Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland's Strategic Framework

This document sets out our strategic approach to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, while we strive to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible.

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6. Mitigating social harms

This pandemic remains a public health emergency, but it is having significant impacts on our society, communities and lives, and the need to tackle the damaging impacts of inequalities has come into even sharper focus. Protecting and supporting people during these unparalleled times has been the absolute focus of the Scottish Government, and that will continue as we renew our approach to tackling the pandemic. Arguably it becomes even more important, to ensure that confidence in, and adherence to, additional protective measures is not undermined by deepening inequalities. Through all of this, we recognise the need to ensure human rights and equalities are embedded in our approach.

Tackling inequalities exacerbated by the crisis

Emerging evidence suggests COVID-19 has exacerbated many pre-existing inequalities: those living in our most deprived communities and black and minority ethnic people have a higher death rate; it has taken a significant toll on the mental health of young people; there are increased risks of domestic abuse for women and children; there has been growing digital divide and exclusion; and, older people are at greater risk of social isolation. As part of this, we will continue to be mindful of the differing needs across our rural and urban areas, and how we ensure the necessary access to services across the country.

Building on our initial response, we will take forward a range of support for people and communities at risk. This is supported by expert advice through our Social Renewal Advisory Board, the Expert Reference Group on COVID-19 and Ethnicity, and the First Minister's National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership.

Around £42.5 million is available to support awards through the Scottish Welfare Fund, a further £8 million has been made available through Discretionary Housing Payments to help meet housing costs, and we have launched a £10 million Tenant Support Fund. Support also continues to be available through the Council Tax Reduction scheme to help meet council tax liabilities, with a further £25 million provided to local councils.

Our updated Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan, outlines our next steps to end homelessness and rough sleeping. This includes proposals to modify night shelter provision this winter and end the use of night shelter and dormitory style provision in future. To support this, we are establishing rapid rehousing centres to provide an under-one-roof multi-agency service to people experiencing the most acute forms of homelessness.

Our Connecting Scotland Programme to tackle digital exclusion, backed by £43 million, will help 50,000 digitally excluded low-income households get online by the end of 2021.

We will provide a further £30m of flexible funding to local authorities to tackle financial insecurity. This will enable local authorities to tackle food and fuel insecurity and ensure that there is sufficient funding available to meet demand for both the Scottish Welfare Fund and Discretionary Housing Payments. This includes over £10m for Free School Meal provision to cover to cover the Christmas, February and Easter holidays.

Marginalised groups

We will protect marginalised people, including people with experiences of homelessness, problem drug and alcohol use, imprisonment and prostitution, and those at risk of destitution due to their immigration status. We have provided accommodation and facilities for self-isolation; medical and social care; access to food and money; advice, information and advocacy; and continuation and expansion of wraparound support for people with multiple and complex needs.

Faith and belief communities

We recognise that for many people, faith and belief will have been a source of personal strength, resilience, and wellbeing during the difficulties of lockdown. We have continued to engage closely with and listen to our faith communities throughout this period and we understand the important role of congregational worship in supporting spiritual wellbeing. Places of worship were able to reopen from July. This followed publication of updated guidance which reflected the evolving scientific and health advice, and has been developed in consultation with leaders and representatives of Scotland's faith and belief communities.

Under our levels approach, we hope that the clear guidance we have produced, supported by regular engagement, can continue to ensure that places of worship can safely remain open with restricted numbers. We will keep this under review, informed by scientific evidence and continued engagement with faith and belief communities.

Education, children and young people

Throughout the pandemic we have worked with our partners in local government to put the rights and wellbeing of children and young people at the centre of our response, and we will continue to draw on evidence of the impact of protective measures to inform our joint decision making. Measures applied to children and young people must be necessary and proportionate, and assessed against Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessments. We will maintain our focus on upholding children's rights as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Getting It Right for Every Child.

While taking difficult decisions to suppress the virus, we continue to weigh this against the potential mental and physical health, social and developmental harm that may be caused by any measures. Both short and long term developmental perspectives needs to be taken in the knowledge that the impacts of protective measures may not be immediately apparent and may not manifest until later life, while the mental and physical health and wellbeing of children and young people is inexorably bound with that of their parents or carers.

Early learning and childcare, and schools

Recognising the unique impacts on children and young people, and to ensure the virus does not prevent them receiving the best start in life, we will prioritise keeping schools and regulated childcare, including early learning and childcare, open while ensuring the safety of children and young people and the staff who have worked hard to keep settings open.

Our suite of school and regulated childcare guidance sets out clearly the protective measures that should be in place. Where outbreaks and incidents do occur, Test and Protect and local Incident Management Teams are working to disrupt chains of transmission rapidly. The evidence we have to date suggests these arrangements are working well. Public Health Scotland report relatively few incidents of transmission in schools and childcare settings. A programme of independent compliance checks by the Health and Safety Executive was very positive about the efforts of staff to implement protective measures in schools. The Care Inspectorate has put in place a programme of scrutiny, including joint work with the Health and Safety Executive, to assure compliance in childcare settings.

The COVID-19 Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children's Issues has been tasked with reviewing the scientific and public health advice that underpins our guidance, to ensure it remains appropriate as circumstances change. The COVID-19 Education Recovery Group will draw on that advice to make recommendations to national and local government on how best to strengthen and augment protective measures in schools and ELC settings.

