Publication - Minutes

Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: April 2020

Published: 28 May 2020

Minutes of the Equality Budget Advisory Group (EBAG) meeting held on 28 April 2020.

Published:
28 May 2020
Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: April 2020

Attendees and apologies

Attendees    

  • Angela O'Hagan (Chair)
  • Emma Congreve, Fraser of Allander Institute
  • Hugh Buchanan, Scottish Government Public Spending Division
  • Laura Dougan, Scottish Government, currently COVID-19 recovery
  • Liz Hawkins, Scottish Government Communities Analysis
  • Alison Hosie, Scottish Human Rights Commission
  • Jenny Kemp, Scottish Government Equality Unit
  • Uzma Khan, Scottish Government Economic Policy and Capability
  • Tom Lamplugh, Scottish Government, currently COVID-19 recovery
  • Chris Oswald, Scottish Government Regional Economic Development
  • Richard Robinson, Audit Scotland
  • Kenny Stewart, Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Sean Stronach, Scottish Government Equality Unit
  • Gillian Achurch, Scottish Government Communities Analysis (Secretariat)

Apologies    

  • Jim McCormick, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Anne Meikle, Scottish Women's Budget Group
  • Tim Ellis, Scottish Government, currently Human Resources
  • James Fowlie, COSLA
  • Mirren Kelly, COSLA

Items and actions

Introductions

Angela welcomed everyone to the meeting, including Kenny who has now joined as the Group’s representative from the EHRC and Emma who is now in her new capacity representing the Fraser of Allander Institute.

Item 1: How can EBAG best reinforce its core message and ambitions in the context of COVID-19?

Angela thanked members for papers and noted that while business as usual is not possible at the moment, equality and human rights are as important as ever. This crisis is revealing more than ever the pre-existing inequalities which are exacerbated at the moment. She highlighted a need to reinforce EBAG’s efforts and core message and asked how we can apply the principles and tools that we know of, especially in the key areas of social care, independent living, social security and economic survival.

Sean noted that his paper updating the Group on work so far on mainstreaming equality and human rights in the context of COVID-19 offers an overview of what has been happening to date. He suggested that EBAG has an important role to play in supporting the rest of the Scottish Government (SG) to take account of equality and human rights impacts as they bring in new policies, both for the current situation and focused on the longer term. He suggested that it would be useful to get feedback on areas that members would particularly expect attention to be focused. Jenny added that the Equality Unit is currently undertaking a balance of reactive and proactive work. They have lots of requests from policy colleagues on which stakeholders to talk to, when doing EQIAs, and when developing guidance that’s being produced (and they are promoting the importance of embedding equality and human rights in this guidance). There is also some scanning work to ensure that equality and human rights are embedded into any new developments at an early stage. The have worked up a matrix so that they can be clear about where they are offering light-touch assistance and where they’re doing a bit more intensive working alongside colleagues. Jenny notes that it feels like an even more ambitious mainstreaming programme than before the crisis began and is magnifying pre-existing weaknesses in equality mainstreaming in some areas of SG and echoed Sean’s call for a steer on policy areas or developments to focus on.

Angela noted that the reallocation of spend has been very fast and asked Hugh whether there is useful support that EBAG could offer to that process – and whether he was aware of any equality and human rights analysis taking place. Hugh responded that SG are currently keeping track of the extra funding coming from the UK Government (UKG), but are aware that there is a gap between the cost of measures required in Scotland and the extra funding coming from UKG. They are undertaking a series of activities in order to meet that gap, one of which is asking portfolios to reprioritise activities in order to free up resources. There are usually autumn and spring budget revisions every financial year, but this year Ms Forbes has also decided on a summer budget revision which will be put to parliament with the expectation that it is agreed before summer recess. This process will mean that Parliament will have a clearer picture of where SG expenditure will be allocated in 2020-21.

Angela noted that this will be a useful process. She also noted that there may be some issues around capturing the impacts on organisations that had anticipated receipt of spend which will not now be forthcoming. She asked whether this could be an opportunity to use the tools promoted by EBAG and used to produce the Equality and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement (EFSBS) and the National Performance Framework (NPF) report. She asked the Group whether that was an appropriate focus for EBAG, and if so how best this could be approached. The group agreed that it would be an appropriate focus.

