2. The Scale of the Challenge
The impact of the pandemic and lockdown measures on Scotland's economy has been both rapid and severe. There continues to be widespread expectation that groups and places already vulnerable in the labour market will be affected adversely by both COVID-19 and government responses to control the outbreak. Scottish Government analysis examined the potential impacts for those with various protected characteristics, highlighting women, young people, disabled people, minority ethnic people, low earners, lone parents and those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage as most at risk.
The impact of the crisis has varied significantly by sector, with implications across groups and places. Although the Job Retention Scheme has played an important role in mitigating unemployment rises, emerging evidence around labour market outcomes demonstrates that groups and regions have had differing employment experiences since COVID-19.
The evidence from the pandemic economic impacts to date shows that young people (aged 16-24 years) have been disproportionately affected. Young people in Scotland have seen greater falls in employment, greater rises in unemployment, and a greater rate of furlough take-up than any other age group. This is consistent with the experience of previous recessions where young people saw large rises in unemployment, and also reflects the fact that they make up large shares of employment in sectors most affected by the crisis (e.g. accommodation & food).
Evidence of labour market impacts on other groups is mixed. There was a greater reduction in men's employment in the year to July-September 2020, and greater rates of furlough take-up for men at the end of June 2020. While this might reflect sectoral patterns in the impact of the pandemic, these disparities may be temporary, with women facing established labour market barriers that are likely to impact in the longer term.
In terms of impacts across the wage distribution, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that low earners across the UK were seven times more likely to work in a shut-down sector of the economy than high earners. ONS analysis found there is less potential for home working in lower paid jobs (e.g. sales and customer service occupations), suggesting that they may be more at risk of job losses or being placed on furlough.
The most recent data for the year to July to September 2020 shows that the employment rate of disabled people has declined in the last year, and the disability employment gap widened, although the gap still remains lower than in previous comparable years. Other evidence has shown disabled people tend to experience greater social impacts from COVID-19 than their non-disabled peers (e.g. impacts on wellbeing and mental health) which could have implications for their employability longer term.
Similarly, although there is less available evidence of a disproportionate impact on employment status for minority ethnic groups to date, there is evidence that they have been particularly affected by COVID-19. UK wide ONS analysis suggested people from black and minority ethnic groups are over-represented in jobs with higher risk of exposure to COVID-19, accounting for 1 in 5 workers in the most at risk occupations despite accounting for 11% of the working population. In addition, the Resolution Foundation found 22% of UK minority ethnic workers that were furloughed during lockdown were no longer working by September, more than double the rate (9%) for furloughed workers as a whole.
Finally, in terms of regional impacts, claimant count evidence shows a broad-based rise in claimant count rates, with the greatest rises concentrated in areas with already high claimant rates (e.g. Glasgow City, West Dunbartonshire).
We are facing a depressed labour market for the months ahead. The trajectory of further economic impact and recovery for different sectors, groups and regions is dependent on many factors and is difficult to forecast with precision. Significant risks to the economy and the labour market remain, including the impacts of further restrictions as the second wave of the virus takes hold, and the potential of a no-deal exit from the EU.