Citizens' Assembly of Scotland - Doing Politics Differently report: Scottish Government response

Our response to the report of the Citizens' Assembly of Scotland report 'Doing Politics Differently'.

2. Incomes and poverty

"a range of proposals to improve incomes and wages and to both prevent and tackle poverty"

'Doing Politics Differently'

Summary of recommendations

Recommendations 15 – 22 are themed as 'Incomes and poverty'.[34] They include guaranteeing everyone a minimum level of income and legislating to improve contractual working conditions. The Assembly recommends closer working between the Scottish and UK Governments, as well as local authorities, to support the alleviation of poverty.

To define poverty, the Assembly proposes (recommendation 19) that the Scottish Government and Parliament should ask three questions:

  • Do you have a roof over your head?
  • Can you heat your house?
  • Will you be able to put hot food on the table?

This is one of a number of recommendations on the ready availability to the public of easily understood government information (for example recommendations 25, 27 and 28 on tax, recommendation 39 on sustainability and recommendation 45 on the cost of the NHS).

The government already publishes annually a range of statistics on poverty, including food insecurity, fuel poverty and homelessness.[35] Other published measures include: income compared to others (relative poverty); whether incomes keep pace with inflation (absolute poverty); whether households are on a low income and have access to basic essentials (combined low income and material deprivation); whether households have experienced relative poverty for three out of the four previous years (persistent poverty). Tracking these different measures helps identify trends in poverty over time and indicate the success of the government's policies.

The government recognises the purpose of this recommendation is to provide a simple, comprehensible test for poverty, and "bring invisible poverty to the foreground".[36] However, living in poverty goes beyond meeting basic needs and the information collected and published by government needs to reflect the wider causes and effects of poverty, including, for example, the quality of available food and housing, and the ability to participate in society. The government needs to make sure this wider range of information is available in a way that satisfies the Assembly's call for accessibility.

The wide range of information gathered and published by the government illustrates the complex range of issues that lead to poverty and inform policies to address these (recommendation 20). The involvement of people with lived experience of poverty is a crucial aspect in this decision making and policy development. The Scottish Government funds both the Poverty Truth Community project[37] and the Poverty Alliance's Get Heard Scotland Programme.[38] These initiatives help bring together people with lived experience of poverty and inequality with decision-makers, in order to influence national and local policy making, and push for change in public services (as proposed in recommendation 18).

Also relevant to this recommendation is the Fairer Scotland Duty[39] which came into force in April 2018, and places a legal responsibility on certain public bodies in Scotland to actively consider how they can reduce inequalities of outcome caused by socio-economic disadvantage when making strategic decisions. Due to the economic shocks of the pandemic further exacerbating the socio-economic disadvantage experienced by people in Scotland, assessments under the Duty are even more important to make the lives of people experiencing poverty and inequality measurably better. In deciding how to fulfil the Duty, public bodies are legally required to take into account the guidance issued by Scottish Ministers.[40]

This recommendation from the Assembly again points to the need for easily understood information to be readily available on these initiatives.

There are two recommendations on local government involvement in addressing poverty (recommendations 18 and 22), including task forces to overcome poverty in each council area.

The Scottish Government's Covid Recovery Strategy emphasises the importance of partnership between national and local government in addressing the issues arising from the pandemic, including financial security for low income families.[41] The strategy also details No One Left Behind to be delivered with Local Government and the third sector, which will provide £20 million over the next 12 months for employability focused interventions for long-term unemployed people.[42] The No One Left Behind approach will move away from national programmes offering time-limited support and move towards more localised commissioning and delivery approaches, offering person-centred support.

Other areas in which local government already plays a central role in addressing poverty include the Scottish Welfare Fund, an important social safety net administered through local authorities. The Scottish Government is guaranteeing the fund at £41 million per year and has also started an independent review this year to understand how well the Fund is working and whether it could be improved.[43] Local authorities also have a duty to report annually on child poverty in line with government guidance under the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017.[44]

These initiatives, as well as the emphasis on partnership with local government in the Covid Recovery Strategy, show the importance of local community connections highlighted in these recommendations.

The Assembly calls for the Scottish Government to work with the UK Government to abolish zero hours contracts (recommendations 17 and 21). This is a matter reserved to Westminster, as the recommendations acknowledge. The Scottish Government supports the devolution of responsibility for employment law to the Scottish Parliament, particularly after the UK's exit from the European Union has removed protections provided for workers by EU law.[45] The government is opposed to inappropriate zero hours contracts and other non-standard types of employment that offer workers little or no job security. The government understands that some workers find zero hours contracts useful, so banning them entirely would remove workers' choice. However, the government recognises the Assembly's clear views on this issue.

On a living wage (recommendations 16 and 21), the government has long championed payment of at least the real living wage, and encouraged every employer to work constructively with their workforce and trade unions to ensure the right decisions are taken about workplace issues and that workers are treated fairly. The government will continue to progress its vision for Scotland to be a leading Fair Work Nation by 2025, including making payment of the real living wage to all employees a condition of public sector grants by summer 2022.[46]

On the introduction of a Universal Basic Income in order to provide "a real living income to ensure people don't worry about food [and] living costs" (recommendation 15),[47] the Scottish Government is committed, in the longer term, to delivering a Minimum Income Guarantee.[48] This work will see Scotland leading the world with the design and delivery of a Minimum Income Guarantee. It has real potential to deliver transformational change, reducing poverty and inequality, ensuring everyone has enough money to live a decent life and provide "an assurance that no one will fall below a set income level which allows them to live a dignified life, delivered through targeted payments and other types of support or services provided or subsidised by the state". A steering group has been brought together with cross-party and expert representation, which will work to design a future Minimum Income Guarantee. The government will also explore how the concept of Universal Basic Services can contribute towards a minimum standard of living.

The Programme for Government and the Covid Recovery Strategy set out a range of other measures the Scottish Government is taking to address the issues of income and poverty identified by the Assembly, and expressed in its vision and recommendations. These include:

  • New benefits for children, people on low incomes, carers and disabled people in a strong social security system that treats people with dignity, fairness and respect[49]
  • a national mission to eradicate child poverty, with a route map to meet an interim target to reduce relative child poverty to 18% by 2023‑24[50]
  • a new Ending Homelessness Together Fund of £50 million over this Parliament, including £8 million for local authorities to support rapid rehousing plans and efforts to eradicate rough sleeping.[51] Under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 a person should be treated as homeless, even if they have accommodation, if it would not be reasonable for them to continue to stay in it.
  • the Parental Employability Support Fund to help low income families identified as being most at risk of experiencing poverty[52]
  • a second Benefit Take-up Strategy from October 2021 setting up how the Scottish Government will maximise the take-up of Scottish benefits[53]
  • publish a Fuel Poverty Strategy by the end of the year to address the main drivers of fuel poverty[54]

The recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on incomes and poverty confirm the central importance of these issues to the people of Scotland, and reinforce the Scottish Government's commitment the national outcome:[55]

  • We tackle poverty by sharing opportunities, wealth and power more equally



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