Item 2: Tools, information and resources

Liz noted that Gillian had worked on a review of the tools used for this year’s EFSBS, and suggested that EBAG could write out to people to remind them to think about equality and Fairer Scotland in their work and to suggest that the tools might help. Liz and Gillian noted that colleagues generally found the template more helpful than the Excel tool, especially in drawing out a narrative, although it is harder to use in some areas than others, and that the template could therefore be helpful to promote.

Ali agreed with this approach and also suggested sending out the guidance published last summer, especially in light of the speed at which decisions are being made. This is one of SHRC’s key concerns although they recognise that speed is necessary.

Emma added that if there is significant reprioritisation happening this will mean that money is being taken away from some people, and that it is important that this is captured so that we don’t unintentionally see a disproportionately harmful impact on some groups. She noted that it is hard to do this quantitatively but that a narrative is helpful, and that it therefore sounds like the template would be worth using.

Ali also noted that SHRC are currently receiving lots of questions about where money is coming from and emphasised the importance of transparency and openness at this time to maintain trust in Government. Angela agreed that while she appreciates that it is difficult to capture where money isn’t going, it is important to do so.

Jenny added that the Equality Unit have been trying to communicate that evidence from previous crises (such as SARS and Ebola) is that there are often inadvertent discriminatory impacts.

Chris noted that Local Authorities have been given substantial latitude to repurpose funding – for example, lots of construction is not happening at the moment. It is therefore a mixed picture since some money might be repurposed from things that can’t happen right now towards meeting immediate needs.

Uzma’s team are thinking largely about understanding who is benefitting from the policies being implemented in response to COVID-19. She noted that policies and funds are going out very quickly in order to protect household incomes, etc. but with less consideration being given to effectively capturing the impacts. She suggested that there is a need to push this message internally. She further noted that within the response work, understanding the equality impact is on people’s minds but the capacity to develop this impact understanding is not quite there yet.

Angela noted that the impact assessment papers shared raised questions for her about where the policy response is following on from the likely impacts identified. She suggested that ensuring read-across to policies is essential and that some of these findings need to be surfaced more.

Uzma noted many policies are currently about protecting and pausing the economy  rather than targeting or  considering where best value can be obtained. She suggested that SG do need to start thinking more about targeting and specific needs. Angela agreed that targeting will be in this secondary phase.

Liz highlighted that the next stage is to look at the impacts of the policies and funds that have gone out. A lot of the money has gone out to other organisations including third sector and local government and monitoring how exactly the funds are spent on the ground is a couple of steps behind that, although we are starting to get some information from early funding. A balance needs to be struck between the ability of frontline organisations to implement key policy responses and their ability to collect data for monitoring purposes. This balance probably isn't quite right yet.

Sean also added that part of the Equality and Human Rights Division’s role is to use both feedback from analysis but also in particular what they are hearing from equality stakeholders, and to feed this directly to policy colleagues, especially those working on very direct response issues. They are now starting to pivot slightly to a space where they have a bit more latitude to work with colleagues to help them understand the evidence base on equality impacts.

Emma asked, in light of the fact that current analysis focuses on who we think will be impacted so that schemes can be implemented to try to ensure that household incomes are not detrimentally impacted, whether analysis is also looking at the gaps – who isn’t covered by policies/measures that have already been announced. 

Chris emphasised the scale of the issue, noting that within the rural economy, 90% of tourism, fishing and farming is in crisis and likely to collapse if there are no interventions. Much of the focus at the moment is on trying to prevent things from ending, but there is also an opportunity to reset and not to go back to the same economy – this could be of particular interest to EBAG.

Tom has found it challenging to contribute meaningful analysis and evidence-based intervention from the Fairer Scotland perspective given the pace of work. Much currently is therefore more about how we can retrospectively think about these decisions and then input when things are renewed, e.g. in terms of the COVID Bill. He emphasised that these are exceptional circumstances which adds an extra dimension to the challenge.

