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#ScotSocialSecurity and why we need gender-balanced experience panels

Emma Trottier is Engender’s policy manager, and leads our work on social security. Since March, Emma has been blogging about the key issues at the heart of the debate about Scotland’s new social security system. Here, she talks about why Scotland needs gender-balanced experience panels.

Last month, the Scottish Government launched its recruitment process for experience panels.

The aim of the process is to encourage individuals with experience of the social security system to sign-up and help shape the future of the Scottish social security system.

The Scottish Government plans to create several experience panels, one for each of the social security programs being devolved to Scotland (find the list of programs here). Anyone with experience of these social security programs – whether it be applying for them, receiving a payment, or being unsuccessful in the application process – is invited to join. Our understanding is that the experience panels will be maintained over four years, with events and meetings held each year. However, if someone is interested in only participating in the first year or only wants to take part in one event a year, that’s fine by the Scottish Government. The level of participation is up to the individual.

We believe that to create a social security system in Scotland that works for those who need it requires listening to a diverse group of individuals.

Let’s consider what’s meant by diverse. To begin, we think that the experience panels should be gender-balanced: there should be equal representation of women and men on the panels. Women are twice as likely than men to rely on social security, and evidence shows that women are disproportionately impacted by UK ‘reforms’ to social security. If the Scottish Government is serious about building a social security system based on dignity and respect, it should listen and learn from the women who experience it first-hand.

That said, diversity doesn’t stop there.

The Scottish Government has an opportunity to reach out to women who are lone parents; women who are carers; young women struggling to make ends meet; and women who face multiple inequalities across society, including disabled, black minority ethnic and refugee women. Women’s voices and experiences should inform policy-making and should be central in building Scotland’s new social security system. Hearing from women first means understanding their realities:

  • How will women who are lone parents or carers be afforded an equal opportunity to participate on the experience panels?
  • Will there be varying times to attend meetings or events to accommodate, for example, women with employment outside of normal working hours?
  • Will locations for events be accessible for disabled women, and will routes to meetings and events be considered in the planning of events?
  • Will there be events and meetings across Scotland, including in rural and remote areas?
  • How will incarcerated women be informed of the consultation, and how will they be able to participate?

These are only a few questions, but serve to highlight why the Scottish Government must consider and adapt to women’s realities throughout the experience panel process.

In February, the Minister of Social Security was asked if there would be equal representation on the panels, to which she replied yes. As yet, we’re not clear on how that will be achieved. Our sincere hope is that the Scottish Government that introduced gender balancing measures for public boards will be the same one that ensures gender-balanced experience panels.

To find out more about the experience panels, visit here.

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