Women & Care – Policy Position

The below content sets out some of the actions currently underway on tackling gender bias in care and promoting gender equality.


The content has been divided into three categories: unpaid carers, social care workforce, and families and carers looking after children. Though the piece addresses three areas, these should not be viewed in isolation, as some may be affected by all three categories and many will be affected by two – caring for wider family and children – additionally, within these categories carers may face wide ranging and differing issues. Equally there may be some commonalities, for example all care is highly gendered, as women provide the majority of care, in both paid and unpaid roles, and therefore the following policy piece covers numerous issues faced by women and girls in caring roles.


Within this document the term carers is used in different contexts, in section 1 (unpaid carers) uses care in line with its meaning as per carers legislation – i.e. someone looking after another person because of a long term health condition, disability or addiction issue, whereas in section 3 (families and carers looking after children) the term carers refers to people with parental responsibilities such as foster carers and kinship carers.


  1. Unpaid Carers


Scotland‘s unpaid carers make a huge contribution to both the people they care for and our communities. The actual number of carers is not known but is estimated to be around 700,000 to 800,000 people. The latest estimated number of carers is 680,000.[1] Unpaid care in Scotland is already estimated to be worth £10.8 billion a year.[2]


For many people, caring can be a positive experience. Those with the least intensive caring roles can experience better than average mental health and wellbeing.[3]


However, people in more intensive and stressful caring roles often experience negative impacts on their health and wellbeing. Carers can often go without time for themselves while they focus on providing care and there can be additional costs associated and reduced earning capacity with a caring responsibility.


Every caring situation is unique. Carers’ individual needs and the impact of caring depend on all sorts of factors such as their age, health and ethnicity, and their support networks of family and friends.


Overall, 59% of carers are women and 41% are men. With gender stereotypes surrounding caring still present in our society, there is a risk that women feel more pressured to undertake caring roles.


We are committed to aligning policy to support and listen to carers and have recently published our draft Carers Strategic Policy Statement for consultation.


Carers (Scotland) Act 2016

The Carers (Scotland) Act came into effect in April 2018. It puts in place a system of carers’ rights designed to listen to carers; improve consistency of support; and prevent problems – helping sustain caring relationships and protect carers’ health and wellbeing.


This legislation represents a major step forward in carers’ rights. It includes each carer’s right to a personalised plan to identify what is important to them. This may include their wishes to, for example, return to work or undertake studies or training. Carers also have the right to support to meet their eligible needs and local authorities must consider whether that support should include a break from caring.


The Act also requires an information and advice service for carers in every local authority area which must provide information on a range of topics including carer rights under the Act, income maximisation and advocacy.


Carers can find out more about their new rights under the Act through the Carers’ charter and the Coalition of Carers in Scotland has developed Carers Act “What to expect” leaflets.


Fair work and employment

Women earn significantly less than men over their entire careers for complex, often interrelated reasons which include caring responsibilities. Older women workers are no exception as we know that the gender pay gap widens with age.


Steps to tackle gender discrimination and inequalities in the workplace have been set out in the Scottish Government’s ‘A fairer Scotland for women: gender pay gap action plan’. This Action Plan takes a whole system approach, addressing factors at every stage of women’s lives from early learning & childcare through to employment in later life. Action to address gender pay gap is also now a core element within the updated Scottish Business Pledge which was relaunched on 10 October 2019.


We know that working age women are most likely to have caring responsibilities and for those in their late 50s and early 60s, nearly a third of women are carers.[4] This is a large and skilled portion of our workforce and it is crucial that we continue to support carers to find and stay in employment, if they so wish. That is why we continue to support and promote the Carer Positive employer accreditation scheme which encourages employers to put in place flexible working practices to support those in their workforce who are balancing caring and employment. We also fund Family Friendly Working Scotland to support and encourage employers to introduce flexible working, and this year we have commissioned a feasibility study for a ‘What Works Centre for Fair Flexible Work’ in Scotland. This aims to design, test, scale and embed new approaches to increasing the availability of flexible working. .As noted in our Gender Pay Gap Action Plan we will also urge the UK Government to strengthen and enforce protection to women and carers against discrimination and dismissal.


Social Security for unpaid carers

The Scotland Act 2016 gave the Scottish Government responsibility over carer benefits. We are committed to using these powers to improve support for carers, in recognition of the vital role they fulfil. Our aim is to support carers to look after their own health and wellbeing, improve their quality of life and reduce any negative impact of caring.


