Employers can reduce poverty by offering flexible work

Flexible work for parents can be a key factor in lifting children out of poverty, a report on poverty in Scotland by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has found.

While half (54%) of families in Scotland with no employment are in poverty, having a family member work part-time cuts this to 30%, and families with at least one person in full-time employment have a poverty rate of 10%.

Single parents are particularly vulnerable to poverty, accounting for 40% of all Scottish children in poverty. 

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Jack Evans, Scotland policy and partnerships manager at JRF, therefore encouraged employers to make flexible work available to parents where possible.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “If we want to make an impact on child poverty in Scotland, we need to have a labour market that works for single parents. Employers can play a big part in that.

“Our analysis and work with single parents has shown that there are still clear barriers to them entering and flourishing at work.”

Evans said HR already has the capacity to tackle this issue within their workplaces.

He added: “Companies have at their disposal a wide range of actions that can tackle child poverty. Fundamental changes can be: paying a real living wage; moving towards more secure and living hours contracts; and ensuring jobs are flexible in a way that works for their employees.”

The Living Hours movement encourages security in work, with contracts that offer 16 hours per week minimum and a fair notice period. 

The JRF predicts the end of the Universal Credit uplift on 6 October will put half a million more people in the UK into poverty, including 200,000 children. 

Many Universal Credit claimants (39% UK-wide, as of December 2020) are already in employment. 

Evans therefore argued business leaders should be looking to make informed changes to reduce in-work poverty. 

“This may be by looking at pay, hours, or progression, by looking at how an organisation will move people from a lower pay band,” he said.

“There are clear benefits for employers who make an effort to play their role in tackling poverty. Often talent can be lost by high turnover when policies don’t reflect the real lives of people in poverty, or don’t consider characteristics they have, like workers with disabilities or from ethnic minorities.”

Another 40% of children in poverty live in households where someone is disabled, according to the report.

Lee Ann Pangela, head of CIPD in Scotland & Northern Ireland, told HR magazine: “Employers can make a real difference by putting fair work principles at the heart of the people function. 

“Security and stability in employment, a predictable and liveable income and enabling career progression are all crucial to tackling poverty, as well as employers adopting more inclusive recruitment practice and supporting employees’ financial wellbeing through education.”

A JRF study from February showed that moving parents in workless households into work and increasing parents’ working hours could lift 60,000 children out of poverty in Scotland alone.

The report said: “This shows the transformative potential of removing barriers to work for families currently locked in poverty. With enough reliable hours at decent pay, child poverty could be dramatically reduced.”