Angela reiterated the important areas of social care, independent living, economic survival and social security in the current crisis and noted that gaps are appearing, with particular issues seemingly in social care. She asked whether members wanted to highlight any other areas.  

Kenny acknowledged the challenges of policymaking at speed, and EHRC are thinking of putting out a short briefing for public authorities with key messages being that they know authorities are doing their best and that they are not trying to disadvantage anyone, but that EHRC want to highlight some key points to think about. It would be light touch and friendly in tone.  He asked whether other members thought that this would be helpful, and whether there was anything in particular that they thought should be addressed. Angela agreed that this would be useful.

Richard noted that current budget revisions are far beyond what we normally see through the year, and noted that the complexity brings challenges in unpicking how all groups will be affected in different ways. He suggested that there are three key stages that we will see:

  1. Immediate response to people being affected by the crisis, with money being allocated fast.
  2. People will then be affected in a new way by the budgets coming out of portfolios in May after rearrangements.
  3. Eventually the money will stop being distributed at this rate and we will need to pull back in different areas as well as thinking about how to kick-start the economy

Richard suggested that we should think about equality impacts at each of these stages.

Angela noted that the labour market impact analysis paper was among many alarming papers that she has had sight of and one of the most alarming from recent weeks. She commended its equality dimensions and that it draws out differential impacts for different groups. This brought the Group to the final part of the discussion – how could they inform the analytical process that in turn informs spending decisions? 

Item 3: Future engagement and recovery planning

Angela asked how EBAG could be proactive about informing the process and discussions around summer budget revisions rather than coming in afterwards with critique.

Uzma noted that the Economy Directorate have mapped 4 key stages:

1. Respond

2. Reset/restart (here just now and likely to remain so for a while)

3. Recovery

4. Renewal

This will all be influenced by a health narrative. We know that certain types of work will be able to return quicker than others, and that some of those highlighted in the labour market impact assessment paper are likely to be some of the last to come back. Many income support schemes are now extended until June, but at some point we will have to start to withdraw support, and we need to think about who will need support for longer, and from where. The Directorate are mapping out what UK are doing but also trying to put in place support for those who fall through the gaps, and are mindful that some people may need support for a long time. Uzma added that ongoing monitoring and input from EBAG on the equality dimensions including who needs continued support would be much appreciated. She also noted that a meeting had been held that morning between Wellbeing Government representatives from New Zealand, Iceland, Wales, Finland, Scotland and the OECD and that all were talking about phases or waves and that there was a real plea not to withdraw support too quickly for some groups. This could be a concern if UK Government moves quite fast to restart the economy.

Liz noted that the labour market impact assessment summary and full paper had gone to ministers for consideration, with the aim being to publish the summary. The full paper contains some confidential data. The other impact assessment is currently a working draft but will be shared internally and go to ministers. The labour market paper has been shared quite widely internally, and the intention of both papers is to help colleagues tailor their policies. Even where policies are already in place, they can still be tailored or backed up to ensure that help reaches those most in need or those who might otherwise be missed. Angela requested that EBAG are notified once these papers are published so that they can be shared.

Ali updated that SHRC’s whole operational plan is changing and being refocused, with social care, health, prisons and policing the 4 key areas – although COVID has impacted on everything. SHRC should within the next 2-3 weeks have material that will assist colleagues in looking at human rights impacts across a wide variety of areas. Kenny added that EHRC are also in the same place, with a revised business plan being written at pace. They are in touch with SHRC. Social care is a key interest for both organisations.

Angela drew attention to the newly established COVID-19 parliamentary committee as well as to the Equality and Human Rights Committee’s inquiry into which groups and individuals are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and the response to the pandemic. She noted that a letter went to each committee at the time of the budget and asked whether the Group thought that it would be useful just now to point committees to where there is good evidence and analysis.

