Care continues to be a profoundly gendered issue, resounding along women’s lives in Scotland. Women take on the major share of responsibility for caring as either unpaid or paid carers, caring formally or informally. Informal care includes care provided by relatives, friends and neighbours, while formal care can include services such as childcare, provided by government, private sector or third sector.

Caring has a significant economic cost to those who provide it, reducing the capacity of informal carers to participate in paid employment. The role of caring for children and adult dependents often limits the extent to which carers can financially provide for themselves and their families. As women make up the majority of formal carers, childcare workers and workers in other care services, the low pay and status of care work is a matter of concern to Engender and to feminism. The economic impact of caring has an immediate impact on current household income, but also has a future impact on women’s earning and pension income potential.


By 2030 Scotland has a free universal early childhood education and childcare system.

Scottish Government, in partnership with local authorities, should:

Invest in childcare

Childcare costs in Scotland are amongst the highest in the UK, and UK costs are among the highest in the world. Access to affordable childcare is a major barrier to women being able to work, study and access vocational training. Due to the high cost of childcare, 25 percent of parents living in absolute poverty in Scotland have given up work, a third have turned down a job, and a further 25 percent have not been able to take up education or training. Though these statistics depict a grim picture of provision in Scotland, the situation worsens for services inclusive of disabled children as well as those living in rural areas with limited access to affordable, high-quality and flexible childcare.

The Scottish Government plans to increase its free childcare provision by 2020, which is a welcome proposal. However, the offer falls short of the wrap-around childcare services that women require to enable them to participate in the labour market equally, and to train and study on an equal basis. The implementation of free universal childcare in other states has shown to lead to a sharp and persistent increase in women’s labour market participation, to reducing the attainment gap, and to decreasing income inequality.

Funding childcare services is an investment in the future, and supporting the development of accessible, high-quality childcare goes hand-in-hand with an investment in the people who care for children. Paid childcare is systematically undervalued by the market, as reflected in the low wages that the occupation commands. Any expansion of the childcare sector cannot simply replicate the low pay that currently characterises the sector. At a minimum, childcare workers should receive the living wage in Scotland.


By 2030 disabled people, people with long-term conditions and older people have real choice and control in all areas of their lives and in all parts of Scotland.

Scottish Government, in partnership with integration joint boards, health and social care partnerships and local authorities, should:

Make social care work for all

The social care system is failing many older people and disabled people, as well as their families and carers. Many disabled people are living without essential support beyond basic washing and dressing. Scotland is lacking in a social care system which provides people with the opportunity to take control over their own lives. Though the existing social care system is currently straining under pressure, demographics suggest that demand for care will only increase. Public sector funding is diminishing, and projections show that the number of people aged 75 and over in Scotland will increase by 85 percent over the next 25 years, a rate faster than the rest of the UK. It is expected that by 2026, the number of adults in need of care will have increased by 30 percent.

Adequately funded social care supports people in Scotland to participate fully in society – to attend work, to pursue an education, to engage with family and friends, to take part in community activities, and to stay in their own home. Furthermore, an appropriately funded social care system can prevent isolation, exclusion, illness, and poverty. Experts in Scotland have noted that ‘the whole system of funding social care is broken, [and] addressing one issue at a time will not fix it’. Scotland is in need of a system that sees social care support as an infrastructure investment in the social and economic well-being of society as a whole.


By 2030 carers’ rights in Scotland are respected and upheld, and care work is valued and recognised as contributing to Scotland’s social and economic well-being.

Scottish Government, in partnership with local authorities, should:

Ensure breaks for carers

Support carers realise economic and social rights

Unpaid carers, around 60 percent of whom are women, save Scotland an estimated £10.8bn per year, which amounts to over a third of the national budget. Women are four times as likely to give up paid work due to multiple caring responsibilities, and are more likely to be in low-paid, part-time employment than male carers. The responsibility of care has significant ramifications on women’s access to employment, career development and progress, access to training and higher education, as well as on physical and mental health.

The contribution made by unpaid carers is not reflected in our existing social care system. Radical change to how we value care as a society is needed in Scotland. Too often, carers feel ignored and unsupported by existing systems and practices, which is worsened by the current lack of independent advocacy and barriers to justice. As a first step, a redress mechanism should be developed to protect the rights of carers and those to whom they provide care. Those with direct experience of the social care system should be provided with a place to air grievances and seek corrective action.

Caring can be rewarding, but it can also be a struggle for carers to have a life alongside their caring responsibilities. The social care system should recognise the importance of supporting carers to live their own lives. Access to short breaks has shown to be ‘vital to sustaining the caring relationship, and the health and well-being of carers’. However, the availability of short breaks is limited and varied across Scotland, and not viewed as an essential support service for both carers and those they care for. Further, dedicated services are needed to support carers in – and into – employment, as well as opportunities for carers to access education and training.


See also

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Gender Matters Roadmap - towards women's equality in ScotlandGender Matters Roadmap - towards women's equality in Scotland

Key terms


Absolute poverty is when people lack the basic necessities for survival; in Scotland absolute poverty this is deemed as earning less than 60 percent of what the average wage was in 1998/99.


Service provision refers to the way things like, staff, money and physical resources are combined to fulfill a need.


Social care encompasses social work; care home services in the community for adults, children and young people; and services for young children, including nurseries and after-school care clubs.


Wrap-around services refers to care provision which is flexible to fit in with and meet carers’ needs. In education this can mean before and after work nursery hours, and in the health system this can refer to care which takes into account all the support needs of the patient.

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