Employment Research Institute Seminar - Women and in work poverty in Scotland

Kate Sang and James Richards, Heriot-Watt University
With changes to the organisation of work, governments are giving increasing attention to the extent to which paid work pays. Initiatives such as the minimum wage, and efforts to move people off social security benefits into employment, appear based on an assumption that poverty can be always be alleviated through paid work. However, evidence from academia and other organisations suggests that this cannot be assumed (see for example Newman, 2011). Further certain demographic groups are at greater risk of poverty, including older women (Milbourne and Doheny, 2012) and disabled people (Yeo and Moore, 2003). This paper presents the findings from a qualitative study in Scotland which aimed to understand the gendered lived experiences of in work poverty.  Thirty five life history interviews were conducted with forty four participants. Thirty four of the participants identified as women. The data reveal severe hardship, with difficulties accessing essential items such as food and utilities. Women reported social isolation as a result of their restricted incomes. Women were often undertaking fragmented work due to care responsibilities and their own health problems. Further, women were under employed, working below their skills and qualifications levels.  Overall the data suggests that further training and qualifications are unlikely to life women out of in work poverty. Women often hid their economic status from employers, colleagues and friends due to the stigma attached to poverty. The data suggests that in work poverty may be a hidden inequality in the workplace, despite considerable press attention to poverty and welfare uptake.