1. Background to Equality and Fairer Scotland considerations for Test & Protect
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented demands on the health and care system, as well as policy decisions that have made fundamental changes to everyday life for people in Scotland. The Scottish Government had a duty to protect the right to life, which has necessitated these extraordinary measures to protect public health. Throughout the pandemic, the proportionality of the measures taken and their differential impacts across the Scottish population have been an intrinsic part of the decision making.
Scotland's response to Covid-19 has been developed in recognition of the vital role that all people in society play in protecting themselves and others. The pandemic has required everyone in society to adapt behaviour and learn to live more restricted lifestyles; to observe physical distancing and good hand and respiratory hygiene; and to engage with Test & Protect - our Test, Trace, Isolate and Support strategy to minimise community transmission of COVID-19 in Scotland.
The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) has been embedded in the Scottish Government's approach to developing the policy response to Covid-19. The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) requires public bodies to give due regard to the need to:
- eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation;
- advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not; and
- foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
The policy development approach taken recognises that whilst Covid-19 related interventions may positively impact on one or more groups of people who share one of the protected characteristics, the introduction of that same policy measure may have a disproportionate negative impact on one or more groups of people who share other protected characteristics. Where any negative impacts have been identified, we have sought to address these either as part of initial policy development or as part of the ongoing refinement and evolution of specific policies. We are also mindful that the equality duty is not just about negating or mitigating negative impacts, it also includes the duty to promote equality.
SG recognises that whilst Covid-19 restrictions and interventions are vital to protect people's right to life and to ensure that we protect the public health of society, we recognise that this may have a negative impact on some equalities groups and we have sought to take steps to minimise these impacts as far as possible. The Scottish Government also recognises that these measures are only required to respond to the current set of circumstances, and are only necessary as long as the potential public health benefits can justify any harms caused. Our strategic approach to suppressing the virus to the lowest possible level, and keeping it there, is set out in the Scotland's Strategic Framework publication. In striving to return to a more normal life, for as many people as possible, the Strategic Framework aims to tackle the harms caused by the virus by implementing a Protection Levels approach. The four harms outlined within the Strategic Framework are: the direct and tragic harm to life and health; the harm caused to our wider health and care services; the harm caused to wider society; and the damage inflicted on the economy, employment, and our prosperity.
This approach uses five levels of protection to allow flexibility in responding to outbreaks, either at a national level if required, or more locally if a part of the country has evidenced lower or higher levels of infection.
Due to the rising number infections related to the new B1.1.7 variant and the pressure on our healthcare system, Scotland entered a lockdown on 4 January. The updated strategic framework published in February says that evidence now shows that the additional restrictions imposed since Boxing Day are helping to reduce COVID case numbers, which should progressively ease the pressure on our health and social care services. Our aim continues to be to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, whilst striving to enable the return to a more normal life for as many people as possible.