Analysis: working for change, a year in equalities
Equalities remain top of the agenda in Scotland
Gender balance: Picture credit - Fotolia
As the Scottish Parliament prepares to return to Holyrood for another parliamentary year, one of the most important issues for MSPs and policymakers is equality.
In June, legislation was introduced to establish Scotland’s first social security system. It is hoped the Social Security (Scotland) Bill will give the Scottish Government the power to deliver eleven benefits devolved as part of the Scotland Act 2016.
Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman said it represented a significant milestone in the process of transferring these social security powers safely and securely.
“This is a significant moment for Scotland and for the history of devolution. It gives this government and this parliament the opportunity to make different choices – and shows that we can create a fairer and more just society when we take matters into our own hands,” she said.
The bill will also provide powers to top up reserved benefits and provides a mechanism to pay a Carer’s Allowance supplement at the earliest opportunity.
Freeman continued: “I believe strongly that everyone has a right to social security – so much so that I have put these principles on the very first page of this bill.
“And these principles are embedded in our approach throughout – whether it is how entitlement to benefits is determined, a more just review and appeals system, or our decision to remove the private sector from disability benefit assessments.
“Dignity and respect is at the heart of our social security policy – a marked contrast to the approach that the current UK Government is taking, as their unjust welfare cuts continue to cause misery, push more people into poverty and attract international criticism.
“I look forward to working with colleagues across the chamber, the expert advisory group and our experience panels to make choices that work for Scotland, to reinstate fairness into the social security system and to listen to people throughout the process.”
Earlier this year, there was a huge outcry about the so-called rape clause, part of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. Sections 13 and 14 of the act limit entitlement to the child element of
Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit to a maximum of two children per household. This is known as the family cap.
Exceptions were introduced by the UK Government in 2017 which stated that social security for a third or subsequent child would be provided if the child was born as a result of ‘non-consensual conception’ (i.e. rape), sibling adoption, kinship carers or multiple births.
In order for a woman to apply for this exception in the case of rape, she would have to fill out an eight-page form, which includes naming the child who was conceived, as well as providing the
Department for Work and Pensions with evidence the rape took place, such as a conviction in which she was the victim, or testimony from a professional such as a doctor or the police, and confirmation that the woman is not living with the child’s father.
Yet this, while shocking, is the tip of the iceberg. According to analysis by the House of Commons library (which includes measures announced in the 2016 budget cumulatively), 86 per cent of savings from 2010 to 2020 will have come from women’s pockets.
The analysis is based on tax and benefit changes since 2010, with the losses apportioned to whichever individual within a household receives the payments.
In total, the analysis estimates that the cuts will have cost women a total of £79bn since 2010, against £13bn for men. It shows that, by 2020, men will have borne just 14 per cent of the total burden of welfare cuts, compared with 86 per cent for women.
Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said: “The latest welfare cuts are having a hugely damaging and disproportionate impact on women. It is, frankly, an appalling assault on the incomes of ordinary people already struggling to make ends meet.
“It is all the more concerning because in many households, women are the primary, or even sole, carers of children – a massive step backwards for equality in our society.”
In June, new legislation to increase the number of women on public boards was published. The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill sets an objective for public boards that 50 per cent of non-executive members are women by 2022.
It will apply to certain public bodies, colleges and higher education institutions in Scotland, subject to the bill receiving parliamentary approval. The bill will drive further improvements, building on the success of the Scottish Government’s ‘50/50 by 2020’ pledge – which has seen nearly 200 organisations across the public, private and third sectors sign up voluntarily to improve gender balance on boards.
Another important piece of legislation this year has been the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill which was unanimously approved at the first stage by the Scottish Parliament in June.
However, this is a vital step forward when you consider that in 2016, 260,000 Scottish children were living in poverty, an increase of 40,000 compared to the previous year.
It is hoped the bill will provide a strong framework by which progress can be monitored at a national and local level. The government will publish a three-year child poverty delivery plan by April 2018, which will be updated every five years, and annual reports to measure progress.
Constance said: “This important bill sets out our ambition to eradicate child poverty in Scotland, by requiring us to meet ambitious targets to reduce child poverty by 2030.
“We have consistently said that the fact one in four children in Scotland today are living in poverty is completely unacceptable and we must take action to resolve this – something this bill sets out.
“We realise that tackling child poverty will require us to work together which is why the bill includes national and local reporting requirements, and why it’s so important to hear the views of parliament and stakeholders.
“This bill is a major step forward as we look to give our children the best start in life and I look forward to working with parliament to ensure that we do.” •
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