Currently the main social security benefit for carers is Carer’s Allowance (CA). In February 2019, 76,597 people in Scotland received CA. Currently 69% of recipients are women.[5] To be eligible for CA an individual must be 16 or over, care at least 35 hours a week for a person in receipt of specified disability benefits[6] and not be in full-time education for more than 21 hours per week. CA is not means tested, but recipients cannot earn more than £123 per week. Carers who meet the CA eligibility criteria may not receive it if they get another income replacement benefit, such as the full State Pension, at the level of CA or above. These carers may have ‘underlying entitlement’ and be entitled to increased amounts in any means-tested benefits they receive.


CA in Scotland is currently delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of the Scottish Government, while we are working with the people of Scotland to consider how our replacement benefit can better meet the needs of carers in the future. Scottish Carer’s Assistance will be introduced from 2022, and we will be consulting in early 2021 on longer term changes to support for carers.


Ahead of this we are already making a number of improvements. To address the fact that CA is the lowest of all working age benefits, we introduced Carer’s Allowance Supplement, which increases CA by 13%. This will give eligible carers an extra £452.40 this year. To date around 62,200 women have received payments of Carer’s Allowance Supplement.[7]


CA can be claimed only once regardless of the number of people a carer is caring for. We have heard in particular from those who are caring for more than one disabled child about the impact multiple caring roles can have on their lives. We have committed to providing additional financial support to these carers from spring 2021.


55% of carers under 25 are women.[8] Many young carers and young adult carers don’t or can’t access CA. Our new Young Carer Grant – the first of its kind in the UK – supports eligible young carers aged 16, 17 and 18 with a payment of £300, which can be applied for annually, and is expected to benefit 1,900 young carers in 2019/20.


  1. Social Care Workforce

Adult Social Care Reform

In June 2019, the Scottish Government and COSLA launched a national programme to support local reform of adult social care.[9]

The reform programme team have been working with people who use social care support, unpaid carers, the social services sector, local and national organisations and Health and Social Care partnerships to develop a national programme to support local reform of adult social care.

A shared vision for Adult Social Care Support, including carers, has been developed.

It aims to support the changes needed to achieve the vision and overcome challenges that are preventing it .

The vision is made up of statements organised into five groups.


  • The way we value and understand social care support describes our human rights based approach to social care. It applies to the statements in all the groups.
  • The way people access support describes how people will access support.
  • The way people are supported describes how people will be supported.
  • Our system, processes and decision making describes how system and processes will be organised and how decision will be made.
  • Our support across Scotland describes how people’s experiences will be consistent across Scotland.


Fair Work in the Social Care Sector

The Fair Work in Scotland’s Social Care Sector Report 2019, published by the Fair Work Convention (FWC) in February 2019, suggested that fair work is not being consistently delivered for the 200,000 strong social care workforce.[10]


The report states that out of the 202,090 whole time equivalent staff employed in the Social Care Sector, 83% are women. The report also make reference that female-dominated social care work is low-paid and undervalued.


Given the predominance of women workers in the paid social care sector, the report highlights that improvements should be made to address issues such as lack of effective voice for workers and low pay. This will ensure better quality of work for the paid social care workforce and, given the predominance of women workers in the sector, improve Scotland’s gender pay gap.


The report makes 5 recommendations, including for the Scottish Government to support the creation of a new sector body that establishes minimum standards for fair work terms and conditions and to reform social care commissioning. The recommendations will be taken forward as part of the Adult Social Care Reform Programme with a work stream established focusing on the paid social care workforce- conditions and skills.


This was announced through the Programme for Government 2019/2020 in which we published our commitment to work with national and local partners to take forward the recommendations set out within the fair work in social care report, to improve fair work practices across the social care workforce.[11]


  1. Families and Carers Looking After Children

Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC)

(GIRFEC) is Scotland’s approach to promote and improve wellbeing to help children and young people thrive. GIRFEC helps families and carers support their children and young people, so that they build resilience, reach their full potential and better respond to the challenges and opportunities that life brings.


The GIRFEC approach builds on the child or young person’s strengths and the support network around them. This starts with parents, family and community at the core, supported by universal services such as health and education, including Early Years, and then specialist services if needed.


One of the core values of GIRFEC is “Valuing diversity and promoting fairness”. This means that services are expected to demonstrate this by tackling inequalities and prejudice, supporting all children to achieve their potential.


Family learning in ELC

In the Programme for Government 2019/20, we announced half a million pounds of investment for a Family Learning Scotland Programme. This is to help families from our most disadvantaged backgrounds find routes out of poverty by helping parents/carers gain new skills and take up adult learning and training opportunities while they learn about early childhood development and how to support their children’s learning and development.


