The impact of the cost of living on gender inequality

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotland’s National Academy, in conjunction with the Young Academy of Scotland (YAS), welcomed the opportunity to respond to the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee inquiry examining the impact of the cost of living crisis on women. The RSE is well placed to contribute to this inquiry, drawing on our varied expertise, including on the economy, public policy, and the experience of women in society.

A working group, which included Fellows and members of the RSE Economy and Enterprise Committee, Young Academy Scotland members and external participants, was convened to explore this theme and form the response set out below. As Scotland’s National Academy, our response will aim to explore these issues in the Scottish context. However, some trends we note are UK-wide.

The RSE recognises the current financial limitations of the Scottish and UK Governments and will aim to provide cost-effective policy advice. However, we believe that investment in the well-being of women is crucial for societal good and the economy. Some of the solutions proposed are thus aimed towards improvements of existing policy interventions and support mechanisms rather than large-scale, costly reforms. We aim at all times to be informed, objective and constructive.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • The RSE recognises that the challenges women face due to an increased risk of deprivation are long-standing issues in Scotland and, indeed, the UK. The current cost of living crisis risks exacerbating issues.
  • The rising costs of essentials (especially housing, food, and energy) have a greater impact on women, prompting several recent reports in different parts of the UK to describe women as the “shock absorbers” of poverty.
  • While women across the board are affected, there are particular groups which feel the brunt of the challenges. Including one-parent households, asylum seekers and black and ethnic minorities.
  • The challenges women face due to an increased risk of deprivation are long-standing issues in Scotland and, indeed, the UK. The current cost of living crisis risks exacerbating issues such as economic inequality, child poverty, domestic abuse, and health inequality.
  • The RSE notes that many of the policy solutions to tackle women’s inequality require government funds and observes the current limited availability of public funds. To this end, we aim to outline some cost-effective policy recommendations. However, we also support some recommendations that would require significant public investment.
  • The RSE calls for the UK and Scottish Governments to adopt a robust and inclusive approach to the involvement of People with Lived Experience (PWLE) in the development of policy.
  • The third sector is currently financially constrained and unable to offer pay and conditions to attract enough candidates. Some institutions are struggling to operate at all, including those supporting women’s refuge. The RSE endorses the recommendation that local authorities conduct a gendered analysis when considering budget cuts to ensure that the cuts do not have a disproportionate impact on particular groups.
  • A further consideration from the RSE would be to index child benefits in the same way that pensions are indexed, thus ensuring that the real-term cost of raising a child is reflected within child benefits.

DISCUSSION

For International Women’s Day 2024, we’ve been inspired by this inquiry to continue the conversation. Together with the Young Academy of Scotland, we’re bringing a panel of from academia and practice to dissect this challenging topic.

The cost-of-living crisis continues to control our finances, yet the impact is not felt equally. We bring a panel of experts to discuss.

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