Coronavirus (COVID-19): phase 3 measures - equality and fairer Scotland impact assessment

Second overview of the range of poverty and equality impacts evidenced in relation to the complex range of measures that were taken as we followed the Route Map out of the crisis.

5. Strategic Response

All areas of society have been impacted by COVID-19 with action reflected in all Ministerial portfolios. Much of the activity that Scottish Government has taken to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19 on equality groups has been set out in the Route Map and Annex and associated legislation and guidance, but by no means all. This section provides information on a selection of wider responses by policy areas to the challenges of COVID-19. This is not meant to be comprehensive but to provide a flavour of the range of supports put in place.

Support for Children and Young People

During the pandemic response and the steps being taken in the Route Map, our focus has been to work with stakeholders to support the most at risk, keep children and young people safe and protected from harm and protect their rights whilst allowing them to experience as normal a childhood experience as is possible within the measures required to contain the pandemic.

This has included ensuring that critical childcare has been in place for the children of key workers and for those for whom it is of particular benefit, such as the most at risk in our society. We have also ensured, with stakeholders and service providers, that essential services, including child protection, maternity and neonatal services have continued, while adapting these where possible and appropriate, to use approaches and technology that reduce risks from the pandemic.

We have established a COVID-19 Children and Families Collective Leadership Group with key organisations across the children’s sector to review intelligence about the scale and nature of harm and response and to progress local and national actions in response. Priority areas being progressed include actions relating to: family support, the impacts of domestic abuse on children and young people, and ‘Route Map’ planning for services for children and families. We collate and share weekly reports of data on Vulnerable Children and Adult Public Protection, provided by local partnerships, Police Scotland and other key partners. We produced reports in April, May and July [44] collating the available evidence and intelligence about the impact of COVID-19 on children and families and the services providing support. A monthly child health update is also produced to inform about the wider impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and wellbeing of children and young people across Scotland.

The Leadership Group has continually taken stock of the work it has been tasked with over the emergency COVID-19 response period and produced a series of recommendations setting out a vision and outcomes-focused blueprint for family support, which aligns with the principles set out in the Independent Care Review’s “Promise”. This work will now be progressed at pace by the newly established Promise Team.

To ensure that children, including those most disadvantaged or at risk, are safe and protected from harm, local partnerships have reviewed local child protection processes and have adapted and re-prioritised services in response to the heightened risks to children arising from the outbreak. There are many examples of new and innovative practices across the country. Children on the child protection register continue to have regular contact with social workers and other professionals as part of their protection plans, as do those at risk children and young people who do not meet child protection thresholds but are known to services. We have supported these evolving approaches through COVID-19 national child protection guidance and provisions in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. These actions are designed to improve capacity and flexibility in local child protection processes and the prioritisation of children at greatest risk.

Since 23 March 2020, children’s hearings have taken place virtually. Children, family members, professionals, reporters, and the decision makers (panel members) have been unable to attend the public spaces in children’s hearings centres. Children’s hearings have continued to sit for a variety of reasons and where the urgent and immediate protection of a young person was required. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 came into force on 7 April 2020 and has provided some flexibility to the way in which the Children’s Hearing System (CHS) operates, and has allowed it to focus on immediate or urgent protection – while keeping safe other children and young people whose situations are not currently urgent. Consideration of the needs and risks to children are at the centre of decision making in individual cases. Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration and Childrens Hearings Scotland worked with partner agencies on plans for the return to face-to-face children’s hearings and the first of those took place in mid-July. A hybrid model of virtual and face-to-face hearings will be in place going forward.

The safety, health and wellbeing of all those living and working in secure care in Scotland is a priority and steps have been taken to reduce the risk of the virus spreading into the centres. These steps have included putting in place contingency and business continuity plans, which are reviewed regularly together with regular contact, including weekly teleconferences, with all five secure centres in Scotland, to understand the impact on the young people in their care, to discuss concerns, challenges and to consider guidance being published in this fast moving landscape.

