Publication - Advice and guidance

Equality Budget Advisory Group: recommendations for equality and human rights budgeting - 2021-2026 parliamentary session

Published: 8 Jul 2021

Recommendations for the 2021 to 2026 parliamentary session from the Equality Budget Advisory Group.

Equality Budget Advisory Group: recommendations for equality and human rights budgeting - 2021-2026 parliamentary session
Introduction

Introduction

The Scottish Government has been formally conducting equality analysis of its budget for twelve years, with a commitment to gender budgeting repeated over an even longer period. A key part of this is the Equality and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement (EFSBS, formerly the Equality Budget Statement) which is published alongside the Scottish Budget. Analysing budget proposals for their projected impacts on people with protected characteristics and those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage is an important part of ensuring that Scottish Government meets its legal requirements under the Equality Act 2010, the Public Sector Equality Duty, and the Fairer Scotland Duty. These duties enable Government to make sure that it is making good use of public money to support those who need it most and to achieve positive outcomes.

Scottish Government is in a strong position, having set out a National Performance Framework (NPF) centred on wellbeing. This national framework provides an important opportunity to expose and understand the structural inequality within Scottish society and to be able to develop clear national priorities for action. It is our view that the NPF could work harder in providing a ‘north star’ for decisions on policies, spend and evaluation. Key to this will be a good understanding of structural inequality in national outcomes by protected characteristics (and their intersections), socio-economic disadvantage, and inequality in the achievement of associated rights.

Scottish Government has been praised for its early approach to equality budgeting, and efforts to continue to improve the EFSBS have continued in recent years. It is clear that there is more to be done. Recent analysis [1] by the Scottish Human Rights Commission has highlighted specific areas for improvement, and the commitment to incorporation of international human rights law in the next parliament offers a significant opportunity. Likewise, the work led by the Scottish Exchequer on fiscal transparency aligns with many of the recommendations and practice developments proposed by EBAG over a number of years and are reflected in the actions in this development plan.

In relation to the EFSBS, recent improvements have aimed at streamlining it and better integrating it into core budget processes, but it remains a largely post-hoc narrative and equality budgeting throughout the rest of the year remains limited. Although there is a strong narrative around tackling inequality and promoting human rights from the Scottish Government, this is not yet fully supported by consistent, high-quality equality impact assessments which examine policy and impacts on spend. In addition, there is little evidence that the EFSBS document or process influence budget decisions, and equality and human rights budgeting are not yet fully embedded into Scottish Government’s budget process. The recent Calls to Action in the final report from the Social Renewal Advisory Board (SRAB) [2] on actions for a sustainable recovery post-Covid included a specific recommendation for the Scottish Government to commit:

“to integrate equality and human rights budgeting in the Scottish Budget process to ensure that needs are reflected in policy and resource allocation processes through the Scottish Budget to public authorities charged with delivering on the National Outcomes.” (Call to Action 11.5, p.41)

Specifically, SRAB agreed that:

“Furthermore, our proposals are linked to and acknowledge that Scotland’s National Performance Framework explicitly recognises the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil international human rights. The commitments of successive Scottish governments to gender and equality budgeting, and the commitments to human rights budgeting, have the potential to reinforce these calls and to produce improved outcomes across diverse communities and services by mainstreaming equality and human rights analysis and objectives in the process of decision-making on public policy and finance. Improving practice in this way, at all levels of governance in Scotland, would be a very significant step towards a core aim of ICESCR “to secure the progressive realisation of rights through the maximisation of available resources” and ensure a whole systems approach to integrating equality and human rights into policy making and service delivery in Scotland.” (p. 14)

This paper therefore sets out reflections on practice and attempts to offer some diagnostic observations on integrating equality and human rights analysis that inform a set of recommendations for action ahead of the next Scottish Budget and throughout the new parliamentary term (2021-2026). These recommendations are for both Ministers and senior Scottish Government officials. They are intended to be applied from 2021, following the commencement of the next Parliament, and we recognise that many will take time to implement. Additional recommendations will be developed for the Scottish Parliament because we also recognise the critical role of scrutiny in furthering these processes.

Appendix 1 summarises the recommendations presented in this paper. They cover four key areas: processes; communications; organisation and culture; and knowledge and understanding. These were formulated on the reflections of, and deliberative process within, EBAG, and more widely with officials throughout 2020. 

