Cabinet Secretary's letter to Older People's Strategic Action Forum: March 2021

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People’s letter to the Older People’s Strategic Action Forum, setting out progress made against ‘A Fairer Scotland for Older People: A Framework For Action’ and detailing next steps for older people work.

Update for Older People's Strategic Action Forum (OPSAF) and next steps

Dear OPSAF Members,


During the last meeting of the Older People’s Strategic Action Forum (OPSAF) on 9 March 2021, I explained I would write to members to formally update you on the progress we have made with our Framework actions, and to also set out the next steps for our collective endeavours to progress our work in this important area. I was pleased to receive your support for this way forward so that we can achieve the best outcomes for older people, that are strongly aligned to wider Scottish Government Covid recovery priorities.

I would like to reiterate what I said at the meeting in expressing my sincere thanks for your ongoing support and valuable input over this past tumultuous year, while we have navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. Your contributions have informed the work of the Scottish Government and have been vital. Both the Minister for Older People and Equalities, Christina McKelvie and I, are extremely appreciative of how hard you have worked. 

The Scottish Government’s approach throughout has been to save lives and protect the NHS. I am incredibly grateful for your ongoing support of those important messages.


As you are aware, ‘A Fairer Scotland for Older People – A Framework for Action’ was published in April 2019 and we committed to developing a monitoring and implementation system in order to produce an annual report in 2020. However, due to the immediate response that was required to address the COVID-19 impacts, it resulted in a pause on the work for the annual report. 

Action taken throughout the pandemic

I want to highlight some of our accomplishments over the past year. At pace, we set up and have maintained the freephone National Assistance Helpline along with a textphone alternative, which connects callers to teams in the relevant local authority who can assess need and arrange provision of support. We have provided funding to many organisations who operate advice, support and friendship helplines to older people. Those include not only OPSAF members, including over £1 million to Age Scotland, but also to Chest Heart Stroke Scotland, Befriending Networks and many more as part of the over £1 billion we have allocated to help communities through the Covid pandemic and build resilience in public services. A summary of this investment, outlining how and where this funding have been made available, can be found on our Communities Funding Mapping Tool.

We published a directory containing information and available services, including helpline numbers that to assist older people. It included guidance around a number of different issues, including; accessing food, how to stay connected and support for mental health and wellbeing.

As part of our Winter Plan for Social Protection, we have provided over £6 million to promote equality, support older people and tackle social isolation and loneliness. This includes enabling 5,000 older and disabled people to get online with over £4 million added to the Connecting Scotland digital programme.

More recently, we have provided funding certainty with the announcement of our new Equality and Human Rights Fund. Organisations are able to apply until 14 May 2021 and funding is available for three years (2021-2024) with up to £7 million allocated to 2021-2022. The Fund offers core and/or project funding to support third sector and public bodies and organisations in Scotland to deliver against equality and human rights priorities.


We had hoped to be in a position to publish our annual report in the Spring of 2021, but after reflecting on all the other strands of work that have taken place over the past few months, a more strategic approach is now required to consider the framework, in conjunction with the wider recommendations for Scotland’s recovery. 

As the Framework is cross-cutting, there are a number of other areas of work that must be taken account of, such as;

  • social renewal advisory board recommendations
  • the independent review of adult social care
  • GenAnalytics report recommendations about the impact of COVID-19 on older people
  • wider work being undertaken on economic and social recovery post-COVID-19
  • the work of the Lead Clinician for the Older People’s Health team, Dr Graham Ellis
  • ongoing impacts of social isolation and loneliness

The Scottish Government must consider its response to these pieces of work which have varied and challenging recommendations. We therefore believe that the Framework document should not be reviewed in isolation, but after the wider programme of work across the Scottish Government has been considered to ensure there is alignment of our work going forward. We will also agree our next steps for future action with the Older People’s Strategic Action Forum (OPSAF) as your input is critical in shaping and defining the priorities. With the recent expansion of the team, I am pleased that there will be more capacity to further our shared goals.

As part of this update, a summary of action updates has been provided in Annex A, categorised into what has been delivered, partially delivered, and what has been paused – largely due to the pandemic. 

As you are aware, the Framework actions are separated into four different chapters;

  1. Being Older
  2. Engaging with, and Contributing to, Communities
  3. Accessing Public and Other Services
  4. Ensuring Financial Security 

I have set out our achievements below, by chapter. 

Being older

The three actions in this section have been delivered. GenAnalytics undertook research into the impacts of COVID-19 on the lives of older people in Scotland –instead of delivering the Festival of Ageing. Given the importance of hearing older people’s voices and lived experience, it was vital that GenAnalytics were able to refocus and undertake this research to gain insight and understanding into the impact the virus was having.

This section also focuses on the Scottish Government Human Rights Taskforce. The Taskforce has concluded its work and recently published its recommendations for the new framework, which includes a specific right for older people. The Taskforce has recommended that “all older people should enjoy equal access to their rights and lead a life of dignity and independence and take part in social and cultural life”, as previously provided by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Subsequent legislation could helpfully provide specific rights in such areas as health and social care, social security and protection, housing and education and others in alignment with the Council of Europe Recommendations (2014)02 and the European Social Charter. This not only demonstrates our commitment to human rights leadership but also reflects international best practice. In addition, the Taskforce has also recommended an equality clause which aligns with the Equality Act 2010 and provides equal access to everyone (including older people) to the rights contained within the Bill.

