Covid Recovery Strategy: Deputy First Minister's statement - 5 October 2021

Statement given by Deputy First Minister John Swinney to the Scottish Parliament on 5 October 2021.

Presiding officer, the coronavirus pandemic has had an enormous impact on the everyday lives of the people of Scotland.

As a nation, we came together to fight the pandemic. We made sacrifices to protect ourselves, to protect each other, and to protect the NHS.

The virus, and the measures that we took to fight it, changed every area of life – the way we work, socialise, and do business.

The action we took, and the success of the vaccination programme in mitigating some of the most serious harms of the virus, means that we have been able since this summer to lift almost all of the restrictions we were living under.

While important protections remain in place, and some new ones like vaccine certification have been introduced, life is beginning to feel a lot more normal. For many of us, that is a good thing.

But not for all of us.

The pandemic highlighted the inequalities in our society – those who could work from home, and those who could not; those who for whom Covid was a mild illness, and those for whom it was life changing, or life ending.

While the past eighteen months have not been easy for anyone, there are many for whom it has been much, much harder. In particular for people already coping with disadvantage. They were more likely to get seriously ill, to be hospitalised, and sadly die, from Covid. And they were the hardest hit socially, educationally and economically due to the restrictions it was necessary to introduce, in order to control the spread of the virus.

We cannot go back to a life where some people, because of their income, health, disability, race, or gender, are less secure, and less able to protect themselves and their families from circumstances beyond their control. Our recovery must be about creating a fairer Scotland – it cannot be about going back to a way of living that, for far too many people in Scotland, was simply not good enough.

That is why I am publishing today the Covid Recovery Strategy for a Fairer Future. This document has a laser focus on addressing those inequalities. Central to this strategy is our determination to build on the spirit of cooperation, urgency and flexibility that characterised our response to the pandemic. If our people are secure, if they have firm foundations, then our communities, businesses and society will be more resilient and will flourish.

This strategy is neither the end of the story, nor the whole of it. A vast amount of work has already been undertaken notably the NHS recovery plan and the Education recovery plan published today, and more will follow. It does not seek to provide the level of detail on recovery plans for individual public services, but it does provide the overall principles that will guide them.

The strategy has a clear vision – to address the inequalities made worse by Covid, to make progress towards a wellbeing economy, where our success is judged on more than GDP, and to accelerate inclusive, person-centred public services.

Throughout the pandemic, and during the preparation of this strategy, the government has been speaking to people in Scotland about what sort of recovery they want to see. People said that they wanted a recovery that achieves financial security for all, that supports health and wellbeing, that empowers communities and places, that addresses the harms caused by the pandemic, that recognises the value of time and social connections, that advances equality and strengthens rights, that starts from the individual and involves people in decision making, that is evidence driven, that supports economic development, and that is ambitious and transformational.

We have listened to what people told us – and what was shared through the Citizens’ Assembly and with the Social Renewal Advisory Board. That ambition for a fairer Scotland is the heart of this strategy and it lies behind the three outcomes which the strategy works towards, to establish financial security for low income households, to enhance wellbeing of children and young people, and to create good, green jobs and fair work.

These three outcomes are supported by an overarching ambition to rebuild public services, learning the lessons of the pandemic where – because it mattered – boundaries were overcome and by necessity all spheres of government and the third sector came together to deliver truly person-centred services.

Overcoming boundaries was central to the approach we took to homelessness during Covid. Pre-pandemic, Scotland had around 300 people sleeping rough or in shared dormitory style accommodation.  People who generally have poorer health and higher rates of complex problems than the general population and were therefore at greater risk of the virus and its devastating consequences. Through our partnership with Local Authorities and the third sector, rough sleeping was almost eradicated last year.  Emergency accommodation was provided along with daily hot meals and emergency food, and enhanced independent living support was given to young women experiencing homelessness and who had experienced sexual assault.

