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Shock absorbers of poverty: women and the cost of living crisis

This opinion piece is 10 months old

Yve Barry on research detailing the gendered impact of austerity

It is no secret that this current cost of living crisis has caused widespread damage to households in Scotland and will continue to have a long-lasting impact.

Yet, what is often missing is the understanding that certain people in society have been struggling with essential costs and the general cost of living for years.

Decades of austerity have disproportionately affected women who act as shock absorbers for poverty in the household and manage caring responsibilities at the expense of paid work. Particular groups of women are hit hardest by increasing poverty and insecurity such as disabled women, women from ethnic minority communities and single parents.  

While it may seem like Twitter feeds are full of third sector organisations looking at the impact of the cost of living crisis, it appears that too little is listened to or transformed into effective policy to make a difference in people’s lives. Attempting to manage or not being able to meet essential costs should not be a widespread experience, let alone a single experience.  

Given the gendered impacts of the current crisis, it was essential to us to hear directly from women in Scotland about their experiences of rising costs across Scotland. From February to March 2023, we received 871 responses from women all over the country, and from every local authority.  

Key findings include:  

  • 70% of women have not been putting heating on to reduce costs, rising to 80% for women who earn under £20k; 
  • Almost 20% are skipping meals entirely, rising to almost 34% for disabled women and 46% for single parents ; 
  • 65% of women said the cost of living crisis has impacted their mental health ;
  • 41% of women are using their savings to manage rising costs, rising to 46% of women from ethnic minority communities and 47% for single adult households ;
  • 53% of women in rural areas struggle to manage social care costs.

It was evident from our Women’s Survey 2022 that the cost of living crisis was a key concern for women, with 32% saying they were unable to manage energy costs before the increase in April 2022. Following this survey, our detailed qualitative research with the Poverty Alliance late last year highlighted powerful testimony about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis for women on low incomes in Scotland.

This research called for urgent action as some women in the research reported deepening experiences of poverty to the level of destitution by going hungry and cold. Therefore, it was crucial to designate part of our survey to this persistent crisis as costs continue to rise for households.   

We were grateful that women from all over Scotland shared their experiences. Including personal, challenging issues they face such as feelings of guilt accessing support and their views about how to mitigate these damaging impacts.  

The response to these rising costs is not short-term. We will require longer-term action in the form of a caring social security system, investment in care and progressive taxation, including taxes on wealth, to support a caring economic recovery in the context of a Just Transition. Women in Scotland deserve nothing less.  

Yve Barry is engagement and public affairs officer for Scottish Women's Budget Group.

You can read the full report here