Coronavirus (COVID-19) business support: equality impact assessments

Detailed equality impact assessments (EQIAs) for the COVID-19 business support funding issued between March 2020 and April 2021.

Business Contingency Fund

Name of Grant:

Business Contingency Fund

Policy Lead

Andrew Baird

Legal power used:

Section 126 of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996.

Grant Overview:

In October 2020, Ministers agreed to allocate £7.1 million specifically for the purposes of providing financial support to businesses in particular sectors that were experiencing direct financial challenges as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. The first sectors identified for support through the Contingency Fund were soft play centres and nightclubs on the basis that they were unique in being the only sectors which had been closed by regulation since March 2020. Ministers approved grants of up to £50,000 to 'pay to play' soft play centres and defined nightclubs with the size of awards determined by the Rateable Value of the premises from which the business operated. Crucially, the objective of this fund was to support businesses in remaining financially viable for the period restrictions were in place and was not intended to replace lost income or to cover operating losses incurred. Eligible businesses were identified automatically by local authorities using data gathered through previous Covid-19 Business Support schemes.

Executive Summary:

The extraordinary measures taken by the Scottish Government to protect the right to life and right to health for the people of Scotland throughout the Covid-19 pandemic have placed unprecedented pressures on Scotland’s economy and business community. Health protection regulations required certain businesses to close or placed specific restrictions on their operations at different times between March 2020 and August 2021. Many others were impacted by significant reductions in demand due to these restrictions or as a result of the introduction of domestic and/or international travel restrictions.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Scottish Government has spent £4.3 billion in providing direct financial support to those businesses impacted by Covid-19 restrictions and regulation. As the impacts of restrictions were felt differently across the business community, varying according to factors such as sector and location, a range of different funding streams were developed to target financial support towards specific sectors or types of business based on the challenges they were experiencing as a result of the pandemic. Given the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid-19 it was necessary to develop financial support schemes at pace to ensure that funds were distributed rapidly in the interests of preventing business closures and preserving jobs. The Business Contingency Fund was no exception to this although, as with other funds, we have maintained a commitment to review the delivery of these funds and to update policy where necessary.

The variable impact of the pandemic on different demographic groups in Scotland and the inequalities created by this are well understood. Throughout the pandemic the Scottish Government has taken measures to mitigate these inequalities where possible. In line with its responsibilities under the Public Sector Equality Duty, as enshrined in the Equality Act 2010. In developing the Business Contingency Fund and other similar funds, the Scottish Government has considered how it can eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not. In doing so, the Scottish Government drew on a wide range of sources to understand the impact of restrictions on those with protected characteristics including statistics published by both the Scottish Government and the Office of National Statistics as well as insights from the Annual Population Survey, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy’s Longitudinal Small Business Survey as well as from organisations such as Close the Gap and the Social Metric Commission.

Every effort is made to ensure that Equality Impact Assessments (EQIA) are published timeously. However, the speed at which it has been necessary to ensure mechanisms are in place for supporting businesses impacted by Covid-19 restrictions has resulted in delays to completing EQIAs for a number of business support funds.

Key Findings - impact assessment of benefits and/or disadvantages.

Advancing Equality

By distributing financial support through the Business Contingency Fund the Scottish Government acted to mitigate the impact of the regulations on soft play centres and relevant/defined nightclubs to support them in remaining financially viable while restrictions were in place and which required them to remain closed. In doing so, this assessment finds that the Business Contingency Fund acted to advance equalities by protecting businesses in sectors that impact on the lives of those with protected characteristics disproportionately. Alongside the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), the Business Contingency Fund protects and preserves jobs in sectors which employ a disproportionately high number of people from among groups with protected characteristics particularly young people, women and minority ethnic groups. Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that minority ethnic groups, women and young people have a significantly higher likelihood of working within softplay centres and/or nightclubs in comparison to other sectors of the economy. Financial support distributed through the Business Contingency Fund also targeted those sectors which have instances of insecure employment and low pay and are least resilient to financial shocks. It is worth noting that data from the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Longitudinal Small Business Survey shows that a high proportion of businesses across the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors (78%) identified as having employees with protected characteristics. More detail on this is provided in the assessment against individual groups with protected characteristics is set out below.

In terms of wider impact on society, although catering to different audiences, both nightclubs and soft play centres are targeting a younger demographic and, as such, the closure of businesses within these sectors would disproportionately impact on young people as well as their families. The closure of soft play centres in particular may disadvantage children by contributing to reduced opportunities for indoor play and socialising which could lead to or exacerbate social isolation and loneliness. By providing additional financial support to businesses within these sectors to enable them to remain financially viable during the period of restrictions, the Contingency Fund has acted to advance equalities.

Eliminating Discrimination

This Fund gave financial support to all businesses across those sectors that had been required to close between March and October 2020 as a result of Covid-19 and had therefore been uniquely impacted by the pandemic. As such, this assessment did not identify any specific opportunities to eliminate discrimination in developing and implementing the Business Contingency Fund.

Fostering good relations

Nightclubs and Soft Play Sub-Sectors, are important spaces for social and community interaction providing an opportunity for engagement across and between groups with protected characteristics and helping to foster good relations between these groups. Businesses in these sectors promote engagement between and across groups in a number of ways. As well being shared spaces, as highlighted above, there is a clustering of several different groups with protected characteristics in the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure (RHL) sectors especially young people, women and minority ethnic groups. By sharing workplaces this promotes close interaction and engagement between these groups including those with intersecting protected characteristics. In providing financial support to businesses in these sectors to remain financially viable through the restrictions, the Scottish Government is therefore acting to foster good relations between groups with protected characteristics.