Supporting Equality in the Labour Market

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant negative economic impacts across the UK. Employment and working age benefits are reserved policy areas with the UK Government putting various measures in place to support the workforce during the early months of the pandemic, including the Coronavirus Employment Retention Scheme.[45]

In Scotland, we anticipate that the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate existing labour market inequalities[46] and we are already seeing evidence of negative impacts (e.g. a significant rise in youth unemployment and concerns over the potential reversal of progress in reducing the disability employment gap).[47] We therefore continue to engage with a number of equality stakeholder groups to understand the impacts and emerging issues of COVID-19, and to ensure the Route Map and recovery plans take these into consideration.

Our COVID-19 Statement of Fair Work Practices[48] recognised the particular challenges some workers faced as businesses re-started and the economy reopened. The statement encouraged employers to give particular attention to those in high risk groups and to facilitate working from home and other flexible working arrangements which can help people to balance work with care whilst protecting incomes and mitigating health risks. Furthermore, employers were encouraged to consider individuals’ health circumstances through effective risk assessment and discuss these with the employees concerned.

We are continuing to implement our flagship Fair Work First approach, attaching Fair Work criteria to grants, other funding and contracts awarded by and across the public sector. This prioritises action to tackle labour market inequalities, through focused activity to address the gender pay gap and create a more diverse and inclusive workforce, promote payment of the real Living Wage and asking employers not to use zero hours contracts inappropriately.

We have also reassessed the viability of funded projects to ensure that organisations can still deliver on their outcomes or consider how those outcomes can be renegotiated to take account of restrictions. As a result, the timescales for the 2019 Workplace Equalities Fund, which funds a range of organisations to tackle workplace inequalities in relation to minority ethnic people; disabled people; older workers (those aged over 50); people who experience gender based violence; and workers who are experiencing social isolation and / or loneliness; and women, was extended to enable projects to adapt their delivery and amend outcomes to reflect working conditions within lockdown.

We also launched a Workplace Equality Fund for 2020 to offer immediate support to equality groups in the current COVID-19 environment and ensure that work to promote and embed workplace equality continues so that equality groups are not further disadvantaged in the labour market as a result of the effects of Covid-19.

We built on our 2018 Women Returners Fund by launching a call for applications to 2020 Women Returners Programme which will deliver short and sharp interventions to address the disproportionate impact the pandemic has on women and support women who have had a career break back into the labour market.

As evidence continues to emerge on how minority ethnic communities have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis, we have engaged closely with stakeholders to understand the specific concerns and issues arising for minority ethnic workers. We have worked with the Scottish Union Learning to amend their criteria for the Fair Work: Leadership and Equality Programme so that it reflects the emerging issues for minority ethnic workers as a result of the pandemic in a bid to encourage applications that will address these issues through programme delivery.

We launched a Minority Ethnic Recruitment Toolkit[49] which supports recruitment managers in the public sector looking to improve the diversity of their workforce by recruiting more people from minority ethnic backgrounds. While a lot of the content has been drawn from practice that is used in parts of the public sector, the information in this toolkit may be equally useful to employers in other sectors

The role of employability services is pivotal in supporting those who are most at risk to the adverse impacts of this crisis, many of whom face multiple barriers to accessing the labour market. The No One Left Behind[50] approach supports the implementation of the recommendations of both the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery and the Enterprise & Skills Strategic Board sub-group - including the provision of proactive support - to address unemployment in young people and to respond to youth unemployment with a flexible approach. The report also highlight the needs of lone parents, low income families, disabled individuals, and minority ethnic communities.

The No One Left Behind approach responds to the need expressed for a targeted and concerted set of interventions. We are working closely with partners across sectors to protect provision and ensure continuity of support for those individuals who use employability services. This includes liaison with key disabled people’s organisations (e.g. Inclusion Scotland, Glasgow Disability Alliance, Scottish Commission for Learning Disability), who have been instrumental in sharing the lived experience of disabled people and highlighting issues of concern emerging from the pandemic.