Ali noted that the open budget survey will be sent out this week and that SHRC are calling for equality and human rights experts to sit at the heart of the COVID-19 committee, rather than being added as an afterthought. Angela suggested that there would perhaps be merit in modifying the letter EBAG previously issued and sending to the COVID-19 and Equalities and Human Rights committees. She also highlighted the importance of the COVID-19 Framework for Decision Making including a clear commitment to equality and human rights, and that this gives EBAG a framework to make links between the budget revision processes and what that framework sets out.

Angela asked what members would find it helpful to have shared with them, without being overburdened? She suggested that members let Gillian or Angela know if they would rather not receive things by email. We could also think about a repository for EBAG to share useful resources, such as papers produced by the Commission for a Gender Equal Economy.

Angela noted that she would like to take from the meeting what everyone said in terms of phases, to resend some materials, pointing out the key principles within them, and including links to EHRC work. She will think about how best to phase and phrase EBAG’s next set of actions about maintaining those principles, using phrasing from Uzma and Chris about resetting, restarting and recovery. This communication could demonstrate the types of analysis that would be helpful at each stage – firstly gap analysis, then trying to capture impact, and finally how that will inform reset and recovery.

Tom gave an overview of the big programme of work on recovery that has just started. This is being led by the Exchequer on behalf of SG as a whole. It is beginning to think about medium term priorities and policies for recovery and renewal, trying to identify medium term strategic priorities and then to think about what policies might sit under those (to inform this year’s, and subsequent, Programmes for Government) – and ultimately how that translates across to spending decisions. There will be multiple opportunities to feed into this work. They are looking at what’s coming out from commentators and around 30 think tanks. They are also working with Scottish Enterprise, who have come up with different future scenarios, and are thinking about how SG can play into those. There are currently 4 hubs working on COVID-19 within SG : Health, Economy, Government and International, and Communities and Public Services.  Tom’s team are working with all of these.

The team have engaged with 6 stakeholder organisations – NESTA, Carnegie, IPPR, Young Scot, Royal Society of Edinburgh and Dark Matter Labs – who have been commissioned to set out what they expect the medium term impacts (5 years) to be across all areas, including social, economic and also equality. They have been asked to identify any changes that have come about over the last 2 months, or new possibilities that have emerged around how we design and deliver services that we might want to make more permanent. They have also been asked to identify medium term strategic priorities. Tom’s team will be starting to bring those together, and there may be a role for EBAG to play in this work as it develops. Tom suggested that it might be useful to have a further conversation about this at some point soon to outline this work in further detail.

Angela thanked Tom for this overview and reminded the Group that a meeting is already scheduled for 11 June. She proposed that EBAG keep this date in our diaries for now. Tom suggested that it might be useful to have a discussion on the recovery work before then.

AOB

Angela asked members to think about the EFSBS and to feed back on what the important differences were and any key learnings. She suggested that it would be helpful to hear how colleagues in SG are using it.

Ali mentioned the Open Budget transparency report coming out this week.

Liz would be grateful for any comments on the impact assessment papers shared.

Angela thanked all for their time.

Actions:

  1. EBAG to send a communication to Director-Generals and to the COVID-19 and Equalities and Human Rights Committees. This will:
    - Point back to the ‘6 key steps’ guidance, including the template, and encourage colleagues to use these tools
    - Highlight the key principles within these and communicate a message focussed on resetting, restarting and recovery
    - Link to EHRC work
    - Demonstrate the types of analysis that would be helpful at each stage – firstly gap analysis, then trying to capture impact, and finally how that will inform reset and recovery.
  2. Angela, Liz and Sean to agree on whether messaging to inform the analytical budget process would be best communicated from EBAG or internally within SG.
  3. Gillian to arrange an interim May meeting with Tom, Angela and any other EBAG members who wish to join, to discuss recovery work.
  4. Angela to draft an EBAG response to the Framework for Decision Making published last week.
  5. Liz or Gillian to let Angela know when the impact assessment papers are published, so that they can be circulated.
  6. Members to submit feedback on this year’s EFSBS and on the impact assessment papers circulated.
  7. Hugh to ensure that EBAG is sighted on summer budget revisions in late May.