Women have been disproportionately affected by UK Government cuts to social security benefits and other austerity measures, according to a new report from the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee.

The report found that of the £26bn in cuts made to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions since 2010, “85% have been taken from women’s income”.

Evidence suggests that existing inequalities for women have been aggravated by changes to the welfare system. “This includes issues around childcare, occupational segregation, the gender pay gap and women’s role as primary carers in society”, the executive summary reads.

The cumulative impact of austerity cuts have been particularly damaging for disabled women, lone parents, carers, refugee women and those experiencing domestic abuse.

Increased inequality between men and women has resulted in women becoming more reliant on the social security system than their male counterparts. This is in despite of UK government claims that more women are in work than ever before.

A recent report by Engender, the Scottish Refugee Council, Scottish Women’s Aid, Close the Gap and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, found:

  • Women are twice as dependent on social security as men, with 20% of women’s income coming from the benefits and tax credit system, compared with 10% of men’s.
  • Women have fewer financial assets and less access to occupational pensions than men and there are considerably more women than men in the lowest income decile in the UK.
  • 92% of lone parents are women, and women make up 95% of lone parents dependent on Income Support.
  • At least 59% of unpaid carers in Scotland are women and 74% of Carer’s Allowance claimants are women. Women are also twice as likely to give up paid work in order to care.
  • The gender pay gap in Scotland, which is 12% for full-time work and 32% for part-time work, signifies persistent and widespread differences in women’s experience of the labour market.

The Scottish Welfare Reform Committee says these findings are supported by their own cumulative impact research.

Scotland’s welfare reform minister, Margaret Burgess, fears that a further £12 billion in welfare cuts would only deepen the gender inequalities highlighted in the reports findings.

Mrs Burgess said: “It is alarming to see that women have been disproportionately affected by the UK Government’s benefits cuts and are twice as dependent on social security than men. I am deeply concerned that the UK Government’s £12 billion cuts will only widen this gap.

“With our new powers we will create a fairer and simpler social security system that aims to tackle gender and other inequalities. However we need to know how the UK Government’s cost cutting will affect benefits that are to be devolved.

“Organisations like One Parent Families Scotland and Barnardo’s Scotland see the effects of social security changes on the groups the report highlights as being particularly vulnerable, on a day to day basis, and are rightly concerned about the devastating impact further cuts could have on children.

The report recommends that the Scottish Government should be given discretion over the administrative elements of Universal Credit. It also calls for an independent review into benefit sanctions.

Both the Scottish and UK Government should also “demonstrate the gender impact of their policy decisions and take steps to mitigate these”.

Mrs Burgess said: “We welcome the Committee’s recommendations over Universal Credit and sanctions, and we will continue to do all we can to break down the barriers that prevent women from entering into work.

“Over the next few months we’ll be listening to the people affected by the UK Government’s welfare changes and cuts and, will be making sure we get the views of women on how we can create a system that suits their needs.

She added: “Despite challenges from the UK Government we are tackling poverty head on. Our new Independent Adviser on Poverty and Inequality will be looking at what more we can do to lift people out of poverty, we have invested £296 million in welfare mitigation measures, extended our childcare and are encouraging employers to pay the Living Wage.”

Barnardo’s Scotland and the Scottish Government have today joined forces to call for a halt to further welfare cuts.

The report makes a number of other recommendations, which can be read in full here.

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