We have also brought together an Employability COVID-19 Response Operational Group consisting of Scottish and Local Government, Skills Development Scotland, the Department for Work and Pensions and the third and private sectors. The group will focus on examining existing funded programmes, considering how we can flex these to provide people and organisations with the support they need in the short and medium term.

Supporting communities and marginalised group

The Scottish Government has taken decisive action to mitigate the social harms caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, backed by an initial £350 million package of Communities funding announced on 18 March 2020[51]. Councils, charities and community groups have been supported by this funding, which has been designed to be flexible and enable a swift response focused on addressing local need for people impacted economically or through reduced contact with society, including anyone struggling to access food.

This package includes significant additional funding to local authorities who deliver many frontline services. The money invested to date has helped the households who were struggling to cope financially and as a result of necessary restrictions to control the spread of the virus. Funding has also been made available for businesses impacted. For both the business support grant funding schemes and the additional funding made available to local authorities, the equality and Fairer Scotland impacts are assessed and monitored by those receiving the funding (i.e. local authorities). Local authority funding, announced to date, comprises:

  • £155 million UK Government consequentials were confirmed to local authorities on 26 May and paid in June.
  • The distribution of a further £49 million of UK Government consequentials has now been agreed with COSLA.
  • £50 million hardship fund.
  • £22 million Scottish Welfare Fund top up.
  • £8 million boost to Discretionary Housing Payment allocations.
  • £20 million to support individuals at financial risk over the winter period.
  • £67.6 million made available to tackle food insecurity, including for the continuation of Free School Meal provision during school closures and holidays to Easter 2021.
  • £25 million of the £50 million for a Council Tax Reduction Scheme and Social Security Benefits top-up.
  • £600,000 for death registration services to work weekends and bank holidays.

Since March we have made over £130 million available to tackle food insecurity as a result of COVID-19 including for those at increased and greatest clinical risk from the virus, those at financial risk including families entitled to free school meals, and marginalised individuals. This includes:

  • £50.3 million to cover our nationally coordinated response for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, known as the ‘shielded’ group. As of 1 August, when the shielding programme was paused, 978,316 food boxes had been provided.
  • £67.6 million available to local authorities, encouraging a ‘cash-first’ (direct financial transfer) approach to ensure those who can get to the shops have the money they need to buy food and other essentials. Of this £37.6 million has been made available to continue the provision of Free School Meals during school closures and the summer holidays, with £10 million to continue provision across October, Christmas, February and Easter breaks.
  • Over £4.9 million available to support 50 third-sector partners through direct grants. These strategic investments, focused on delivering nationally or via community-based responses at local level, to tackle food insecurity include £2.1 million for FareShare to purchase and distribute food. £7.8 million to support over 250 projects helping to tackle food insecurity through the Wellbeing and Supporting Communities Funds.

Around £80 million of additional investment has been made available to support third sector and community organisations through the Communities funding package to date. This investment spans across the Supporting Communities Fund, Wellbeing Fund, Third Sector Resilience Fund and Food Fund investment – as noted above.

Our investment to support third sector and community organisations has been wide reaching and focused on a range of needs beyond solely food – including wellbeing, mental health, fuel and community resilience. It has supported key national infrastructure, including Age Scotland, Women’s Aid and Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland – enhancing the capacity of these organisations to meet people’s needs. We have provided over £22 million in grants to charities, faced with financial difficulties directly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, to stabilise their cash-flow and continue to deliver key services. We have also delivered over £17 million of investment, through Community Anchor Organisations, to reach many small community organisations and mutual aid groups that would not otherwise have been able to access funding and have been an essential part of the response and our resilience.

As we transition from the emergency response phase into recovery and renewal, we have announced a new £25 million Community and Third Sector Recovery Programme. This includes business support and investment to help organisations adapt their operations and income generation to increase sustainability, as well as supporting communities as they work to re-start and adapt service and activity delivery. This funding will also support our third sector to continue to support people and communities in responding to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

A digital funding mapping tool has been developed to display the funding allocated by local authority area to support communities across Scotland affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).[52] This tool will continue to be updated in the coming months.