We have also published our report on the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership, which is the culmination of the National Taskforce for Human Right’s work since October 2019. Members can read the full report here. 

Engaging with, and contributing to, communities

There are 15 actions within this section and I am pleased to confirm that we have delivered or partially delivered 13, having paused only two. In January 2020, we published our response to the Veterans Strategy, ‘The Strategy for our Veterans: Taking the Strategy Forward in Scotland’. Our response highlights the work that we are delivering for Veterans and the Armed Forces community including the recommendations in the Scottish Veterans Commissioner’s reports. 

We published our Culture Strategy for Scotland in 2019 highlighting that Culture can provide a role in an ageing society by helping to facilitate conversations between generations to share knowledge and skills, but also to enrich lives by maintaining social connections. We are continuing to celebrate the valuable contribution that older people make to Scotland’s cultural life. 

The paused actions are both connected to commitments around designing and delivering a piece of work on ageism. This continues to be a priority as we head into the new Parliamentary session.

Accessing public and other services

This section contains the highest proportion of actions, 27 in total. The majority of actions focus on health and social care services. The Scottish Government has been able to deliver and partially deliver 23 actions with four outstanding. This is a considerable achievement over such a challenging period.

We have revised and updated the Palliative Care Directed Enhanced Service which ensures that GP practices are resourced to learn from and improve the palliative care they are providing. 

We have also published an implementation plan, covering the period 2019-2021, for the overarching Self-directed Support strategy. This embeds self-directed support in social care nationally and locally, ensuring older people can make decisions around their care and are supported in maintaining social connections.

The actions that have had to be paused are around digital technology-based services sector, and partnership working with Police Scotland and Primary Care. This is partly due to COVID-19 and other work superseding the specific action within the Framework.

Financial security

Nine of the 11 actions in this section have been delivered or partially delivered.

We launched the Workplace Equality Fund for 2020/21 and projects resumed from January to 31 March 2021. The fund supports projects to help equality groups to enter, remain and progress in employment. Women and older women continue to be included in the list of priority groups targeted by the fund, including workers who are also experiencing the menopause.

Work has also been undertaken to increase the participation of the Carer Positive Scheme, to extend carer-friendly employment practices so that more carers can balance work and caring. As of February 2021, 207 employers have been assessed as Carer Positive, including 50 employers at the higher ‘exemplary’ or ‘established’ levels. The total number of employees working for Carer Positive organisations in Scotland has now reached 449,000.

The actions we have not delivered are the delivery of two social security benefits – Disability Assistance for older people from 2021, and the Winter Heating Assistance scheduled for winter 2021. The pandemic has delayed these actions as we pivoted to respond, and delivery timetables have been adjusted. The delivery of these benefits still remains a priority for the Scottish Government.


Out of 56 actions contained in the Framework, we have been able to deliver or partially deliver, 48 actions in total. This is a significant achievement, given the challenges over the past year. I am encouraged and the table in Annex A provides a much clearer picture of where the gaps are, and what we still need to focus on delivering going forward. It is also important to note, that some of the actions may have been superseded by work or policies that have been implemented as a result of COVID-19. This is something that will be explored as part of our forward look.

We knew that the winter months were going to be particularly challenging for older people this year, therefore we responded to the request by OPSAF and Age Scotland, to ensure that older people were considered as part of the overall Scottish Government winter planning. The Minister for Older People and Equalities responded to the letter in December 2020, outlining the extensive engagement and action we have undertaken across a number of Ministerial portfolios. Officials have already issued the response to OPSAF members and it can be found on the OPSAF section of the Scottish Government website.

Next steps

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a harsh light on existing inequalities and we live in a changed landscape. It is now time to reflect on the pandemic, consider what has worked well, what we need to improve and make changes for the better.

We will look at the wider programme of work across the Scottish Government – with a particular focus on how it impacts older people to make sure there is an effective, joined up approach as we move into COVID-19 recovery and beyond.

As we enter into a new Parliamentary session, and as discussed and agreed with OPSAF in our meeting of 9 March 2021, I propose that our next steps include:

  • collecting feedback from OPSAF on the Framework action updates, particularly around gaps or actions yet to be delivered
  • setting up sessions to hear about and reflect on the Social Renewal Advisory Board report and the Review of Adult Social Care
  • an interactive workshop to consider how we align these strands of work with our ambitions for older people and plan the next steps

Officials will be in touch in due course about the timescale for these activities as they take a lead from the incoming Minister. It is important that this is a collaborative piece of work and we jointly determine how we take forward the older people agenda.


This has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging years we have all had to cope with, and the Minister and I will continue to look to OPSAF for your vital support and feedback that has so remarkably shone through during the pandemic. The Third Sector response has been truly staggering and we could not be more grateful for all of your efforts. I am looking forward to our continued collaborative working to ensure we achieve the best possible outcomes for older people. 

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