The recommendations are founded on the basis that equality and human rights budgeting is a year-round process. They need to be heavily aligned to the development and implementation of the revised Mainstreaming Strategy. The primary intended outcomes from improvements to equality budgeting are that:

  • current inequalities across a range of diverse lived experiences and characteristics are understood by policy makers at all levels
  • equality and human rights objectives are visibly and meaningfully integrated into the formulation of policy and spending decisions so that national priority policy objectives drive spending allocation (i.e., money is targeted towards achieving identified core policy outcomes)
  • policy objectives and spend allocations are evidenced and transparent
  • equality and human rights analysis of projected outcomes from policy and spend is embedded into policymaking and conducted proactively and earlier than it currently is (in time to influence policy and spend decisions)
  • a more consistent culture of evaluation is developed to improve understanding of what works and what provides value for public money in realising outcomes
  • thorough equality and human rights analysis maximises the potential for policymaking and its attached spend to effectively realise the national outcomes
  • knowledge and understanding on equality and human rights is improved at all levels of government

In addition to Equality Budget Advisory Group discussions, this paper has also been informed by findings from the Scottish Human Rights Commission’s Open Budget Survey 2019 [3] and feedback collected anonymously from Scottish Government staff who worked on the 2020-21 EFSBS. [4]  Beyond these reports and activities, there is further work to improve the budget process and to integrate equalities and human rights analysis through initiatives such as the wellbeing economy, children’s rights budgeting, and calls for intersectional gender analysis in the budget process from the National Advisory Council for Women and Girls. It is also important that similar processes around the appraisal of budget decisions in terms of climate change targets are considered in order to ensure that budget appraisal processes are complementary rather than competitive and lead to better policymaking and outcomes.

These are all positive calls that reinforce the significance of the budget process within the policy process, and the related documentation, as a means for advancing equality and the realisation of rights and ultimately people’s wellbeing as measured through the NPF. These analytical approaches are complementary and should not be regarded as in competition with one another, but rather as combining to make for more effective policy and better outcomes from public finance decisions.

Recent developments

While still a work in progress, Scottish Government has made a number of changes in the area of equality budgeting in recent years. These include:

  • in 2018, the Equality Budget Statement was expanded to look at spend in relation to socio-economic disadvantage. It was subsequently renamed the Equality and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement (EFSBS), in 2019

  • the 2019 and 2020 Programmes for Government (PfG) included basic equality analysis of proposals reflecting the imperative of prioritising the actions that will have the biggest impact on the outcomes in the National Performance Framework (NPF)
  • the Equality Budget Advisory Group has also done significant work to help policy areas to develop their data and evaluation needs so that they are in a better position to understand the impact of spend (and of cuts) in their area. These include:
    • trialling new tools in the 2020-21 EFSBS for analysing Level 3 spend and a template to be completed for spend over £100m. These tools aimed to help portfolios recognise, and provide narrative around, work to tackle inequality. Officials that used the tools found them useful, which resulted in significant improvements to chapters, but many did not use the tools. Even where they did, further development was still required to analyse the portfolios or the budget overall. However, the tools have been helpful in driving forward equality budgeting processes throughout the year – for example, they helped to inform the PfG approach and have the potential to help improve the quality of impact assessments by highlighting issues at an early stage
    • a new approach was developed for the 2021-22 EFSBS, built on learning from previous years, which aimed to provide a more concise document requiring less resource to complete. It involved a two-stage process. The first stage was for each portfolio to develop a one-page narrative setting out portfolio priorities for the year. This provided opportunity for portfolios to highlight any specific initiatives developed to tackle inequality. The second stage involved portfolios completing a template to show explicit links between identified key inequalities of outcome (proposed by analysts from Communities Analysis and the Office of the Chief Social Policy Adviser, then discussed and agreed with local analysts and portfolio teams), the action being taken, and the associated spend. These completed portfolio narratives and templates formed an annex to the main body of the EFSBS, which consisted of a short strategic overview drawing out key points from across the templates. This approach was intended to produce a clear, concise and logical EFSBS allowing for more informed understanding and scrutiny of the budget objectives

Over recent years, further action focusing on budget transparency, improved articulation of human rights and equality objectives, and expanded participation has been a feature of civil society advocacy in relation to the budget. Furthermore, the Scottish Government has made a series of commitments to improved transparency and participation through the Open Government Action Plan, and the acceptance of the Budget Process Review Group recommendations which also included specific actions on equalities and human rights analysis, the use of the Medium-Term Financial Strategy, and additional reporting and evaluation at different stages of the budget process. These are reflected in the discussion and recommendations in this paper, and reflect the proposed actions emerging from the fiscal transparency project underway in the Exchequer.

Key areas for action

The recommendations presented in this paper cover four areas, each of which are discussed in turn:

  1. Processes
  2. Communications
  3. Organisation and culture
  4. Knowledge and understanding

[4] The survey was conducted via Questback and emailed to all EFSBS portfolio leads and assistants within Scottish Government, with a request to also forward the survey to any policy or analytical colleagues that they had worked with on the EFSBS. The survey was open for 10 days, from 11 – 21 February 2020 (following publication of the Scottish budget on 6 February 2020). The survey received a total of 22 responses.


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Equality Budget Advisory Group