In our fifth guest blog Ruth Boyle, Policy and Parliamentary Officer at Close the Gap expands on Women’s Poverty.

Poverty in Scotland is gendered. This was the case before the outbreak of COVID-19, and this trend is only being exacerbated by COVID-19 and the economic impacts of the crisis.

One of the key consequences of COVID-19 is labour market disruption and a jobs recession. This is particularly problematic for women’s poverty, as women’s experience of poverty is directly linked to their experience of the labour market. Women who were already struggling are now under enormous financial pressure, being pushed into further and deeper poverty.

Close the Gap’s research, Disproportionate Disruption, highlights that women’s employment will be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 job disruption. The research highlights that women are more likely to lose their job; are more likely to have had their hours cut; have been disproportionately affected by the need for unpaid care, impacting their ability to do paid work; and women in low-paid jobs will be particularly affected by job disruption, placing them at greater risk of poverty.

Women, particularly BME women and young women, are more likely to work in a sector that has been shut down. One-third of lone parents also work in shutdown sectors which is particularly concerning for child poverty rates as lone parents, 91% of whom are women, are already more likely to be living in poverty.

As service sector businesses, such as retail and hospitality, are more likely to be impacted by social distancing measures, the majority female workforces in these sectors are at greater risk of redundancy. Women in these low-paid, high-risk sectors are already more likely to be experiencing in-work poverty and are therefore less likely to have savings to fall back on. Indeed, 80% of people working in hospitality were already struggling financially before lockdown, and the increasing precarity of the sector has been a source of concern for the Commission.

Women in Edinburgh are likely to be particularly impacted by job disruption, with retail and hospitality being key sources of employment in the city. 9.3% of those in employment in Edinburgh are employed in accommodation and food services, compared to the Scotland-wide figure of 7.9%, and 10.5% are employed in retail and wholesale. Drastic reductions in tourism and changing consumer preferences could have stark implications for the recovery of these sectors in Edinburgh, meaning the impact on women’s employment is unlikely to be fleeting.

Women account for two-thirds of workers earning less than the living wage, and receiving only 80% of their usual salary through the Job Retention Scheme could push these women into poverty and under the threshold for Universal Credit. These women, and others who have been made redundant, will be forced to access a social security system which fails to meet their needs. 61% of families in receipt of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credits have had to borrow money to stay afloat during the crisis, and 51% are behind on rent or other essential bills. Women require a lifeline, but the design of Universal Credit traps women in poverty.

The delay in the delivery of the increased funded entitlement for childcare also raises concerns around women’s poverty in the longer term. City of Edinburgh Council have not committed to delivering the 1140 funded childcare hours by August, which could trap women in low-paid part-time work, or prevent women from re-entering the labour market, adding to a growing child poverty crisis. The lack of flexible and affordable childcare is a key barrier for women entering the labour market or increasing their hours. 25% of parents living in absolute poverty in Scotland have given up work and a third have turned down a job because of the high cost of childcare.

The transformation of Scotland’s economic landscape as a result of COVID-19 will have far-reaching implications for women in the labour market. One of the key consequences will be a rising tide of poverty for women, and the crucial concern is how to respond to this tide. Transformational policy responses are essential, making the work of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission even more critical.

In responding to COVID-19 it is pivotal that the Commission adopt a gendered approach. This should include integrating gender-sensitive data analysis and gender mainstreaming approaches and recognising that it is impossible to tackle child poverty without tackling women’s inequality in the labour market.

Austerity in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis exacerbated pre-existing inequalities. Equally, a return to the pre-coronavirus status quo will merely cement women’s poverty. Economic recovery needs to focus on rebuilding and transforming the economy but the idea of ‘building back better’ must mean building a labour market that works for women.

You can read our Disproportionate Disruption briefing, and a briefing on Women, Work and Poverty on the Close the Gap website.

Ruth Boyle, Policy and Parliamentary Officer, Close the Gap