The impact of local protections

On the basis of our levels approach, we will work quickly and collaboratively with local authorities on the basis of advice provided by the Education Recovery Group, and its ELC work stream group, on the necessary approach and guidance to ensure there are clear processes for responding to any changes at a local level. Our initial assumption would be that each level would mean:

Level 0/1

Regulated childcare

Open with standard protective measures

  • Public Health measures in place as contained in the current guidance, which evolve as required in accordance with evidence


Open with standard protective measures

  • Public Health measures in place as contained in the current guidance, which evolve as required in accordance with evidence

Levels 2-3

Regulated childcare

Open with enhanced protective measures

  • Augmenting levels 0/1 while providing additional protective measures that do not further restrict capacity and therefore restrict access to childcare.
  • These could include additional use of face coverings, and a strengthened focus on compliance, including refreshed risk assessments for staff rooms and other high risk areas


Open with enhanced protective measures

  • Augmenting levels 0/1 with additional measures
  • This could include enhanced use of face coverings, including in classrooms at senior phase, and a strengthened focus on compliance, including refreshed risk assessments for staffrooms and other high risk areas

Level 4

Regulated childcare

Open, subject to targeted intervention which may impact on capacity

  • Could include targeted use of measures previously in force in regulated childcare, which may have an impact on capacity in services
  • This would be based on the evidence of transmission in ELC and childcare, and the need to protect and support those who are most at risk


Open, with enhanced and targeted protective measures

  • Augmenting previous levels with additional, targeted measures
  • Could include specific interventions to protect and support those who are most at risk
  • To ensure we protect the rights of children and young people our aim will always be to keep schools and learning open at all levels.

Decisions regarding local outbreaks will continue to be taken in conjunction with local Incident Management Teams, and the relevant local authorities and agencies, and dependent on the availability of data, to identify high-risk areas which could be mitigated. Decisions will always be taken with a view to minimising the impact on children and young people, while protecting them and staff. Education Scotland has also worked with key partners to develop a shared national offer for schools which will provide essential support for those children and young people who cannot be in schools, including those in the shielding category where relevant.

We know that any changes to schooling, childcare and ELC will have an impact on families, and measure will be put in place to ensure that those who need it most will continue to be supported. We know that changes to guidance can create challenges for private and voluntary ELC and childcare providers. Throughout lockdown and recovery, we have worked with the sector to support these providers, and will continue to do so.

Protecting family services

We will work with our partners in local government to prioritise keeping services open which protect the most vulnerable to harm, and the Children and Families COVID-19 Leadership Group will oversee activity and guidance in support of this. It has collected and monitored data and intelligence for use locally and nationally, identifying areas for action. It has supported the continuation of social work services and social care, delivery of third sector services, and early reopening of Children's Hearings. A detailed COVID recovery and renewal plan for the children's hearings system has been developed by the core agencies and we have invested more than £2m to support full recovery by autumn 2021.

In the context of the pandemic, it is all the more important to retain our commitment to early intervention and prevention to minimise the risks to children and families. We will also look to continue to protect universal health service provision, including maternity, health visiting, family nurse partnership and perinatal and infant mental health services, for pregnant women and families from birth and during the preschool period. We are working with key partners in Local Government Children and Family services through a national Leadership Group to ensure a clear focus on the needs of those at most risk, including children in need of protection, children affected by domestic abuse, disabled children and young people with care experience. We have also continued to protect play, to support children's wellbeing and resilience. We have ensured exemptions which allow for play outwith school interactions, and announced a £400,000 fund to support outdoor play for low-income families.

Further and Higher Education

We will learn lessons from the start of the 2020/21 academic year looking at the formation of student households, how student accommodation is used, and student compliance as part of a safe experience while at, and returning to, campus. We will continue to work with institutions and the National Union of Students to ensure that students understand how the rules apply to them, to deliver the highest possible rates of compliance while supporting a positive experience, and to support student mental health and wellbeing.

There are particular challenges around the winter break this year. Based on previous year's data, up to 150,000 university students (60% of total enrolments) could be leaving their term-time addresses over the winter break, with risks across a number of categories:

  • Students switching households for Christmas and in many cases returning to multi generation settings or vulnerable communities
  • Students returning after Christmas, forming new households in student accommodation and socialising with different households and in different settings
  • Students returning from potentially higher risk areas
  • Potential higher virus levels in the general population exacerbated by winter health issues such as flu

The following areas are being considered with the objective of developing a package of options based on risk and for the balancing of the 4 harms with a particular focus on student wellbeing.

  • Supporting students to continue to protect themselves and others around the vacation period
  • Driving down prevalence through enhanced compliance and outbreak management
  • Increasing the amount of online learning before term ends in December 2020, and when the new term starts in January 2021. In high prevalence areas this could include reserving in-person teaching for subjects with significant practical learning requirements, as well as exams
  • Asking students to adopt a precautionary approach to limiting their contact with others before they go home, and on return, to help them safely make a temporary change of households over the holiday period
  • Exploring the value of, and scope for, additional testing
  • Supporting students to travel home safely



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