Age: Older People and Children and Young People

2019 data from the ONS related to the employment of young people shows the following:

  • Hospitality - 37% of employees working in the food and beverage services and accommodation sectors were aged between 16 - 24 compared to an average of 12.3% across all other sectors.
  • Leisure - 27% of employees working in the sport, amusement and recreation sector are aged between 16 – 24.

Data from the ONS Annual Population Survey provides an insight into the demographic profile of ‘playworkers’ and ‘bar staff’ at UK level which make up a significant proportion of those employed within soft play centres and nightclubs . It showed the following data regarding the Age of those employed in these roles:

  • Playworkers – 25% of people employed as playworkers were aged between 16-24 years old compared to the 12.3% share of the labour market
  • Bar Staff – Approximately 59% of people employed as bar staff at the time of the survey were aged between 16-24 years old compared to the 12.3% share of the labour market.

This data shows that young people experience a significant disadvantage as a result of the closure of soft play centres and nightclubs due to the disproportionate number of young people employed within these sectors. The long term ‘scarring’ impacts of the pandemic on the career prospects of young people have also been highlighted by organisations such as the Institute for Fiscal (IFS) and the Social Metrics Commission the latter of which has shown that young people (18 -24) are 7% more likely to experience a negative labour market outcome as a result of Covid-19 that those aged 25 – 44.

Furthermore, the nature of these businesses also mean that their patrons are typically young people and children. Soft Play businesses in particular have an almost exclusive use by children. Failure to support these businesses would likely have a detrimental impact on the opportunities for young people and children to have available recreational facilities as soft play services provide spaces for children to develop their physicality as well as providing an avenue for social interaction between other children.

Sex: Men and Women

2019 data from the ONS related to the employment of women shows the following:

  • Hospitality - 53% of employees working in the food and beverage services and accommodation sectors were women compared to an average of 48.8% across all sectors.
  • Leisure - 40% of employees working in the sport, amusement and recreation sector are women.

Furthermore the 2017 ONS Annual Population Survey gives statistical data on ‘playworkers’ and ‘bar staff’ both of whom make up a significant proportion of soft play and nightclub workers respectively. It showed the following data regarding the Sex of those employed in these roles:

  • Playworkers – Approximately 91% of those employed as ‘playworkers’ were women compared to a labour market share of 48.8%
  • Bar workers – Approximately 58% of those employed as a bar worker were women,. Significantly above their labour market share of 48.8%

Those involved in professions related to the Soft Play and Nightclub sectors are female dominated roles. With those involved in Playwork being especially high in the context of the entire Leisure sector.


Data from the ONS highlighting which occupations have higher COVID exposure rates also give statistics for the makeup of Bar Staff and Playworkers who come from an ethnic minority background:

  • Bar Staff – 5% of those employed as Bar Staff are identified as coming from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background compared to a labour market share of 4% across all other sectors
  • Playworkers – 13% of those employed as ‘playworkers’ were identified as coming from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background compared to a labour market share of 4% across all other sectors

The contingency fund provide much needed support to a sector that has had some of the strictest restrictions placed on it in order to prevent the spread of COVID. These sectors are demonstrated to employ a small but significant number of people from minority ethnic backgrounds. Combined with the relatively low salary paid to workers in these industries, discussed further below, it would place a disadvantage on minority ethnic employees were we to fail to support these industries.


Specific data on business ownership and employment by sector is not available to fully assess the impact of the Business Contingency Fund on those with a disability.

Religion and Belief

No Discernible Impact

Sexual Orientation

No Discernible Impact

Pregnancy and maternity

No Discernible Impact

Gender reassignment

No Discernible Impact

Marriage or Civil Partnership

No Discernible Impact

Socio-economic disadvantage: any people experiencing poverty

Data from the ONS highlighting the higher risk exposure to COVID faced by employees in certain profession also provided statistics relating to the average pay of those workers. It highlighted that persons in the Bar Staff and Playworker professions had relatively low average hourly income levels.

  • Bar Staff – The average hourly wage of a person employed as Bar Staff was £8.22, which is considered to be a significantly low wage when compared to the median Hourly wage of £13.68.
  • Playworkers – The data indicates that the average hourly wage of a playworker is £9.00. This is also therefore considered to be a low paid profession.

As part of a 2020 study on Low and High pay in the UK, ONS defined a low pay job as being below £9.12 – less than two thirds of the median hourly wage.

The Contingency Fund therefore, in supporting sectors which rely on the employment of Bar Staff and Playworkers, helps to support people from a disadvantaged socio-economic background.

Stakeholder Engagement:

We have engaged extensively with businesses and their representative organisations during the pandemic. In the year to March 2021 the Scottish Government had more than 1,270 ministerial engagements with business, including virtual conferences, roundtables and calls.

Engagement with business leaders included regular communication with HMRC, CBI, FSB, IoD, SCC, SCDI, SFE, STUC, Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Tourism Alliance and Scotland Food and Drink etc.

This provided an opportunity to listen to stakeholder views, test ideas, share information about progress and discuss and address specific issues identified by sectors and individual businesses.

In addition we engaged extensively with the Scottish Indoor Play Centres Owners and Managers Group as well as with individual soft play centres and with the Night-time Industries Association in shaping the grant award levels and eligibility criteria for this fund. Both bodies provided very welcome support in the design of the eligibility criteria in particular, in order to ensure that this limited funding was directed appropriately.

Mitigations –


Next Steps (if any)


Declaration and Publication

I have read the Equality Impact Assessment and I am satisfied that it represents a fair and reasonable view of the expected equality impact of the measures implemented.


Date: 03/11/2021



Back to top