Employers have the power to help solve in-work poverty in Scotland

The tide of poverty in Scotland is rising, and the choices of employers are a vital part of the solution of systemic change.

It’s not right that one in eight workers – nearly 4 million people – are held back by in-work poverty in the UK. To right the wrong of poverty we need more people in quality jobs which offer security, good pay and prospects for progression. Whilst the announcement of the Scottish Child Payment proved a decisive moment in Scotland’s history of tackling poverty, we know that the tide of poverty in Scotland is rising and more similarly game-changing solutions are required if we are to achieve the Scottish Governments’ 2030 child poverty targets.

As part of the ‘What’s the next game-changer for solving poverty in Scotland?’ event in Edinburgh, JRF brought together stakeholders from the world of work, ranging from the responsible business network Business in The Community Scotland (BITC), Strathclyde Business School, the Poverty Truth Commission (PTC) and Family Friendly Working Scotland.

The participatory workshop kicked off with a panel discussion, chaired by Business in The Community Scotland’s (BITC) Alan Thornburrow, on the role that work can play in helping to prevent families from being swept into the rising tide of poverty in Scotland. Professor Patricia Findlay and Dr Colin Lindsay of Strathclyde Business school then shared their newly launched report ‘Influencing employers so more people break free from poverty through work’. They presented the findings, which included:

  • Employers often knew little about the financial difficulties some of their workers faced, or indeed the solutions that could help stem or prevent them.
  • There is a need to build on existing resources and tools that can help employers to gain a better understanding of these issues.
  • There are a range of practices that employers could implement, like paying wages above the real Living Wage rate, providing security in working hours, and training and in-work progression strategies to help tackle and prevent their employees being swept into poverty.

Building upon the University of Strathclyde findings, Elaine Downie from the Poverty Truth Community and Nikki Slowey of Family Friendly Working Scotland drew on some powerful examples of people who encountered an array of barriers which meant that they were locked into poverty and out of good work. Elaine went on to highlight the need to reframe the narrative around people with lived experience from being part of the problem to part of the solution. Nikki explained the importance of work that offers genuine, good-quality flexibility, and the need to bring the same level of flexibility to groups at risk of in-work poverty as to those in higher-paid professions. She also highlighted the need for flexibility to be reframed, to provide a strong business case to employers that communicated the benefits, such as increased productivity and a decline in absenteeism.

Attendees were then given the challenge of finding some of the next game-changing solutions that could help to solve poverty through work. After much discussion and debate, the groups agreed upon several key areas, including:

  • Reframing the issue so that employers are part of the conversation and want to tackle in-work poverty; persuading employers to act by providing the beneficial business case, with support and concrete steps to implement changes.
  • Employers putting good work principles at the heart of work agendas, building on the good practice of diversity, inclusion and sustainability as core drivers for employers.
  • The further devolution of powers for legislating on key areas, to help progress the conversation in Scotland.
  • Conditionality of support from the public sector and big procurers in the private sector, based on the principles of fair work, before employers can access supply chains and procurement.

We all want to live in a society where work provides a reliable route out of poverty, but too often work does not provide this. Employers, as a vital part of wider systemic changes, have the power to help solve in-work poverty. 

Alan Thornburrow, Scotland Director of Business in the Community, discusses the key theme's coming from the workshop on the ways employers can help their employees escape from the grip of poverty.