Having a fixed place to stay also gave  access to a range of vital support services – primary care, mental health, advocacy, employment support and addiction services, coming together to support individuals.

This is just one example of how a collective national approach truly delivered person-centred service and it is exactly the type of approach our country needs, in terms of recovery. Our renewed and enhanced partnership with Local Government and working collaboratively with the third sector and business are the foundations of this strategy.

In it we set out the steps this government will take to ensure financial security for low income families – including rolling out the Scottish Child Payment to children under 16 by the end of next year and doubling it to £20 a week per child as quickly as possible within this Parliament,  expanding funded early learning and childcare for children aged 1 and 2, designing a wraparound childcare system to provide care before and after school and in the holidays, where the least well off families will pay nothing, reducing the costs of school with free breakfasts and lunches in primary school and the school uniform grant, as well as investing in employability support to get people into work. 

To improve the wellbeing of children and young people, the strategy includes commitments to investing at least £500 million over this life of this Parliament to create a Whole Family Wellbeing Fund, shifting to preventative interventions and creating holistic, universal support services, investment in mental health support for children and young people, and improving and scaling family support services. It details our investment in important cultural and creative programmes such as Sistema Scotland and the Youth Music Initiative. It also outlines how we will address the opportunities lost to young people during the pandemic through the Young Person’s Guarantee, providing up to £70 million this year so every person between 16 and 24 has the opportunity to study, take up an apprenticeship, a job or work experience, or take part in formal volunteering.

And to support employment following the pandemic and Brexit, we will work to ensure good green jobs are available, simplifying investment in skills and training to ensure that people have support throughout their lives, investing £200 million in adult upskilling and retraining opportunities, embedding fair work so people have ‘good jobs’ and also to increase productivity, and enhancing equality of opportunity so everyone can access and progress in work, and we will work with local authorities on a Community Wealth Building plan to ensure there are good local employment opportunities in every area.

I am pleased to tell the chamber that the strategy has been agreed with COSLA and is supported by local government.

Over the past 18 months our response to Covid has been a shared endeavour and so too must be our approach to recovery. Local Government is at the heart of that. But delivering on the strategy requires focus and prioritisation. Learning from the successful programme management of the delivery of 1140 hours Early Learning and Childcare, the Scottish Government and COSLA will establish a Covid Recovery Programme Board, which will be jointly chaired. This Board will oversee the delivery of the strategy and ensure focus is brought to this work over the coming eighteen months.

Partnership with local government is essential but our collective endeavour for recovery will also involve community groups, charities and voluntary organisations, and businesses, large and small. There is no sector of Scottish life that does not have a part to play in the successful delivery of this strategy – and there is no sector that does not stand to gain from that success.

The role of the third sector during the crisis was proven time and time again in the rapid help that it and thousands of volunteers provided to support communities.  Collaboration happened across organisations and traditional boundaries.  We must build upon that ability and strengthen the sector’s capacity in our recovery.

We know economic recovery is central to the success of this strategy. And we will continue to work in partnership with business organisations. We are urgently working with them to better understand the challenges being faced as a result of the labour market shortages, and to develop a Working with Business Action Plan which will focus on employability, skills, and fair work, to identify the actions that are necessary to mitigate the impact of labour shortages.  Later this year, we will publish a new 10 year national strategy for economic transformation setting out plans for strengthening Scotland’s economy.

Today Presiding Officer, the Government has published a strategy that sets out what we as a Government will do to ensure recovery from Covid in Scotland. It sets out an approach to ensure the most affected are never so vulnerable again, to enable them to take steps to improve their lives and those of their families. It is a uniquely Scottish approach to progressive recovery which seeks to build a better society than what we had before.

Over the last 18 months life has changed markedly. Over the next 18 months – the period covered by this strategy – we can build back on a fairer basis. To do this, we must move at pace, devoting the same energy, imagination and urgency to Covid recovery as we did to the pandemic, to collectively achieve that change and drive a recovery that delivers for all of Scotland. 

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