News April 2024

Tackling in-work poverty in Scotland

Over the past year, our Work Pathways team has been exploring how changes to the world of work in Scotland can deliver big change that lasts on poverty and trauma in Scotland. Our Programmes and Practice Officer, Lyndsay Fraser Robertson, looks at how this work has helped inform our spending plans in this theme across 2024-25, with approximately £2 million available through our open call.

"The path towards a fairer, more prosperous Scotland for all requires a change to the systems and structural factors causing and exacerbating in-work poverty"

Nearly half of those in poverty in Scotland are part of working households. This figure climbs even higher when we look at children living in such conditions. Work used to mean people could escape poverty. Now, too often and for too many, it is work that is trapping people in poverty they can’t escape from – or at least not for long.

The backdrop against which this situation unfolds is one of stagnating real wages and cost of living crisis, a cruel legacy of the financial turmoil triggered by a series of crises – the financial crash of 2007/08, the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living emergency.

Wages have barely returned to the levels seen in 2008, we’ve seen entrenched inequalities and the rise of practices such as zero-hour contracts, unpredictable working patterns and inflexible working. All of these have disproportionately affected certain population groups, particular places and particular sectors of the economy. The reality of this was brought to life by Lauren McMillan, one of the external advisors to our Work Pathways team, in her recent blog about working in hospitality.

What we've heard

As part of our discovery work  (what we call our research into where our priorities should be) we have undertaken work with employers, workers, policy experts, grant holders and advisors with lived and learned experience. All of this has highlighted the need to look beyond the traditional employability landscape towards improving the quality of jobs and tackling in-work poverty in Scotland.

Work should, of course, be a guaranteed route out of poverty for most. However, while we know that many employers do wish to protect their employees, and do the right thing – indeed many already are – we consistently heard that their ability to do so is too often undermined by volatile economic conditions, and the need for greater support and advice.

Many of our discussions over the past year have focused on working with employers, exploring the role and limits of a voluntary and mandatory approaches, and driving career progression, including changes to job design and wider employer practices.

Equally important are the roles of local and national governments, and the policies and practices that can perpetuate or tackle in-work poverty.

From reforming the social security system to safeguarding workers' rights, the scope for transformative action is vast, provided we muster the collective will to affect change. This is particularly the case in those industries more likely to see in-work poverty, such as hospitality, health and social care and retail, among others.

Open call

Our Programme Awards aim to support work which is bold, innovative and sustainable – in other words, work with potential to deliver big change that lasts on poverty and trauma in Scotland.  While we recognise the importance of addressing individual barriers to employment, our discovery work has shown that taking the path towards a fairer, more prosperous Scotland for all requires a change to the systems and the structural factors that are causing and exacerbating in-work poverty. This is the focus of our recently-launched funding open call.

Be it through work to change policy – such as influencing projects, activism, and research focused on change – or work to change practice – such as feasibility work, development work and test and demonstration work – we want to see these funds being used to address the root causes of in-work poverty and deliver sustained change long after a project’s lifetime. Inspired by the conversations we’ve had and people we’ve met throughout our discovery phase, we are excited and optimistic about the potential for change.

Something is wrong in the world of work, and it’s been going wrong for some time. We want to hear the good ideas out there that can improve work for low-income households, end the in-work poverty trap, and that have the potential to deliver big change that lasts on tackling poverty and trauma in Scotland.

'Big change that lasts'

Last year, we ran a webinar looking at what we mean by 'big change that lasts' for our programme awards (originally recorded for our Education Pathways open call). While the full webinar can be viewed here, we have also provided two bitesize snippets below looking at the definition and examples of big change projects.