Cost of Living: Fight Against Poverty is a Fight for Gender Equality

Lucy Hughes, Engender's Policy and Parliamentary Manager, recently published an article about the ongoing crisis of women’s poverty, as part of the Poverty Alliance’s Scottish Anti-Poverty Review. The article argues that intersectional gender analysis is essential when developing policy that tackles poverty in Scotland. In this blog Lucy has pulled out some of the key headlines from the article, which is available to read in full here.

The first half of 2023 has seen changes in political leadership for Scotland, with Humza Yousaf taking over as First Minister. This has led to the Scottish Government creating three new ‘critical missions', including: ‘Equality - tackling poverty and protecting people from harm.’ As a result, anti-poverty work is high on the political agenda, which presents a vital opportunity to share work that has been done to show the gendered nature of poverty in Scotland.

Engender has already been working alongside many others in the women’s sector and beyond, to show how the Cost of Living crisis is a crisis for women’s equality because our economy is structured in a way which systemically financially disadvantages women. We have advocated at an international level to highlight how women’s human rights under ICESCR are being failed in Scotland. Ultimately, we know that women’s poverty is a result of long-standing, deep-rooted, and systemic fault lines in our society.

As anti-poverty campaigners, if we are to build solutions that will eradicate poverty in Scotland, we need to start by understanding how poverty is driven by intersectional gender inequality and design our solutions around this. The lives of women, especially if faced with intersecting marginalisation, are continually shaped by having less access to well-paid secure work, a vastly higher likelihood of reliance on shrinking social security, and lesser access to resources within the household.

Women’s incomes are lower than men’s, which means women are more likely to experience financial precarity, high levels of debt and arrears, a lack of long-term savings and access to adequate pensions. Black and minority ethnic women and disabled women are more likely to be in in-work poverty than white women and non-disabled women. Women are the majority of primary caregivers for children and are more likely to be unpaid carers for disabled and older people. The widespread nature of men’s violence against women has a significant impact on access to resources, incomes, and financial security – and often includes financial abuse. These factors see women, particularly minoritised women, as the household managers and shock absorbers of poverty, fully exposed to the sharp end of economic or other crises.

To tackle the gendered nature of poverty, we must first recognise these gendered issues around care, gender-based violence, and the linked existing structural inequality that exists across the labour market.

Deep-rooted occupational segregation, alongside systemic issues with returning to work after providing unpaid care for children, substantially diminishes women’s lifetime earnings and results in women being clustered into undervalued roles. This is largely due to harmful assumptions and stereotypes about women’s and men’s capabilities, gender roles and what constitutes ‘work.’

Women are also twice as likely as men to rely on social security, and therefore on a system that fuels poverty. Analysis from the House of Commons Library in 2016 found that up to 86% of net ‘savings’ carved from social security payments and public services between 2010 and 2020 will have come from women’s incomes. This leaves disabled, Black and minority ethnic women, refugee and migrant women, lone parents, care experienced women, unpaid carers and women experiencing domestic abuse at even greater risk of poverty and destitution.

Despite the wealth of qualitative research on women’s experiences, this is rarely reflected in official data that is used to shape and determine policy decisions. Scotland is still not capturing enough high quality, intersectional data about women’s experiences of poverty.

For example, the use of household measures of poverty in Scotland assumes that household income is equally distributed and accessible to women and men. There are significant evidence gaps about the experiences of women from different marginalised communities, which actively obscures the specific discrimination and pressures many women are subject to, and as such, the true extent of women’s poverty and, therefore, child poverty.

Anti-poverty work which looks at reforming social security at devolved and UK levels must understand the gendered nature of the reliance of women on the welfare safety net and the discrimination that is built into its delivery. As we see innovation in Scotland of new economic solutions to tackle poverty, such as the development of the Minimum Income Guarantee, we must work together to ensure such anti-poverty policies do not further entrench women’s inequality but actively seek to address it as a core goal.

In practice, this means lobbying for intersectional gender analysis to shape policies that explicitly address the inequality baked into the fabric of our social security systems and the structure of our economy. It starts by making visible how poverty and economic inequality are experienced at higher rates by women and marginalised groups across our society, in large part due to the way our economy and welfare systems are designed and shaped by decision-makers.

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