GUEST POST: The Cost of Childcare Crisis
Engender has recently hosted student placements from the MSc in Social Research at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde Applied Gender Studies and Research Methods course. As part of their research outputs, the students have produced a series of blogs.
In this post, Marianne looks at how the cost of living crisis continues to disproportionately impact women, and how this is compounded by women's unpaid work and childcare responsibilities.
Milk, bread, electricity, petrol and even crème eggs: the cost of living crisis has seen drastic surges in prices of just about every household good. Everyone’s purses are feeling the strain, and heads are turning to the government to aid the struggling population.
Often unacknowledged in these debates, however, is the evidence that women are being disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis over men. The economic instability of the country is affecting the lowest-paid of the population, of which women make up the majority, with 69% of low-paid and insecure jobs being held by women. Engender released their Women & The Cost of Living report in November 2022 that highlighted that this disproportion is related to the long-standing inequalities that ensure women make up the highest percentage of low-paid jobs, such as those in the care sector and unpaid care and domestic jobs at home. Based on this perhaps unsurprising revelation, Engender made a series of suggestions for the Scottish Parliament in order to tackle these inequalities.
There were fourteen in total, an example of a few of them are:
Apply rigorous intersectional gender budget analysis to the Emergency Budget Review and all other budgeting processes that respond to the cost of living crisis
Ensure that all public sector wages rise in line with the rate of inflation
Increase protection for women experiencing domestic abuse and their children
Provide an emergency boost to the Scottish Welfare Fund of 50% (£17.75m), promote uptake, and broaden parameters for its use
Ensure that the 1140 hours of funded childcare is flexibly delivered, increase support for school-age children, and map a course towards universal access to 50 hours per week
…amongst others. Almost 10 months have passed since these recommendations have been made, and with them, a variance in progress in each area. The fifth recommendation on this list highlights one of the biggest barriers to women in their careers and, therefore, heavily impacts their experience with the cost of living crisis: the unpaid care burden of childcare.
In December 2022, Engender researched the experiences of women who had been abused by men through a Tools for Change project. The participants of the workshops in this research (who had all experienced abuse from men) discussed the various ways in which our society is designed for and by men and how this affects women’s day-to-day experiences, but also the prevention of abuse against women from men. One of the issues highlighted by participants was the disproportionately shared childcare burden. The women echoed similar experiences and felt that they were largely responsible for the majority of childcare responsibilities in their (past) relationships which they would like to see rectified by a shift in societal attitudes towards parents – a shift that can be influenced by legislation and parliament. However, a further shared concern was how children could be used as a manipulative tool in these relationships and how a threat made by their partner to take their child away from their mother is a common fear among women in abusive relationships. Therefore, certain governmental interventions, such as an increase in the child budget, can be the most helpful and situationally sensitive actions in order for women to be able to manage childcare and work with no help from a partner.
On the 23rd of March, during Portfolio Questions, Conservative MSP Sue Webber asked the Scottish Government what action was being taken to improve childcare support. The Minister for Children and Young People, Clare Haughey MSP, stated that in 2023-24 the Scottish Government plans to invest around £1 billion in the delivery of early learning and childcare offer. They are also planning to expand the free early learning and childcare to one and two-year-olds - certainly, some welcome steps in the right direction. As addressed by a few MSPs in said debate, undoubtedly, childcare options are better in Scotland than in the rest of the UK; Gillian Martin MSP highlighted this on International Women’s Day when she stated:
“Childcare is a national infrastructure. This Government is investing in it, with 1,140 hours provision, and that is maybe why Scotland’s gender pay gap is starting to come down and is the lowest in the UK.”
– Gillian Martin, MSP
Evidently, when the government invests in children, it is investing in both gender equality and a healthier economy, as women are afforded the right to work. However, most of this debate revolved around plans rather than progress. The question remains of when these new policies will be put into place. The issue does not just lie in access to childcare, either; gender roles are deeply embedded into our society and are a major reason why mothers still feel pressure to be the primary carer for their children. The government needs to do more to tackle these stereotypes, such as making parliament itself more family-friendly. As highlighted by Natalie Don MSP, the Scottish Parliament proceedings do not operate on a family-friendly schedule despite their ‘family friendly’ policy. Often in her career, Don says she has had to choose one or the other:
“There have been no childcare facilities in the Parliament since before the pandemic. My attendance at cross-party group meetings and parliamentary receptions is almost out of the question if I want to make it home for story time.”
– Natalie Don, MSP
If parliament were to govern with gender equality as a priority, then would it not be best for it to start in the chambers? I would advise that the Scottish Government look to their own infrastructure to ensure that society is no longer functioning on a patriarchal work schedule. The promises made in the government’s Equally Safe strategy to prevent violence against women and girls will be unreachable if childcare and women’s unpaid care work are not scrutinised. Family-friendly work environments are not counterproductive; they are an investment in everyone’s future.
Engender occasionally works with students as part of their placement requirements for university or college courses - this allows students to work with Engender on specific areas of our work for women's equality. Student blogs form part of their course assessment, and they do not receive payment from Engender.
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