The division of work between women and men is, and has long been, profoundly gendered. Women’s access to paid work, leisure time and power remains heavily constrained by traditional social roles as carers and mothers even as they have increasingly entered and remained in the labour market.

Women in Scotland are and will be disproportionately impacted by the cost of living crisis, with acute ramifications in terms of economic and physical security, health and wellbeing. The disastrous forecast for the rate of inflation cannot be divorced from the egregious impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on equality, which has already placed women at greater risk of economic insecurity. A rollback on women’s rights and equality is widely recognised, with specific issues and their ongoing implications manifesting for Black and minority ethnic women, young women, disabled women, unpaid carers, mothers, pregnant women, LGBT women, and women with insecure immigration status, amongst other groups.

The response to Covid-19 saw a significant displacement of care and childcare from services to households, which has only increased as budgetary pressures on health and care services continue to be stretched, meaning women are busier than ever. Time-use data, survey data, and women’s own accounts all chart an increase in childcare, care for disabled and older people, and other unpaid work predominantly done by women such as housework and household management.

Women tend to act as managers of household budgets, particularly with regards to spending on children and non-durable items like food and domestic products that are susceptible to price hikes during periods of inflation. Women are therefore disproportionately exposed to the strain and anxiety of budgeting, including for energy bills, with clear implications for health and wellbeing. Women are more likely to have fallen behind with bills and to have skipped meals due to rising costs.

The extent and pattern of women’s unpaid work is a key driver of their capacity to work in the formal labour market, participate in public and community life, and be well and healthy. It has implications for how women use public transport and other public services. It affects the ways in which both finances and wellbeing are managed within the household. Despite its centrality to discussions about women’s equality and rights, unpaid care and reproductive labour is often marginal within policymaking processes.

To ensure that Scottish Government policy and budgetary responses to the cost of living do not risk entrenching gender inequality even more deeply in Scotland, Scottish Government and other public bodies must consider the role of unpaid care as they plan the ways in which economic recovery and the safe delivery of transport, education, childcare, and other public services will be achieved.

Read Engender's paper about women and the cost of living crisis here.