- 8 Jan 2021
Attendees and apologies
- Christina McKelvie, Minister for Older People & Equalities (Chair)
- Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government, Housing & Planning
- Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Children & Young People
- Clare Haughey MSP, Minister for Mental Health
- Elena Whitham, Cllr & Convenor of COSLA Community Wellbeing Board
- Joe FitzPatrick MSP, Minister for Public Health, Sport & Wellbeing
- Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Business, Fair Work & Skills
Guest Speakers – Third Sector
- Suzanne Munday – MECOPP
- Maureen Finn – STEP
- Lesley Drury – Article 12
- Charlotte Donaldson
- Davie Donaldson
- Michelle Foy
- Rochelle McGavin
- Virginia Francis
- Susan Townsley
Items and actions
Welcome and Introductory Remarks
Ms McKelvie welcomed everyone to the seventh meeting of the Ministerial Working Group. She acknowledged that since the last time the group met, circumstances had changed in ways no-one could have predicted because of the Covid19 pandemic.
Ms McKelvie explained that while we have done our best to make progress on the Action Plan, some things may not have been possible due to Covid restrictions. However, we have also put in place new support for Gypsy/Travellers affected by the pandemic.
She finished by saying that despite the on-going public health crisis, Scottish Government remains committed to making as much progress as we can on the Gypsy/Traveller Action Plan over the next six months.
Covid19 – What we have we done to support Gypsy/Travellers during the pandemic?
Ms McKelvie then outlined the ways in which the Scottish Government has supported Gypsy/Travellers. This has included additional funding of £150,000, which was used to provide additional sanitation for roadside, public and private campsites (including 36 toilet and 4 shower units); as well as providing specific support to Gypsy/Travellers through our third sector partners.
Suzanne Munday explained that MECOPP set up two services. This was the Wellbeing Support Line; conducted via telephone, Skype and email. It was run by 3 professional counsellors, and is on-going for the winter period. The second was a Financial Support Service, which ran 4 days a week and was set up to ensure community members were aware of all benefits they were entitled to and how to access them [NB since this meeting the Scottish Government has extended funding to these two projects, which will now run until the end of March 2021].
Maureen Finn described how STEP distributed digital kits to families, in order to improve digital access. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages were also set up for families and teaching staff to work together through. Some families were also given additional support to set up and use the digital kits.
Lesley Drury described how additional funding to Article 12 enabled them to support young people to get online. Via funding from outside Scottish Government, they also acquired data cards and Chrome Books which they were able to distribute to families struggling with digital access. They have also played a key role in setting up and running the pandemic-focused Gypsy/Traveller Facebook Page, (which they are continuing to moderate), as well as co-running the Gypsy Roma Traveller Month celebrations alongside MECOPP for 2020.
Community Perspectives on living through the pandemic, focusing on areas of continued concern
Community members described their experiences of the pandemic to the Group:
- Some said they had felt isolated and unsupported. This was particularly (but not only) true for older people
- The impact on mental health was also raised, with concerns about people being reluctant to seek help due to stigma within the community
- Difficulty of self-isolating safely on some sites, which made shielding particularly hard
- Digital access, especially with regards to education, has been a continuing concern for Gypsy/Travellers living in some areas (although in other areas there was good provision and support)
- Financial worries were raised as a concern, with people having used up savings during the earlier lockdown and unable to earn over the summer months due to restrictions
- Some community members felt they may have missed out on the support that was available, either because the information on how to access it was unclear, or due to discrimination
- There was concern that because of the pandemic, the focused work with the Gypsy/Traveller community would be put on the back burner
Ms McKelvie invited Cllr Whitham – convenor of COSLA’s Community Wellbeing Board to respond to the community concerns, and to provide an update from a COSLA perspective. Cllr Whitham notes that:
- COSLA’s Community Wellbeing Board will discuss issues with support packages, which should be a standard part of the public health response. They will also be looking into the need for additional sanitation going into the second wave lockdowns. The expectation is that this would be provided by local authorities.
- Concern with the problems people have faced accessing educational support. We will look into this to see if we can address inconsistencies.
- COSLA will seek feedback from the National Support Line, as this needs to be more widely publicised (and will help make people aware of how to access local support if they are self-isolating)
Gypsy/Traveller Action Plan – updates on key areas of progress one year on from the launch
Minister for Local Government, Housing & Planning
Kevin Stewart confirmed that due to the Covid19 restrictions, not as much had been achieved in Accommodation as they had hoped for. But he provided an update on some of the areas of work where progress had been made. This included:
- The More & Better Accommodation Delivery Plan was agreed in December 2019, with the Covid19 Framework for Decision Making & Monitoring following in March 2020.
- £2 million was allocated to local authorities in March for this financial year, in order to make immediate improvements to existing sites (over and above minimum standards) – but this work has been delayed by the pandemic. Residents should be hearing from providers soon about how to get involved in how the money is spent on their site going forwards.
- The Negotiated Stopping Pilot was launched of 1 September 2020. Work is ongoing on this.
- The Fuel Bank Foundation, in partnership with Scottish Government, has developed a referral system through MECOPP to provide emergency top ups over lockdown. This has been extended to March 2021. The value of each payment has also been increased from £30 to £49, to reflect the change in season
Minister for Children & Young People
Maree Todd reflected on the severe impact Covid19 has had on younger people. She echoed Maureen Finn of STEP’s concerns that more needs doing in this area. She also noted that Scottish Government are aware that not having digital access impacts on education, social security and general social inclusion. Gypsy/Travellers should be supported to address this.
After reviewing the National Improvement Hub’s resources for practitioners relating to Gypsy/Travellers, it was decided that a resource was needed that would pull all relevant information about supporting them in education together. This will include data on educational outcomes, legislation, professional learning and other resources. As a result of this review, the ‘Supporting Gypsy/Travellers in Education National Improvement Hub Page & Resource’ was published in August 2020.
Minister for Mental Health
Clare Haughey discussed the huge impact the pandemic has had on the nation’s mental health.
- She agreed that as a result, substantial investment is needed in digital / telephone support services as we more forwards. Currently there are Breathing Spaces and NHS24 which are available 27/7 and nationwide.
- A Wellbeing Hub for Health & Social Care staff has been set up, to give both practical and emotional support – as well as signposting to other organisations. This is also open to unpaid carers, including Gypsy/Travellers
- She emphasised that as we moved through the pandemic, we need to keep mental health at the top of the agenda. As a result, the Mental Health Transition & Recovery Plan has been launched. It has 100 Actions to tackle stigma; highlight specialist services and ensure the existing ones are present and responsive to the community’s need
Questions & Discussion
Ms McKelvie invited questions and discussion, and the following points were made:
- There is interest in whether or not the Action Plan will be extended beyond 2021, due to the delays caused by Covid19
Ms McKelvie confirmed that while the current plan runs up to the election, there was strong cross party support and so we would expect ongoing support for Gypsy/Travellers after the election.
- Plans for community engagement were mentioned
Suzanne Munday explained that a new member of staff had just been appointed at MECOPP to lead the Women’s Voices project – and that they will be taking the lead role in this. We are continuing to discuss what is possible with immediate restrictions in place, and how we can progress with community engagement despite this
- Ms McKelvie suggested that she and Cllr Whitham set up regular meetings to check in with community members, in order to hear how things are going on the ground.
Ms McKelvie thanked everyone for attending the meeting and for their contributions.