20k, were more reliant on bus services and less likely to own a car than the overall respondent group. 

Transport costs have not been immune to the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. 37% of women responding to the survey said that they had to change travel plans due to the cost of public transport. This rose to 42% for disabled women and 53% for women from ethnic minority communities.  

When asked about if any of the women had changed their travel plans due to costs, some women reported increasing isolation and missing health appointments. One woman noted:  

“I simply cannot afford to take public transport. Travelling to a medical appointment means skipping meals to afford the fare”.  

Many women also told us that the cheaper and more reliable option for them was traveling by car. 

There was an overwhelming message of dissatisfaction with public transport beyond rising costs due to lack of frequency, disjointed services with other modes of transport, inaccessibility, and safety. We were given plenty of suggestions for improving public transport in Scotland that included more regular buses and trains, more bus routes connected to amenities/services and an integrated system that includes ferries between all modes of public transport. Alongside issues with ferry timetables, long, indirect journeys provided barriers to accessing public transport for women living in rural communities. If you’d like to read more about the experiences of women from rural communities from our Women’s Survey 2023, read our Rural Briefing here:  1691675193_Womens-Survey-2023-Rural-Briefing.pdf (

Physical barriers also existed for women travelling with wheels, either a pram or wheelchair:  

“Public transport is not very accessible and mobility issues mean it is exhausting and painful to get around train stations”.  

Overall, 47% of disabled women were very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with safety on public transport. These experiences are two-fold for disabled women due to physical safety onboard as well as personal safety due to fear of assault. From our overall respondent group, some women reported instances of assault or harassment, with fear of current services and provisions not protecting women enough. We were given suggestions about improving this safety with ideas such as guidance on report instances and more conductors or wardens to increase safety.  

Active travel is also gendered as 59% of women who responded to the survey felt questions on access and safety of cycle routes was not applicable to them and 34% felt the same for walking and wheeling routes. Many women reported concerns about safety and routes for active travel that included a lack of dedicated cycling infrastructure and poor maintenance of cycling routes and pavements. 

Recommendations are informed by women’s responses to the survey. These will require considered development and implementation from both national and local government in Scotland.  
Some recommendations include: 

  • Increase the use of intersectional gender budget analysis on transport decisions at national and local level. This recommendation cuts across both public transport and active travel planning processes to broaden and build equality into transport systems; 

  • Widening access to free public transport provision to those in receipt of benefits including asylum seekers and cap the cost of public transport; 

  • Improve safety awareness amongst transport staff including violence against women training for bus drivers and train conductors. As well as piloting schemes such as the ‘Between Stop Services’ in Montreal for women travelling alone, often at night. 

You can access this report, 'Women's experiences of travel and its cost', here: Womens-Survey-2023-Transport-Report.pdf ( 


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