If not now, when? - Social Renewal Advisory Board report: January 2021

The Social Renewal Advisory Board was set up by Scottish Ministers to make proposals that can renew Scotland once we start to emerge from the pandemic. The final report “If not now, when?”, sets a course towards this future.

Annex C – Board Recommendations In Programme For Government 2020-21

The Scottish Government's Programme for Government (PfG) 2020-21, Protecting Scotland Renewing Scotland which was published in September 2020 commits Scottish Ministers to take forward a range of proposals presented by the Social Renewal Advisory Board.

Here is the Scottish Government's response to the Board's recommendations from Phase One.

On Place, the Board asked the Scottish Government to strengthen the role of place-making in policy development to encourage collaborative working and support community-led regeneration with strong local involvement. Place-based approaches are at the heart of the Scottish Government's forward programme, with commitments to '20 Minute Neighbourhoods', Community Wealth Building and a Place-Based Investment Programme. PfG has committed to invest £275 million over five years to support community-led regeneration and town-centre revitalisation, including the repurposing of buildings, maintenance and repairs, reallocating external space and community-led land acquisition. This will also support the ongoing work on Clyde Gateway.

On Communities, community anchor organisations – like housing associations and community development trusts – have been crucial to the response to Covid: the Board recommended that the Scottish Government should continue to support community anchors to provide essential services with communities, as it was felt to be a particularly beneficial approach. We therefore commit to using our Empowering Communities Programme to build on the learning from the Covid-19 response and support wider adoption and strengthening of the community anchor model. To do this, we will develop a national framework that supports community capacity and resilience, which will help ensure readiness for any future crisis, and will engage with stakeholders, including equality groups, on this going forward.

On Housing, the Board asked the Scottish Government to do more to make full use of the existing and planned housing stock to provide homes for as many people as possible, including addressing a current shortfall in adaptations which are needed to enable people to stay in their homes for longer or return after hospitalisation. We have now committed to review the current housing adaptations system and make recommendations on how best to improve and streamline the system and maximise the impact of investment.

The Board also asked us to review existing design standards and guidance to drive improvement and innovation across all tenures – we have already done so for the social rented sector and have an ambition to do the same for other tenures.

The Board recommended that we strengthen guidance on discretionary housing payments, and this we are now doing, taking into account the need to support our work to tackle and prevent homelessness: stakeholders will be consulted on this guidance before it is finalised.

The Board also recommended a commitment to permanently prevent a return to previous levels of rough sleeping in all areas and continue to strengthen our national plan for ending homelessness – we commit to both these within this Programme for Government.

On Social Security, the Board has asked for more work to promote benefit take up and to make a benefits eligibility checker available online. This we commit to do, considering which benefits need specific attention and how we can use intermediaries and online content to strengthen our approach.

A further recommendation was to embed Scotland's Social Security principles and human rights-based approach within the local authority level benefits and payments system and we will explore how to take that forward with COSLA.

The Board also asked the Scottish Government and COSLA to work together to build on good practice in relation to automation of payment of local level benefits/payments and to consider a national approach where possible. Automation ensures that all those who are eligible receive support and introduces efficiencies to local authority practice. To support local authorities to implement innovative approaches, we will work with the Take-up Stakeholder Reference Group and Income Maximisation Strategic Working Group – which include representatives of COSLA and local authorities – to develop guidance and resources on best practice.

Additionally, it is widely recognised that one of the main barriers to automation is the requirement to access and manage data appropriately. We therefore commit to working with COSLA to make a joint application to the UK Government's Public Service Delivery Review Board to enable existing legislation to be amended, which would provide local authority partners with access to DWP and HMRC data for the purposes of awarding local level benefits and payments (free school meals, school clothing grants and educational maintenance allowances) – all of which are key to alleviating the impacts of child and family poverty and supporting attendance and learning within education.

Tackling debt is another priority area for action, as the pandemic continues. We are making £2.4 million ring-fenced funding available for debt advice, focusing on innovative and inventive approaches. We are also working with AdviceUK to support smaller-scale, local projects run by its members across Scotland.

Alongside the actions in our Debt Advice Routemap, we will support the debt and broader advice sector to develop a 'multi-channel' approach to advice with phone, online, face to face, and outside of working hours options.

