Communications Officer, Poverty Alliance
It’s just not right that so many parents in Scotland – and their children - are trapped in the grip of poverty by an unjust labour market and failures in Scotland’s employability support.
More than two-thirds of children in poverty live in a household where someone is in paid work. So, to meet Scotland’s child poverty targets, we must improve access to fair work with decent wages for all parents - especially those on the lowest incomes.
Parents are often trapped in working poverty by the too-high costs of childcare and transport, and by the lack of quality part-time and flexible working opportunities.
The Scottish Parliament’s Social Justice and Social Security Committee launched an inquiry into parental employment and child poverty. The Poverty Alliance’s response to the committee clearly shows that we can make the working lives of parents easier, and help free them from the grip of unjust poverty.
Employability support is a key area of activity in the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan. However, it is also the area of the plan where the implementation gap is most apparent.
Last year, the Scottish Government announced a cut of £53m in proposed employability support spending. These cuts are concerning in the context of child poverty, as data shows mainstream programmes are not delivering for the priority family groups outlined in the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan.
The Poverty Alliance welcomed the introduction of the Parental Employability Support Fund, but it is not clear how this programme is making progress towards Scotland’s child poverty targets. Similarly, Best Start, Bright Futures included a commitment to deliver a new Parental Transition Fund intended to tackle the financial barriers parents face in entering the labour market. However, there has been a significant delay in implementation.
This implementation gap means that the Scottish Government’s policy commitments are not yet enabling parents to escape the grip of poverty. The delivery of these actions should be an early priority for the new First Minister.
We know this is also a question of justice for women. Women are more likely to be primary caregivers and account for 91% of single parents. Child poverty is entwined with women’s poverty and their experiences of the labour market. This means our employability support must be better gendered if it is to tackle child poverty.
Our response highlights how gender equality can be made a central part of plans to tackle child poverty. We show how expanding funded childcare in Scotland is vital, with an increase in funded hours, greater flexibility in the delivery of those funded hours, and the removal of upfront costs for low-income households.
In 2021, 25% of single parents said childcare costs had forced them to cut back on essential items like food and heating. This is echoed in our joint research with the Scottish Women’s Budget Group, which showed that childcare was already unaffordable for many women even before the cost of living crisis. Women told us they were concerned about their ability to maintain paid employment in the longer term, with expected price rises in the cost of childcare - alongside other living costs - making it impossible to stay in work.
The Scottish Government can put fair work at the heart of its strategies on the economy and jobs. We welcome the Government’s commitment to the roll-out of Fair Work First criteria across the Scottish public sector, but we can do more by making providing fair work a condition for businesses who apply for all government loans, grants and support. Business Gateway and Social Enterprise support services can also be required to provide guidance and support on Fair Work as standard as part of their service delivery contracts. The aim of all this is to help businesses realise the importance and the benefits of providing well-paid, secure, suitable employment for working parents.
A key question asked by the Committee was what actions the Scottish Government should prioritise to help parents into work and better paid jobs. In our response, we urged the Government to:
• Further increase the funded childcare entitlement to the equivalent of fifty hours a week.
• Greater flexibility in the delivery of the funded childcare entitlement.
• Support with upfront costs when entering employment, including childcare and transport.
• Action to improve accessibility on public transport, to ensure families with a disabled family member can access affordable transport that meets their needs.
• Extension of concessionary bus fares to everyone receiving Universal Credit and other low-income benefits, all young people under 25, and to people in the asylum system.
• Investment in targeted employability support that delivers fair work; and takes into account the particular needs of the priority family groups.
• The delivery of outstanding employability commitments in Best Start, Bright Futures including the Parental Transition Fund.
• Greater emphasis on Living Hours and high-quality flexible working as core aspects of fair work in Scotland.
• Financial support for low-income families to access training and skills programmes, including support with transport and childcare.
• Targeted upskilling and reskilling interventions that tackle the barriers to progression experienced by priority family groups.
We can reach out a helping hand to working parents and their children. We can turn compassion and justice into concrete action. We can free parents in Scotland from the scandalous injustice of working poverty, loosening the restrictions that poverty places on their rights, their freedoms, and their life chances.