By Satwat Rehman and Jamie Livingstone
A lot has been said during this election campaign about the scandal of child poverty in Scotland. Rather less has been said about parent poverty. Less still about the reasons many people who look after someone – including single parents and carers, the vast majority of whom are women – find themselves perpetually trapped in poverty.
That’s why One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS), with support from Oxfam Scotland, have published a new report which reminds all of Scotland’s political parties of the undeniable truth; to effectively tackle child poverty, we must tackle single parent and carers’ poverty, including improving access to decent work.
As our report shows, if we ever want the maxim of ‘work is the best route out of poverty’ to be true, then the next Scottish Government must take the next steps in overhauling Scotland’s employability programmes while also engaging with business to ensure that people don’t just end up in dead end jobs on poverty wages. Without this concerted action, Scotland’s child poverty targets will remain unreachable.
As it stands, despite some signs of progress following the devolution of employability to the Scottish Parliament in 2017, employability programmes continue to take insufficient account of people’s caring responsibilities and thus fail to support them into work: caring responsibilities cannot simply be turned on and off.
Of course, not all single parents and carers are able to pursue paid work at all: there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. They must be better supported too. But for people who can and do want to find paid work many hurdles remain to securing and sustaining it.
As one mum told us: “Every time you thought you were making progress there was another barrier around the childcare. Like a lot of them want a month up-front. If you’ve no worked, where are you getting a month up-front childcare cost?”
Obviously, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to helping single parents and carers access the job market. Individuals are just that: individuals, with their own specific personal circumstances and needs. Employability programmes should treat them as such, by adopting flexible and tailored approaches that recognise the roadblocks people face while helping navigate ways around them.
That’s why it’s vital the next Scottish Government recognises and delivers on the evidenced need for targeted support. Enhancing employability isn’t a silver bullet but it’s especially important given that, even before the pandemic, nearly four out of 10 carers in Scotland reported having to give up work to care and a further two out of 10 said they have had to reduce their paid working hours to fulfil care needs. Around one in eight people in Scotland were combining paid work with caring; a figure which will grow as the country’s population ages and people work longer.
With political parties currently finalising their promises to the people of Scotland ahead of the Scottish Parliamentary election, now is the time to turn warm words for carers into concrete policy commitments.
Ultimately, politicians must demonstrate their solidarity with Scotland’s single parents and carers by creating a new National Outcome dedicated to better valuing care and all those who provide it in Scotland, whether unpaid or paid. This generation defining commitment must be at the heart of the next Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework and enhancing the support given to single parents and carers who want to access paid work must become a key indicator of progress.
Getting this right will benefit parents, carers and their families, help ensure Scotland’s labour market is fit for the future and also bring Scotland’s legal child poverty targets closer within reach. Crucially, it will support individuals and their families not just to survive but to thrive.