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Smith Commission agreement a mixed bag for women

Scottish ParliamentThe Smith Commission report was launched this morning with some fanfare and warm words for both the 'sagacious' stewardship of Lord Smith of Kelvin and the National Museum of Scotland, which hosted the affair.

The devolution of income tax was the part of the agreement most heavily trailed in the media, but we were particularly keen to see whether the five parties had met ours and others' calls for specific powers to redress inequalities.

We called for the Scottish Parliament to have the powers:

  1. To legislate and regulate around equality law, including the power to establish a Scotland-specific equalities regulator, akin to the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland.
  2. To legislate and regulate around employment, including around maternity, paternity and parental leave; flexible working; the national minimum wage; and the employment tribunal service.
  3. The social security, benefits and taxation system, including the power to legislate and regulate, in addition to administration and deliver.
  4. To establish employability programmes that link with Scotland’s economic development strategy to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
  5. To regulate broadcasting and advertising in Scotland.
  6. The administration of all reserved tribunals operating in Scotland, including the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal should be devolved.

The devolution of significant tax powers will require some analysis to assess the likely impact on women, but our first look at how the Smith Commission recommendations relates to our calls is as follows.

Equalities

Other equalities organisations also called for equality law to be devolved, and we are disappointed that only one small transfer of powers is recommended, to enable gender quotas on the boards of public bodies. We are entirely supportive of that measure, but the lack of any additional devolution means that Scotland cannot make any changes to anti-discrimination law, introduce mandatory equal pay audits, or change the core elements of the public sector equality duty.

Employment and tribunals

It is recommended that the management and operation of all of the tribunals services be devolved, with the exception of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and the Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commission. This is to be welcomed, and may enable Scotland to redress the dramatic fall in sex discrimination and equal pay cases brought before the employment tribunal following the introduction of fees.

Otherwise, employment remains entirely reserved, including the power to set the minimum wage.

Social security and welfare

Welfare has not been devolved in its entirety, which is what many civic society organisations called for, including Engender. Instead, a basket of payments will be devolved (Attendance Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Industrial Injuries Disablement Allowance and Severe Disablement Allowance, Cold Weather Payment, Funeral Payment, Sure Start Maternity Grant and Winter Fuel Payment, and Discretionary Housing Payments). Others will remain reserved (Bereavement Allowance, Bereavement Payment, Child Benefit, Guardian’s Allowance, Maternity Allowance, Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Sick Pay and Widowed Parent’s Allowance.)

However, Scotland will have the powers to vary some of the practical arrangements around Universal Credit, including frequency of payments, paying housing elements directly to landlords, and varying the under-occupancy charge (Bedroom Tax) and local housing allowance rates, eligible rent, and deductions for non-dependents.

This is a complicated division of responsibility. We are concerned about how well the cumulative impact on women of this devolution has been assessed. Women are much more likely than men to depend on welfare benefits, and women and children's poverty is profoundly affected by changes to the welfare system. In broad terms, though, this recommended devolution may allow some of the most challenging elements of Universal Credit to be mitigated within Scotland. Conditionality and sanctions, though, remain reserved.

Employability

We are pleased to see that devolution of employability programmes has been recommended. Women's employability initiatives tell us that current programmes don't engage with occupational segregation, and are not able to be adapted to meet the needs of their service users. Devolution may allow better links to be made with women's equality initiatives as well as economic development activity in Scotland.

Broadcasting

Power to regulate broadcasting remains reserved.

Some changes, impact unknown

Engender joined many third sector organisations in having significant reservations about the Smith Commission process. We were particularly concerned that the timescales meant that participation of Scotland's people would not be possible, and that the speed of decision-making would mean that modelling impacts, and assessing the cumulative impact on women and other groups of people, would not be well done. Our reservations appear well-placed.

As the detail of additional devolution unfolds, we will be sharing analysis on the likely cumulative impacts on women.

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