Chapter 2 Evolving Equality Budgeting in the Scottish Government
This is the tenth year that an Equality Budget Statement (EBS) has been published alongside the Scottish Budget highlighting the consistent commitment of the Scottish Government to examining the impact of the Scottish Budget on the diversity of Scotland's population. This approach supports our ambition for a fairer Scotland; an approach which is recognised as progressive and inclusive.
We are not complacent. There is room for improvement in equality and human rights budgeting processes and we are committed to continuing to improve our understanding of inequality of outcome within the limits of technical feasibility and practical resource implications.
The Equality Budget Advisory Group
The Equality Budget Advisory Group (EBAG) has supported the Scottish Government's efforts to bring equality considerations into budget preparations since the early years of devolution. During 2017, EBAG was represented on the Scottish Parliament's Budget Process Review Group (BPRG), discussing the implications of proposed changes on the equality assessment of the Scottish Budget. In summer 2018, Ministers decided that EBAG would benefit from having an independent external chair who could offer additional challenge. In September 2018, Dr Angela O'Hagan was announced as the chair of the group and a workplan was developed and agreed. EBAG has been tasked with working with the Scottish Government to improve equality assessment and to help them identify the range of products that could be provided to improve articulation of the budget over time. The work of EBAG remains extremely helpful to the Scottish Government in setting out its equality assessment, and we remain grateful to its members for their challenge, time and insight.
The Equality Budget Statement Approach for 2019-20
This year's EBS marks its tenth anniversary and accordingly, a clear ongoing commitment to putting equality at the heart of the Scottish Budget. At its most basic level, the Scottish Budget takes the strategic policy direction set by government and builds a budget of revenue raising and spend that reflects these key priorities. Understanding that the people of Scotland are diverse, the EBS then analyses the Scottish Budget in relation to its impact on people who live in Scotland, with a particular focus on their protected characteristics and socio-economic circumstances.
The EBS is a continually evolving process and this year's report includes a number of improvements on previous years. However, as with all EBS documents, the basic principles remain the same - it builds on equality assessments taking place throughout the year alongside stakeholders views to help us to make the best decisions about how to target government resources.
Policy development and this year's EBS have made the most of advances in data to articulate more clearly the inequality of outcomes that need to be addressed by different portfolios. Gaps in evidence remain but there is continued effort to make the most of the core sample surveys implemented by the Scottish and UK Government and to investigate data linkage projects. In the last year, we have continued to boost the UK Family Resource Survey by 50 per cent to allow for good analysis of income and poverty in Scotland; we have boosted the Food and Living Costs survey for the first time to improve understanding of costs of living and indirect taxes; we have developed more robust income questions in the Scottish Household Survey along with other data developments such as questions on kindness and social capital and we have seen helpful results from a data linkage project looking at the future employment and earning potential of UK students. Data linkage projects do not have the same sampling issues as surveys and so allow for more fine grained analysis of impacts by protected characteristic.
Data on the full range of protected characteristics in Scotland is made available through the Equality Evidence Finder. Following a user satisfaction survey the Equality Evidence Finder is due to be launched on a new user-friendly website where it will seek to build on the key National Performance Framework indicators, providing additional quantitative and qualitative data to understand inequalities of opportunity and/or outcome for specific equality groups.
Alongside the Scottish Budget and the EBS, there will also be a published distributional analysis of income tax changes across income groups and with respect to disabled people. There is a clear understanding that revenue should be raised in a way that does not discriminate against any specific group and this analysis identifies the findings.
Future Approaches to Equality Budgeting
The current EBS format has many merits but it is not without criticism. Specific criticisms concern a lack of full transparency on budget options accepted or rejected; a lack of joining up of revenue raising and spend impacts; a lack of consideration of whether the budget was spent in the way anticipated; and a lack of consideration of the cumulative impact of a specific budget over time.
To allow a fuller analysis of equality impacts and in line with the recommendations of the Parliament's BPRG we will be moving to produce future equality budget assessments prior to summer recess. This will allow a more comprehensive approach regarding how the Scottish Government considers equality in the context of the Scottish Budget. It will also help to inform future pre-budget scrutiny by Parliamentary Committees and the Programme for Government.
One additional area that could be explored further is distributional analysis - that is, an analysis of how a given set of policies impact on different groups. Scottish Government already produces distributional analysis for certain individual policies, such as income tax changes. However, to further understand the impact of the Scottish Budget, one approach that can be useful is to analyse cumulative distributional impacts of Scottish policies; adding up direct and indirect taxes, Social Security and spending on public services. An expert seminar held in October 2018 and hosted by the Chair of the EBAG, concluded that despite technical challenges in capturing the entire social contract, there are steps that could be taken to extend and improve the analysis currently performed by the Scottish Government. However, the narrative around such work is highly complex. We need to make sure that analysis does not misrepresent the impact of policies and, to that end, we will further explore distributional analysis during 2019.
A final area where there is room for improvement is in human rights budgeting. This is a relatively new area of work and one in which there are likely to be significant developments over the next six months. The First Minister's Advisory Group on Human Rights will report later this year and we are also aware that the Scottish Human Rights Commission has been undertaking research on good practice in human rights budgeting. These aspects will be picked up in EBAG's workplan with the intention to improve analysis for next year.
Email: Liz Hawkins