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Call for support to save women-led enterprises

Anne Meikle: ‘women are deprived of vital support’

Government support for the economy has failed to recognise the additional impact that the lockdown has had on women who face losing their jobs and businesses, according to a new report.

The Women’s Enterprise Policy Group (WEPG) says there few support packages relevant for self-employed women or for women-owned businesses.

In a new report the group warns that some of the progress that has been made for working women will be lost in the wake of the pandemic.

It notes that the Scottish government had already postponed commitments to extend early years childcare.

The ‘Framework of Policy Actions to Build Back Better for Women’s Enterprise’ aims to address the gaps in COVID-19 enterprise support for women and comes as Scottish schools start to re-open.

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The report outlines how current policies have “failed to reflect the extra challenges that women entrepreneurs face – including childcare responsibilities, gender bias and access to finance – and how UK and devolved Governments have failed to introduce measures to facilitate their survival and growth.”

The WEPG is a national coalition of leading women entrepreneurs, researchers, business support providers and social entrepreneurs from across the UK.

The group develops policy calls based on the latest evidence and years of experience supporting women’s enterprise creation and growth. Scotland is represented in the Group by Women’s Enterprise Scotland, rural enterprise experts GrowBiz and social enterprise Radiant and Brighter.

Anne Meikle, policy manager at Women’s Enterprise Scotland, said:  “While research continues to identify women, especially BAME women, and women with disabilities, as the groups at greatest risk from the impacts of the pandemic, there are few support packages relevant for self-employed women or for women-owned businesses.  

“Bespoke support packages have been announced by the Scottish Government for other industry sectors while the extra hours for early years care that would benefit many women have been deferred, thus depriving women of vital support just as they emerge from the double shift of work and care triggered by the pandemic.

It seems that some of the past progress for working women will be lost in the wake of the pandemic

– Anne Meikle

“We are being contacted by women-owned businesses across Scotland who are being turned down, or do not qualify for, many of the support packages which have been released.

“It seems that some of the past progress for working women will be lost in the wake of the pandemic. Engaging women’s enterprise agencies and women entrepreneurs in the policy decision making process instead of after the event would help to deliver improved outcomes for all.”

In Scotland, pre-COVID19 data showed women-led employer businesses had already dropped 6 percentage points to 15.5% of the business base.

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Julia Rouse, co-chairman of the Women’s Enterprise Policy Group (WEPG) and professor of entrepreneurship at Manchester Metropolitan University, commented: “Many women are excluded from proper income protection due to gaps in current schemes.

“The UK Government is facing legal action for disadvantaging self-employed women who took maternity leave in years prior to the pandemic under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. The question we now must ask is whether the Chancellor fully understands the extent of these issues and whether he is committed to supporting women’s enterprise?

“There is already a huge gender gap in entrepreneurship across the UK – only about a third of all small firms are led by women. Equality simply cannot wait until the pandemic passes because COVID-19 is causing further inequality.”

The Women’s Enterprise Policy Group (WEPG)  has put forward six key action areas and is urging the Chancellor to bring them to the policy table to help shape policy that ‘Builds Back Better’ for women entrepreneurs, for the economy and for society. 

  1. Finance: Income Protection, including:
  • Extend the eligibility of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) for new traders and the part-time self-employed and exclude maternity periods from payment calculations.
  • Compensate Business Directors for lost dividends.
  1. Finance: Grants, Loans & Investment, including:
  • Introduce an Equality Impact Assessment to monitor the equity of all Coronavirus grant and loan funds, looking particularly at gender, ethnicity, disability, and age.
  • Address the causes of likely lower take-up by women: business structure, caution, and gender bias.
  1. Valuing Women-Led Sectors:
  • Give due value to the economic contribution of sectors such as early years/childcare and the beauty and wellbeing industry in lockdown decisions and investment programmes.
  1. Business Support: Time and Space to Enable Women Entrepreneurs to Pivot, including:
  • Ensure that enterprise ecosystems include women’s enterprise support and specialist or inclusive programmes for BAME women.
  • Publicly record and monitor the scale and quality of provision to women and BAME business founders and owners as part of an Equality Impact Assessment and meeting a Gender Equality Duty.
  1. Business Start-Up: Founding Vibrant Women-Led Businesses, including:
  • Invest in innovative approaches to business start-up that will enable women to form team-led enterprises, trade in higher productivity sectors, garner business resources and be enterprising.
  • Respect slower, part-time founding (e.g. extending the exemption period for Universal Credit’s minimum income floor).
  1. Invest in a Care Infrastructure: It Will ‘Build Back Better’ More Productively Than ‘Build, Build, Build’, including:
  • Properly value the keywork of social care businesses and radically expand supply by fixing long-term problems of inadequate commissioning that result in low pay and conditions.
  • Urgently protect social and private early years businesses
  • Investing in expanding the childcare sector to create jobs, close gender employment gaps and support the 600,000 mothers who are self-employed or business owners.

Members of the Women’s Enterprise Policy Group include:

Co-chair Prof. Julia Rouse, Manchester Metropolitan University

Co-chair Maggie O’Carroll, The Women’s Organisation

Carolyn Currie, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Enterprise Scotland

Anne Meikle, Policy Officer, Women’s Enterprise Scotland

Pheona Matovu, Radiant and Brighter CIC

Professor Susan Marlow, University of Birmingham

Dr Lorna Treanor, University of Nottingham

Dr Nicola Patterson, University of Newcastle

Helen Burkinshaw, The Women’s Organisation

Dinah Bennett, ICE

Christine Atkinson, University of South Wales

Prof Haya Al Dajani, Mohammed Bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship (MBSC) Saudi Arabia

Prof Dilani Jayawarna, University of Liverpool

Jackie Brierton, CEO GrowBiz

Roseann Kelly, Women in Business NI



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