Family learning is an early intervention and prevention approach aimed at encouraging family members to learn together, with a focus on intergenerational learning. It can also be designed to enable parents/carers to learn how to support their children’s learning. This not only works as a catalyst in helping adults take up adult learning and training opportunities, gain employment or attain new skills but also impacts on children’s aspirations and learning journey.


A Review of Family Learning was published by Education Scotland. The key message from the review was that family learning works as an early intervention and prevention approach in reaching disadvantaged families to improve their life chances and can play an important part in supporting the delivery of excellence and equity in education. The review concludes that embedding family learning across education, health and socio-economic policies is crucial to closing the poverty-related attainment gap.


Looked After Children

Children and young people should only come into care where this is in their best interests and they cannot be cared for safely at home within the family. Where children and young people are looked after, care must be as good as it can be, enabling the young people to be loved, safe and respected, able to fulfil their potential in life and to maintain strong relationships with the people who matter to them.


The Scottish Government, working with key partners, is committed to improving outcomes for children and young people who are looked after or on the edges of care. We work to the ambitions of the Getting It Right for Looked After Children and Young People Strategy, which focuses on early engagement, early intervention and early permanence. 


Children and young people with experience of care are a priority group for the Scottish Government. The First Minister commissioned an independent Care Review[12], which is currently underway, and also committed to meet and listen to the voices of 1,000 care experienced young people. The Care Review is root and branch, looking at the underpinning legislation, practices, culture and ethos of the system. Its aim is to make any experience of Scotland’s care system the best in the world. The Review is being driven and shaped by children and young people with lived experience of care. Securing safe, stable, loving and permanent homes for every looked after child at the earliest opportunity is key to children succeeding. The Review underpins our work to close the outcomes gap that exists between looked after children and their peers. The Review will conclude in Spring 2020 and make recommendations to the Scottish Government.  


The annual Children’s social work statistics returns provide detail of the gender breakdown of looked after children.[13] At 31 July 2018 there were 14,738 looked after children in Scotland. The statistics show that there were slightly more boys than girls starting episodes of care in 2018 – 54% boys compared to 46% girls, compared with 51% of the total under 18 population in Scotland being male in 2018. The gender split of those starting episodes of care has remained consistent at 54% male and 46% female over the last 3 years.


The Fostering Network’s 2019 State of the Nation’s Foster Care Summary Report[14] contains survey information about foster carers in the UK (13% of respondents were from Scotland). This suggested that a typical foster carer in the UK is:

  • Female
  • Fostering with their partner
  • Aged between 45 and 54.

However you do not need to be female or have a partner in order to become a foster carer, an adoptive parent or a kinship carer. Couples who wish to adopt or foster can be married couples, civil partners and couples (including same sex couples) who are living together in an enduring family relationship. Further information can be found on the Scottish Government website at: https://www.gov.scot/policies/looked-after-children/



[1] Scotland’s Carers – Update Release, Scottish Government, 2019: https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Health/Data/Carers/Update

[2] Carers UK, Valuing Carers 2015 – https://www.carersuk.org/for-professionals/policy/policy-library/valuingcarers-2015

[3] Scotland’s Carers report, Scottish Government, 2015: www.gov.scot/publications/scotlands-carers

[4] https://www.gov.scot/publications/scotlands-carers/

[5] Carer’s Allowance at February 2019 and Carer’s Allowance Supplement April 2019 eligibility date https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Social-Welfare/SocialSecurityforScotland/CASApr2019

[6] Personal Independence Payment – daily living component, Disability Living Allowance – the middle or highest care rate, Attendance Allowance, Constant Attendance Allowance at or above the normal maximum rate with an Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, Constant Attendance Allowance at the basic (full day) rate with a War Disablement Pension, Armed Forces Independence Payment

[7] As above.

[8] Scotland’s Census 2011, from Scotland’s Carers, 2015, p12 https://www2.gov.scot/Resource/0047/00473691.pdf

[9] Reform of Adult Social Care in Scotland Social care support reform: vision – gov.scot

[10] Fair Work in Social Care Report 2019 https://www.fairworkconvention.scot/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Fair-Work-in-Scotland’s-Social-Care-Sector-2019.pdf

[11] The Government’s Programme for Scotland 2019/2020 Protecting Scotland’s Future: the Government’s Programme for Scotland 2019-2020 – gov.scot

[12] https://www.carereview.scot/

[13] https://www.gov.scot/publications/childrens-social-work-statistics-2017-2018/

See tables 1.1, 1.5, 1.8 and 2.1