Skip to main content

21/08/14 11:28

Improving women's opportunities

Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Training, Youth and Women's Employment
Scottish Parliament
August 20, 2014

This Government’s ambition – to secure sustainable economic growth - has been consistent. The current strength of our economy and labour market reflects the strength of our commitment to that ambition.

Women are key to the strength and resilience of Scotland’s economy and they have made a huge contribution to the recovery we are seeing now.

Women work in every sector of Scottish industry. But too often they do so on an unequal basis as reports from respected organisations such as the Fawcett Society show – they are not feeling the same financial benefits of the recovery.

I am determined that women play the fullest possible role at all levels of our economy. And as they do so, I want to ensure their valuable contribution is adequately rewarded.

Well-rewarded and sustained employment can be the best route out of poverty, and the best way to tackle inequality. On Monday, I published ‘Unlocking Scotland’s Full Potential’ – a clear statement on the great value we place on sharing our economic growth equally.

Through equality of opportunity we can create a more diverse workforce - at all levels and in all areas of our economy – which maximises our skills, improves the productivity of our businesses and grows our economy even faster.

We can deliver these ambitions because Scotland has great strengths and strong foundations from which to achieve progress.

There are 1.25 million women employed in Scotland - the highest number since comparable records began. And, the female inactivity rate in Scotland is lower than anywhere in the UK.

More young women than men stay on at school after they turn 16, and are in Higher and Further Education. And Scotland has the highest percentage of females with at least NVQ level 3 qualifications in the UK.

It is therefore unacceptable that these strengths do not combine to create higher earnings for women in Scotland:

• Our gender pay gap remains unacceptably high at 7.6% - women earn 17% less than men taking hourly median earnings for full and part time work together
• Women’s average earnings are lower - men typically earn £90 per week more than women in full-time work.

The reasons are many, but in short, too many women continue to face occupational segregation, greater job insecurity, higher levels of underemployment and pay inequality.

That is not the type of labour market which can deliver the more equitable share of economic growth, prosperity and opportunity I believe Scotland must have.

The Strategic Group on Women and Work, which I chair, has – while engaging widely across the public and private sectors - played an important role in supporting our efforts to address these challenges.

And our focus will be helped when, in the autumn, the Council of Economic Advisors publish their report on maximising the Economic potential of Women in Scotland.

However the reality is this Government – with limited access to macroeconomic tools and legislative powers – is constrained in its ability to fully address these challenges.

So instead of sharing the benefits of growth, maximising our talents and unlocking our potential, in Scotland today:

• Too many households struggle to meet their bills, as wages are eroded and the cost of living increases.
• Around half of working age adults - and over half of children - in poverty, live in working households.
• And despite the UK Government’s stated commitment to supporting families, women are disproportionately affected by its welfare reforms - through changes to Child Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Lone Parent benefit conditionality. And this disparity will continue as Universal Credit is introduced.

These inequalities create an inarguable case for the full independence for Scotland.

I believe that only full independence can address these issues and create a Scotland which provides the opportunities to meet the ambitions of women.

Too many women work in low paid jobs, so the minimum wage impacts disproportionally on them. I understand the difficulties this can create and I believe they deserve better. So with independence, the minimum wage will rise at least in line with inflation every year. If that had happened over the past five years, the lowest paid would have been £600 a year better off.

With responsibility for Equalities legislation we would address the scandalous inequalities in pay that persist despite the current system and forty-four years of equal pay legislation.

Independence will allow us to protect women from the worst effects of welfare reform. We will develop a welfare system which is fair, personal, simple, and provides women with the same incentives to work as men.

Current plans for Universal Credit mean that a higher level of partners’ incomes will be taken into account as income when calculating the award. In Scotland’s Future we have committed to equalising the earnings disregard between first and second earners under Universal Credit. In so doing, it is estimated that second earners – more often women - would benefit as many as 70,000 people by as much as £1,200 a year.

I want to see women contributing fully to the success of Scotland’s businesses, its public and third sectors and to the continued strengthening of the Scottish economy. And I want to see that contribution benefitting women and their families equally.

A lack of affordable, flexible childcare can be a significant barrier to many women accessing opportunities in employment, education or training.

So we are investing over a quarter of a billion pounds in the next 2 years to expanded provision for 3 and 4 year olds – and will also extend this support to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged 2 year olds.

The Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce report rightly sets out an ambitious agenda to improve access to employment.

Together with local government, we are working to implement the report’s recommendations - already making £4.5m of funding available, which includes support which will tackle gender segregation in training and employment programmes.

In the autumn I will set out more detailed plans on how we will work with schools, colleges, training providers and employers to ensure that existing stereotypes are challenged and barriers are removed.

Improving participation is one half of the challenge we face in maximising Scotland’s productivity. As important is creating an environment in which all those in work – including women - can thrive and prosper more equitably than they have been able to before.

Last week I welcomed the recommendations of the Working Together Review of Progressive Workplace Policies.

The Review suggests how we can – through a partnership approach - address labour market challenges and builds on existing good practice in our industrial relations. We will work with businesses and trade unions in framing our joint response.

Taken together with Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce - this will provide Scotland with the opportunity to bring the right skills into the right jobs - transform people’s lives and our workplaces – through more equal access to work fairer treatment in work.

Today I want to update Parliament on progress in two important areas.

The Working Together review recognised the value of a Fair Work Commission - as envisaged in Scotland’s Future – as a means to support sustainable employment that pays fairly.

The Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970. Forty four years later it is clear that the current constitutional arrangements are not delivering for women in Scotland.

I want to see early action, so with independence, the Fair Work Commission will as its first priority begin work collaboratively with unions, business and others to progress a review of the costs and benefits of mandatory equal pay audits.

And, we want women to be better represented at the highest levels of public authorities. On 30 April 2014 we launched the Women On Board consultation to determine how a minimum quota of 40% female representation could be introduced.

The consultation closed on 4 July and we received a range of views on how to address the gender imbalance on our Boards, which has helped focus our thinking on how best to address the barriers women face.

Our commitment in this area makes it clear that this is not an issue on which we are prepared to wait any longer, and yesterday Shona Robison wrote to the UK Government to request the transfer of the legal competence in the equality field to the Scottish Parliament. We have made clear that we believe these powers should rest in Scotland as quickly as possible – and in advance of full independence.

We will establish a Short Life Working Group to develop a plan for the implementation of quotas - harnessing political support together with expertise around the appointments process – to deliver truly gender diverse boards with the highest calibre of men and women.

On the 18 September we have the opportunity to create an independent Scotland - a Scotland unconstrained in its ambition. A Scotland which will maximise opportunities for everyone in the economy, including women. A Scotland which fully unlocks our potential.

The plans I have outlined today demonstrate that following a vote for independence, we will use those powers to deliver a fairer and more equal society.