International Women’s Day 2020: A time for action


Every year the United Nations recognises March 8 as International Women’s Day. This is a time to celebrate achievements and progress secured by women around the world, but ultimately, and most urgently, it is a time to call attention to how far we still have to go and to push those with power to take the action needed to get us there.

92% of single parents in Scotland are women, so this is an important day for One Parent Families Scotland to reflect on the role of gender in the experiences of the families we represent.

That statistic, 92%, or 156, 000 women, is a reflection in itself of the gender inequality that still very much exists in Scotland and the UK today. There is a deeply ingrained gendered imbalance in parenting, caring and household responsibilities in our society. The expectations placed on women and men in relation to these roles are wildly different and are, in many ways, reinforced by the structures and systems that shape our lives.

This imbalance is one of the central causes of women’s economic inequality, because their responsibilities for their family can limit their employment choices. Women are three times as likely to be in part-time work, which becomes a particular problem when we consider that there is a lack of well-paid and secure jobs with part-time and flexible working arrangements.

The pay gap between men and women’s average hourly pay for full-time work is 10.1%, but when men’s hourly pay for full-time work is compared to women’s hourly pay for part-time work, the gap is a staggering 28.4%. Effectively this means that by not being available to work full-time, women are put at a further disadvantage because part-time jobs tend to be paid less per hour.

According to research by Close the Gap in 2019, only 12% of jobs paying more than £20,000 are advertised as having flexible working options. This lack of flexible working arrangements acts as a barrier to those with primary parenting or caring responsibilities, and means that many people in this position – most often women – will be forced into lower-paid jobs as a result.

Another important piece of this puzzle is access to affordable childcare – for too long the cost of childcare has been just another barrier to women’s equal participation in employment and ability to secure higher income jobs.

The expansion in Scotland to 1140 hours of funded childcare for three- and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds from August this year (which equates to 30 hours per week in term time, or 22 hours year per week year-round) will go a considerable way to addressing this problem.

However, this doesn’t eliminate the cost entirely, and more investment in flexible childcare is needed to meet the demands of today’s labour market, given that so many jobs have non-standard hours. Additionally, the average cost of 25 hours of childcare for a child under two is £111 per week, while the average cost of an after school club is £54 per week.

When we speak about child poverty, which affects 20% of children in Scotland, we tend to forget that it is often women’s poverty that lies behind these figures. When welfare cuts are made, or increasingly complex and stressful processes introduced, it is women who suffer most as women are more likely to rely on social security, precisely because they tend to have lower incomes and greater caring responsibilities.

"When family budgets shrink, research - and our own experience as a service provider - suggests that it tends to be women who absorb the strain by going without so that their children's needs are met."

Read more

Our parent stories section highlights some of the challenges faced by single parents, including a lack of flexible working and childcare options.

Our policy and campaigns section has more detail on the policy changes we think are needed to improve the lives of single parents.

When family budgets shrink, research – and our own experience as a service provider – suggests that it tends to be women who absorb the strain by going without so that their children’s needs are met.

If these are problems for women in parent couples, the reality is even harsher for single mums, who have to take on full responsibility for caring for their family and their home, all while bringing in the sole income for the household. In effect, single mums are at the sharp end of many of the inequalities experienced by women more generally.

It is projected that by 2021, 63% of single parent households will be living in poverty. This will predominantly affect women and their children, who are being failed by a system where gender inequality not only persists but is exacerbated by budget decisions which ignore this reality.

The impact of these policy decisions can be particularly stark for those experiencing domestic abuse, which statistics consistently show to be predominantly perpetrated by men against women and children. This is both a symptom and a cause of the wider inequalities that exist between men and women.

Research by the Office of National Statistics in 2018 indicated that one in five single mums had been abused by a partner in the last year. Many women become single parents in order to leave an abusive relationship – the fact that they and their children are likely to be placed in such a difficult financial situation as a result is shameful.

Regardless of the circumstance, nobody should be in a position where they have to choose between remaining in a relationship or seeing their children plunged into poverty. But in the absence of an adequate and fair social security system, this is a genuine concern for far too many women.

Eliminating gender inequality in all its forms is essential to improving the lives of single parents. This is why, this International Women’s Day, we are urging everyone not to forget these conversations come 9 March but to translate them into action year-round. 

Time for action

We call on policymakers to consider several actions that could be taken towards reducing gender inequality:

Support single parents to enter and progress in employment

  • Ensure single parents take home the real living wage and encourage more flexible, family friendly working.
  • Require employers to consider flexible working requests at the point of recruitment.

Invest in a Social Security System that prevents child poverty, treating single parent families with dignity and respect

  • Pause and review universal credit and immediately:
    – remove the five-week wait for benefits,
    – invest to improve poor administration (particularly of childcare costs),
    – and pay single parents under 25 the same rate as those over 25.
  • End the policies that penalise single parent families – the working age benefits freeze, the two-child limit and the benefits cap.
  • Reverse job-seeking conditions for parents with pre-school aged children.
  • Replace benefit sanctions with personalised support tailored for single parents.

Make childcare work for single parents

  • Increase provision of affordable, high quality, flexible childcare. 
  • Extend Universal Credit to cover 100% of childcare costs, paid a month in advance.
  • Cover the upfront costs of childcare through a deposit scheme not the flexible support fund.
  • Extend childcare support to parents undertaking training and education.