For our May networking session, we had speakers from the Serving the Future project (a partnership project between the Poverty Alliance and the Fraser of Allander Institute), which included Dr Laura Robertson (Poverty Alliance), Dr Helen Timbrell (a consultant on the project) and Allison Catalana (Fraser of Allander Institute).

The project was a deep dive into the hospitality industry, with the key issue being inadequate income, a key driver of child poverty and low household income. Findings were based on interviews with 27 hospitality workers. It is an industry where profit margins are low with the lowest paid sector on minimum wage. The latest data indicates that 33,000 households in Scotland, with a least one worker employed in the hospitality sector were in poverty. Workers are predominantly young, female, and non-white.

There is a large skills gap in the area, whilst vacancies are growing, so existing staff are stretched even further.

Workers are living in a diverse range of insecure housing situations, with a high number privately renting. There is a lack of understanding around worker’s rights and fair work practices amongst employees. Childcare is not available to them due to their non-traditional working hours. Colleges providing courses in hospitality were aware of these issues. Mental health seems to be a prevalent issue, as is alcohol and other addictions.

Further statistics on Serving the Future project can be found here.

Employers were found to make adjustments for their staff and there were pockets of good practice in the industry. This data came from workers during their interviews who shared examples of good practice in relation to the Scottish Government’s Fair Work Framework, for example, employers providing shifts that worked around childcare availability and an employer providing counselling for a member of staff.

One study of a lone parent told how she felt she had nowhere to go to access support, and even food. She went to having one meal per day in order to feed her child. The £80 per day that she earned at work would all go on childcare.

The research with employers highlighted two interconnected challenges for employers: the high cost of living, with Brexit a contributor, especially on small businesses. Secondly, sourcing and recruiting staff, especially in the kitchens. Length of service has dropped dramatically and the retention of staff is the biggest challenge facing employers.

Ideas for change from workers included more affordable and available childcare out of the traditional working hours, more awareness of their social security entitlements. Access to safe transport at night after shift work.

The key ask from the presenters today were, how can the Council and their third sector partners help them raise awareness of existing sources of support for employers and their employees. See the full presentation here.