The austerity agenda of the UK Government which is driving cuts to those who can claim welfare benefits is pushing more women and children into poverty. The impact of low paid, part time work and zero hours contracts has already contributed to economic hardship for women and their families.
Women in Scotland earn £182.90 per week less than men and yet make up 49% of the work force. Close the Gap state that 64% of workers paid below the living wage are women. Giving evidence to the Scottish Government in 2015, Prof Chris Warhurst, Institute for Employment Research (IER) at Warwick University, said:
“In Scotland already poor quality cleaning jobs in hotels can get worse when workers are shifted into temporary work agency employment or retail workers put onto zero hours contracts.”
And Citizens Advice Scotland who have witnessed at first hand a rise in clients seeking help who are on zero hours contracts stated:
“ In-work poverty is a significant concern for CAS, and the most recent figures from the Scottish Government show that almost half of working age adults in poverty (48%) are from working households. It is no longer the case that securing paid employment by itself is a route out of poverty.”
Orkney Islands Council employs 1800 people with 1000 on zero hours contracts. Many of those will be women with families now struggling to get by. The Resolution Foundation and the Work Foundation both report that those employed on zero hours contracts tend to receive lower gross weekly pay and that workplaces that utilise the contracts tend to have a higher proportion of staff on low pay.
This means that even those who are in work will be relying on welfare benefits to ‘top up’ their incomes. The same benefits which have now been cut or restricted. An estimated 20% of women’s income comes from benefits and child tax credits, compared to 10% of men’s (Fawcett Society). Of all in-work families receiving child tax credits, 87% of recipients were women. For in-work single parents, 94% of recipients were female. (HMRC).
Child tax credits are now capped at two children – meaning anyone with two children or more will no longer receive child tax credits at the birth of their next child or subsequent children, unless an exception applies. This policy also affects those making a new claim to Universal Credit. The exception to the 2 child cap can be applied if the woman can claim that the conception of the additional child (the +2) was due to being raped or because she was in a coercive relationship where she had no choice in becoming pregnant. This has now become infamous as ‘the rape clause’.
Other changes introduced on the 6th of April included:
- the premium payment for the first child will no longer be awarded for new births in families in receipt of child tax credits and new Universal Credit claimants
- shortening the time that parents who are on Universal Credit can spend at home with their youngest child before having to look for work
- reducing the amount of money people with work-limiting disabilities or health conditions who make a new claim to employment and Support Allowance and are placed in the work related activity group can receive
- In addition, the entitlement to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds was changed on 1 April
New families will lose £545 a year from the removal of the ‘family element’ – an additional payment that applies to the birth of a first child. By 2020-21 it is estimated around 50,000 Scottish households will be affected by the changes to child tax credits.
Social Security Minister for the Scottish Government Jeane Freeman announced that the two child cap would not be implemented in Scotland’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme. This scheme reduces the council tax those on low incomes have to pay, with over 75% of recipients not having to pay any council tax at all. A small measure to try and alleviate the economic pressures on families which the Scottish Government is able to do with the limited powers it has over the Welfare Payments System.
Equalities Secretary for the Scottish Government, Angela Constance said:
“The UK Government’s callous policies make our own efforts to eradicate child poverty even harder. We are spending some £100 million a year on welfare mitigation to protect the vulnerable and those on low incomes, which we would rather be investing in anti-poverty measures. The reality is we are tackling deep seated issues of inequality with one hand tied behind our back.”
Those on low incomes and especially women with young families are being hit the hardest by UK Government policies. Inequality is on the rise. Food Bank use is on the rise. Child poverty is on the rise. In the words of Satwat Rehman, Director of One Parent Families Scotland:
“Rising child poverty is a scar on our society, and is projected to rise further, as new benefit cuts that could cost the hardest-hit single parents more than £6,000 by 2019″.
Those who are paying the price for a Government intent on its austerity driven ideology are not the high earners in our society but those who can least afford to pay.
Reporter Fiona Grahame
The Orkney News has several articles on: zero hours contracts, poverty, food banks and equality issues. You can find them using the search tool on our page.