Last week saw the launch of the book “Poverty in Scotland 2021- towards a 2030 without poverty?” This book is a unique collaboration. It brings together academics, anti-poverty campaigners, public officials, trade unionists and practitioners to provide a state of the nation assessment of the scale, nature and impact of poverty. It assesses the progress that has been made and the policies now needed to ensure Scotland’s ambitions toward ending poverty are realised.
Importantly the work recognises the need to take a holistic approach to tackling poverty in Scotland and looks at a range of practical steps that can and must be taken to end poverty. The book has a chapter dedicated to fair work and recognises that fair work must be a core element of Scotland’s anti-poverty strategy.
Over recent years there has been an increase in in-work poverty. In 2016–19, 60 per cent of working-age adults and 65 per cent of children living in relative poverty were part of working households. These figures have risen around 20 per cent since the mid-1990s.
Over the last decade there has also been increasing use of precarious contracts, coupled with the rise of self-employment, creating a growing proportion of the labour market that faces insecurity and/or low pay and in which established working rights are either completely removed or difficult to access. The burden of low pay and insecurity is also not equally shared with women, young workers and ethnic minority workers more likely to be in low paid or insecure work.
The coronavirus crisis only serves to underline further the unfairness and inequality at the heart of our economic system. Access to homeworking, access to sick pay and access to Government support schemes were unevenly shared, with the lowest paid and those in insecure work most poorly served in a variety of ways.
So, as we rebuild from this crisis government support and intervention in the economy must continue but must come with robust fair work conditionality that drives change at a workplace level. We must recognise that successful economic recovery can only take place if we focus on reducing inequality and building fair work.
The foundation of fair work is employers, trade unions and public agencies working together, and we must take steps to build and strengthen fair work structures across the economy. Fair work structures facilitate creative solutions while giving space to agree minimum terms and conditions for workers, stopping the race to the bottom on job quality and conditions of work.
To achieve fair work we must also tackle the systematic undervaluing of women’s labour and challenge the sectors that continue to rely on business models offering low paid and insecure work to a predominately young or ethnic minority workforce. There is a clear and urgent need to expand collective bargaining coverage in sectors like childcare, social care and hospitality, sectors already identified by the fair work action plan and Fair Work Convention reports or inquiries.
Prioritising fair work will drive up standards, protect job quality and improve the incomes of the lowest paid, tackling poverty, and creating a stronger economy in the long-term. Fair work needs to be at the heart of the recovery and should also be recognised as a key tool in Scotland’s anti-poverty strategy.
Find out more about “Poverty in Scotland- towards a 2030 without poverty?”