Blog: In-work poverty in Scotland – learning from the Serving the Future project

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Dr Laura Robertson,
Senior Research Officer,
The Poverty Alliance

New research from the Serving the Future project has found that there is a lack of support for low-paid workers and employers in the hospitality sector in Scotland.

Serving the Future, a collaboration between the Poverty Alliance, the Fraser of Allander Institute, and the Institute for Inspiring Children’s Futures, has been working with hospitality employers and workers to identify actions to address in-work poverty in the sector.

In-work poverty describes households who live in relative poverty (earning 60% less than the median income) even though someone in the household is in paid work.[i] In Scotland, there are 410,000 adults and 170,000 children living in poverty in households in Scotland where at least one person works each year.[ii] Addressing drivers of in-work poverty in Scotland means not only addressing low wages but other factors that are driving working poverty identified in research by the Institute for Public Policy Research namely spiralling household costs for low-income households, a lack of flexible and affordable childcare and a social security system that has failed to keep up with rental costs.[iii]

At this mid-point stage of the Serving the Future project, we have been sharing learning from longitudinal research with workers and action learning sets with hospitality employers. Workers told us what a good job in the hospitality sector would look like for them. In regard to pay and other benefits, being paid at least real Living Wage, increasing pay for more senior roles to support progression, and other packages of support (e.g. providing food during shifts) were highlighted as important.

In the research with workers, there is also evidence of ongoing financial struggles as a consequence of the cost-of-living crisis. A lack of knowledge of social security entitlement, missing out on receiving benefits due to earning just above thresholds and high costs of housing are critical issues. Families in the research also shared that they are struggling to sustain employment as a consequence of a lack of flexible, affordable childcare.

For hospitality employers, the current period is one of the most challenging businesses have faced in decades, both post-Brexit and as a consequence of rising costs. The research also reveals that is more the government can do to ease current pressures faced by the sector. In action learning sets with a small group of employers, the project has explored how employers would like to better understand elements of support available to employees.

At this mid-point in the project, the Serving the Future project, funded by The Robertson Trust’s Partners in Change Programme, are looking to identify changes that could be made to address issues around in-work poverty in Scotland. For more information about the project please visit our website at:


[i] Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland 2019-22 (



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