Accessible and affordable credit is key to managing money, particularly for those on low incomes, and another issue where the Board made recommendations. We will work with Carnegie UK Trust and the Affordable Credit Working Group to promote affordable credit and to help people reduce unaffordable debt and arrears. We will consider what more the sector could do and alternative sources of help to augment this, such as from housing associations or employers.

On Fair Work, the Board recommended that we make it easier for employers to support older and disabled workers. We have established a Public Social Partnership to develop and test solutions to barriers employers face in hiring and retaining disabled people, and are scoping a new Centre for Workplace Transformation. We will consult with equality groups on this - a key focus of the Centre's work will be how employers can ensure older and disabled employees, for example, can access, sustain and re-train in quality jobs.

Lived experience was also flagged as key to effective policy development issues for age and disability groups, amongst others. We are committed to embedding lived experience across employability services, which is important if existing labour market inequalities are to be addressed, building on the input from disabled people to A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: Employment Action Plan. We are fully committed to implementing the Action Plan and published our Year 1 Progress Report in March 2020, outlining progress to date in meeting the commitment to at least halve the disability employment gap. We have reviewed proposed activity for this year to ensure it is prioritised to align with Scottish Government's post-Covid recovery efforts.

The Board highlighted the importance of flexible working. PfG sets out how we are investing over £130,000 in 2020-21 to support the development of a network for flexible working with Timewise, a leading social enterprise in this field. The network will provide support to employers and employability advisers on how to encourage and adopt flexible working as a way to increase individual incomes, with a particular focus on the Scottish Government's 'priority families' within our child poverty work. This means a strong focus on equality considerations – age, disability, race and gender, for example - in policy development as this progresses.

The Board also recommended expanding the scale and reach of investment in training and skills with a focus on those most at risk of poverty. We are making progress on our No One Left Behind agenda which aims to support those facing the biggest barriers to employment, including lone parents, disabled people and minority ethnic communities. We will develop and align employability services and upskilling/reskilling opportunities through the expansion of the Flexible Workforce Development Fund, which is expected to meet a range of equality outcomes and the Parental Employability Support Fund, both of which can support women's employability and our efforts on child poverty. We have announced additional investment of £100 million in employability and skills, with at least £60 million intended to support a Youth Guarantee, focusing on the most disadvantaged young people. We are also providing £10 million for a range of measures to recruit and retain apprentices and £25 million for a National Transition Training Fund to provide rapid, high quality and targeted support for up to 10,000 people facing redundancy and unemployment in those sectors and regions most exposed to a downturn.

On Food, the Board raised the issue of food insecurity in school holidays – a problem addressed during the pandemic by continuing to fund free school meal entitlements over the Easter and summer breaks. We commit to exploring with COSLA what more can be done here and anticipate that this will be discussed further in the Board's final report.

In response to the Board's focus on community food partnerships, we recognise that coordinated partnership working in response to Covid-19 has brought together the strengths of different sectors; we will work with the Board to consider how this can be further developed going forward.

On Digital Inclusion, the Board asked that we invest in digital access, connectivity and skills to enable participation across communities of place and interest. The PfG has announced a significant additional investment in Connecting Scotland. By the end of 2021, we will have provided a digital device, unlimited data, and two years of ongoing support and training to around 50,000 low-income families with children, disabled people, young people leaving care, and others who experience disadvantage. Note that this is a significant increase on the numbers announced in the most recent annual Tackling Child Poverty Statement, which committed to lifting 30,000 people from digital exclusion.

On Inclusive Communication, the Board recommended work should be undertaken within Scottish Government and the wider public sector to promote accessible, inclusive communications for all - ensuring everyone can access information on an equal basis.

On Third Sector, the Board asked that issues of Parity of Esteem are recognised and addressed. Further related challenges of unnecessary bureaucratic barriers and the need for longer-term funding arrangements were highlighted. To realise this, a focal point to our commitment will be a programme to "Strengthen Collaboration" between the Scottish Government, Local Government and the third sector in the first instance, and expanded to the rest of the public sector in time. This will be co-produced and backed up by improvement and accountability approaches, with the aim to build wider understanding of the sector and its potential, to develop new leadership exchanges and build skills and confidence in collaboration based on best practice from the crisis.


Email: socialrenewal@gov.scot

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