Since April, we have provided over £1.5 million from the Communities Fund to third sector organisations to enable them to acquire emergency hotel accommodation for people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, homelessness. This includes people rough sleeping and people with no recourse to public funds, such as destitute asylum seekers. We also provided nearly £30,000 to SAY Women to provide enhanced independent living support to women who are homeless and have experienced sexual assault.

The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) [53] was reconvened to consider the actions needed to support people experiencing homelessness during and after this pandemic, making over 100 recommendations to Scottish Government and COSLA. In line with the Ending Homelessness Together principles, HARSAG’s work was informed by people who have experience of homelessness and by the insights and expertise of those who work in homelessness services. A summary of the equality evidence was provided to HARSAG to inform their discussions, and the Group consulted with organisations supporting women, young people, Gypsy / Travellers and disabled people’s organisations. We are also working closely with women’s organisations, including Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid, to ensure our recovery plan is gender-informed. The joint Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan update was published on 8 October 2020, setting out Scottish Government and COSLA action to address homelessness that will be taken in light of the pandemic.

Given the impact of the lockdown on household income protecting people’s homes was critical. With the Coronavirus (Scotland) 2020 Act we have protected tenants against eviction for up to six months and made all grounds for repossession in the private rented sector discretionary, ensuring the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland can take into account the full circumstances of a case. This mirrors what is already in place in the social sector[54] . In addition, we have introduced notice periods for students living in halls of residence and Purpose Built Student Accommodation and we are introducing pre-action requirements for landlords. We have also provided Citizens Advice Scotland with £3 million to provide support to people struggling financially at this time, including an additional £100,000 for a new national helpline. We have actively encouraged tenants to ensure they apply for the financial support they are eligible for including through a specific campaign letting tenants know about their rights.

During lockdown the importance of communities being able to support each other was critical. Our Volunteering for All Framework aims to increase volunteering participation and to reduce inequalities.[55] We ran a volunteering campaign ‘Scotland Cares” that generated over 60,000 sign-ups to support our public services and local communities. The recruitment, deployment and retention of volunteers was led by locally expressed need.

Supporting Equality in Digital Connection

Many of the services released through the Route Map are relying on digital services or a blend of virtual and face-to-face. In recognition that digital exclusion in terms of skills, and access to devices and data was a real problem for some people - particularly socio-economically disadvantaged, older and some disabled people - the Cabinet Secretary for Communities announced the Connecting Scotland programme.[56] This programme initially aimed to support 9,000 low income individuals across Scotland at increased clinical risk from COVID-19. The £5 million programme offers a 12 month data package, training and support and a laptop or tablet to people who are clinically at risk, on a low income and are not already online during the response to coronavirus.

Investment in this programme has now been increased, with a total of £43 million committed to support around 50,000 people to get online by the end of 2021.

Around 9,000 people have already been supported through the programme including more than 540 people receiving a package of a device, connectivity and training as part of an early pilot, including 200 families with children who were supported during May through Children 1st and Aberlour. A further 23,000 families with children and young care leavers are expected to be helped through the second phase of delivery. This is in addition to the £25 million committed to provide laptops for disadvantaged children to study online – which will benefit up to 70,000 individuals.

Scottish Government’s organisational response on equality

Across the Scottish Government, considerable effort has been made to support the response to COVID-19 from the perspective of equality. For example, the People Directorate is focused on embedding equality internally and is taking action to understand the differential impact of COVID-19 on equality groups in the workforce to ensure decisions are informed by equality evidence, shaped by insights / lived experience and delivered through inclusive leadership that meets diverse needs. We are adapting Human Resources policy and procedures to respond to and support all staff, including protected groups, with a strong focus on mental health and wellbeing, and successfully trialling a new approach to implementing workplace adjustments.

To support the inclusivity and accessibility of our public messaging, we have worked closely with partner organisations, including other public bodies, charities, private sector and community groups. Key COVID-19 information is translated and distributed to benefit the wider community, and languages and formats are progressed with consideration of primary and secondary language/format lists as set out by Public Health Scotland, with Marketing consulting with partners to determine where additional languages / formats are required.



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