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.


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. At the time of writing, the pandemic is very much still with us, and evolving in deeply concerning ways, but we should not wait for this crisis to be over to begin to learn its lessons. Indeed, many of the challenges facing public health have been exacerbated by the structural inequalities this report is seeking to address. We must begin to plan and to act now.

The Board met 11 times between June 2020 and January 2021 to develop its ideas. In that time, through a collaborative approach, we've been helped by nine policy groups and a wide range of public engagement activity, including community listening events across 31 local authority areas, four discussions with Poverty Truth Commissions, a set of 'focus groups' (Deep Dive events) with equality groups, and over 100 responses from organisations to a call for evidence and ideas.

We'd like to say a big thank you to everyone who took part – we hope you see your thoughts and ideas reflected in this report.

We have focused our thinking on three key principles:

  • Money and Work – We believe that everyone should have a basic level of income from employment and social security.
  • People, Rights and Advancing Equality – We believe that everyone should see their rights realised and have access to a range of basic rights, goods and services.
  • Communities and Collective Endeavour – We believe that we need to work together to deliver a fairer society and we need to give more power to people and communities and empower frontline teams.

Our work has been shaped by how people and communities, government, organisations and businesses have responded to the pandemic. We've heard countless stories of people going above and beyond to protect those in need; volunteers young and old rallying to help feed families and deliver essential medicines; and organisations of all kinds working in partnership as never before to save lives and protect communities.

The need to advance equality and fulfil human rights has been at the heart of all our work. The pandemic has widened the inequalities that were already harming the lives of too many of our citizens. We are not through this pandemic yet, and its consequences will be felt for decades if we do not narrow inequalities.

Scotland has, since devolution, changed in many ways as a country for the better. We know that wholesale change is still needed but in some areas at least, our approach is building on strong foundations. In the rest of this summary, we have described in simple terms what needs to change based on the evidence we have collected. We have called these ideas 'Calls to Action', because that is what they are – they reflect the urgent need for change. You can find more information about each of them in the main report.

The 20 Calls to Action, if implemented in full, have the power to transform Scotland, focusing on the people mostaffected who have experienced the worst impacts. Many of them focus on changes to the systems that affect all our lives. Most of them ask the Scottish Government and/or Local Government to step up and do more. We recognise that, as a devolved administration, the Scottish Government does not hold all the levers of power and its budget is already under strain from the pressures of the Covid-19 response. Local Government has responsibility for 65% of the National Performance Framework, but faces its own financial challenges. Others – employers, NHS and the wider public sector, third sector organisations – need to do more too, but they are each facing significant demands of their own.

However, not all of this is about money – much of it is about having the right approaches, cultures and values, as well as sharing power more directly.

None of this is easy and we know that some of the response will need to be step-by-step or longer-term. But with tough times come tough choices. The pandemic has shown us just how much change needs to happen and that now is the moment for change. Because if not now, when?

Money And Work

The Social Renewal Advisory Board has called for action in five areas to deliver enough money for a decent life from paid work and social security and to reduce poverty and advance equality.

The pandemic has sharpened our focus, as a society, on the importance of a decent and secure income for a healthy and happy life. So our first call is for the Scottish Government to commit to a Minimum Income Guarantee for all as a long-term aim. Building on the Citizens Basic Income pilot research work done by four councils, research should look at how such a guarantee could be delivered over the longer-term – a floor below which no one can fall. This would explore what levels of income are needed for a decent life (a Minimum Income Standard). It would provide different income levels depending on individual and household characteristics, including factoring in the extra costs of living with disability, ensuring women's independent incomes, and accounting for multi-generational/extended households. As an immediate step, there should be a review of how income and services can be offered to people who have 'No Recourse to Public Funds' – those facing temporary immigration restrictions, who are most likely to be living in real hardship. We know that delivering a Minimum Income Guarantee cannot be done overnight so government will need to take a step-by-step approach to make meaningful progress.
Read Call To Action 1

Living with unmanageable debt can affect people's lives in many ways – and the pandemic appears to have increased levels of indebtedness. So high quality money advice and welfare rights, education and help are more important than ever. Our second call is for the development of an approach to personal debt that is designed around the needs of the individual. This includes ensuring culturally-sensitive money advice and proactive approaches through trusted partners to reach communities less likely to seek money advice, such as certain minority ethnic groups. Debt write-off schemes should be developed to respond to the build-up of unsustainable debt both before and during the pandemic. Money advice services should be defined as essential and statutory. The impacts of existing provision of discretionary and crisis funds should also be reviewed.
Read Call To Action 2

Our third call is for the Scottish Government, employers, employees and other partners to work in partnership to develop a new social contract on Fair Work. As a first step, the Scottish Government, Local Government and the wider public sector should commit to attaching Fair Work criteria to all grants, contracts and funding as standard, unless it can be specifically demonstrated that there is a reason not to do so. A 'living hours' scheme, combined with improved pay and increased flexibility of work, should be trialled as part of improvements to terms and conditions across social care, childcare and across all organisations delivering public services, before being rolled out across the Scottish economy. The public sector's wage-setting, procurement and commissioning powers should be used to drive up pay rates and terms and conditions in the care and childcare sectors.
Read Call To Action 3

The pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on some groups within our society. However, despite the significant amount of investment in the pandemic response, the action does not always appear to be designed so that these groups benefit – a point also made by the Expert Reference Group on Covid-19 and ethnicity. So we call on government and the public sector to focus Fair Work action squarely on the groups most affected by the pandemic. Skills, training and qualifications programmes – with targeted specialist programmes for women, disabled people, minority ethnic communities and lone parents – must be designed and funded to support entry into decent jobs with progression opportunities. Childcare and social care should be designated as key growth sectors in future economic strategies. A proportion of the Green Jobs Fund should be set aside specifically so that people from areas of socio-economic deprivation, women, lone parents, minority ethnic communities, refugees, disabled people, carers and young people can train for and get Green Jobs. There must be an end to the gender segregation that exists in many sectors of the labour market, and jobs such as care, cleaning and retail, primarily done by women, need decent pay. We must strengthen help and support for unpaid carers, the majority of whom are women, who have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. The next Scottish Government should commit to providing unpaid carers with a higher level of income that better reflects the value placed on the care they provide.
Read Call to Action 4

Childcare benefits all of us: parents, carers, employers, communities and most importantly, children. High quality childcare is a critical enabler of women's labour market participation and can help address the impact of unequal sharing of caring responsibilities. Access to enough low or no-cost childcare could offer families a route out of poverty by giving parents, in particular women, the opportunity to do paid work that aligns with their skills and experience. While we want to see all of Local Government delivering the promised 1140 hours of free early learning and childcare as soon as possible, and welcome the progress made despite the pandemic, the next Scottish Government should build on the current commitment with a radical and transformative ambition. Reflecting recommendations from other advisory boards, we are calling for 50 hours per week of funded, good quality and flexible education and childcare for all children between six months and five years old. This should be integrated with a funded or subsidised out-of-school care entitlement to develop an integrated childcare offer from 0-12 years, and include provision that meets the needs of disabled children.
Read Call To Action 5

People, Rights and Advancing Equality

The Social Renewal Advisory Board has issued ten Calls to Action focusing on housing, food, digital, human rights, inclusive communications, hate crime, and migrants' rights.

The right to an adequate home should be incorporated into Scots Law in line with the implementation guidelines on the 'Right to Adequate Housing' set out by the UN Special Rapporteur. We need to understand Scotland's current position and then take the actions needed to embed this right. This is important for all of us, but most of all for those who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness, including migrants. This is also in line with the Expert Reference Group's recommendations on improving data and addressing poor accommodation and overcrowding amongst some minority ethnic communities (recommendation 13). The Scottish Government's Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan must be delivered in full and at pace, giving maximum consideration to implementing the proposals of the Prevention Review Group on a legal duty to prevent. Where people are affected by homelessness, they must have access to safe, secure, suitable and accessible housing as quickly as possible along with any extra support if they need it. The right to an adequate home and preventing homelessness should both be made national public health priorities and integrated with other government strategies, including work to address child poverty and domestic abuse. To make sure our thinking is long-term, current work to strengthen the national plan for ending homelessness should be extended beyond 2023 for a further five years.
Read Call To Action 6

For the right to an adequate home to be successfully realised, government must act so we have enough homes that are secure, warm, accessible, affordable, and not overcrowded, in places people want to live. While Housing to 2040 will provide a blueprint for a housing system based on equality, fairness and social justice, more immediate actions are needed to lay the foundations for achieving this vision. An initial step to increase housing supply is to map the existing stock and expand programmes that convert empty properties into affordable homes for those who need them. Addressing Affordable Housing Need in Scotland Post-2021 will require a new programme for 2021–2026 to provide a minimum of 53,000 affordable homes, including 37,100 homes for social rent, designed to provide suitable housing options that are driven by local need and place-based-approaches. Finally, there is a need for partners to develop a cross-cutting approach to improving quality, accessibility and energy standards for all tenures in both new and existing housing.
Read Call To Action 7

We are calling on government to ensure everyone has access to nutritious, culturally appropriate and affordable food. To deliver this, we must build on the successful partnership approaches of the pandemic and invest in them for the long-term. The use of Financial Inclusion Advisors in schools to support families with financial pressures should be expanded nationwide. Access to food in school settings should be as easy as possible, including breakfast clubs and support in the holidays, with links to worthwhile activities for children and young people. Support for local food should be strengthened by the public sector sourcing more food from local producers and suppliers. To overcome non-financial barriers to accessing food, particularly for older and disabled people, there is a need to invest for the long-term in local shopping and meal delivery services, making more use of school kitchens and wider public sector premises that are community resources and should be available throughout the year for community use. It will be important to work alongside anchor organisations to engage older and disabled people, among others, who can often miss out on 'standard' approaches that overlook problems with access, transport, or support needed.
Read Call To Action 8

Havingaffordable access to digital tools, connectivity and literacy has been crucial throughout the Covid-19 crisis, but some people and some communities are still excluded. So we call on the next Scottish Government to set a target to end digital exclusion in the next parliamentary term. We think this is achievable, bearing in mind the success of the Connecting Scotland partnership between the Scottish Government, local authorities, SCVO, and the third sector. But more investment – and more proactive and tailored approaches – will be needed if we are to meet the needs of those furthest removed and facing a wide range of barriers, including some minority ethnic, older and disabled people. Digital access should be considered as essential for all to avoid a re-emergence of digital exclusion in future years. Read Call To Action 9

Scotland has long benefited from strong 'universal services' – but what is considered an essential service needs to be rethought if we are to address the challenges of the post-pandemic period. We call on the next Scottish Government to commit to the principles underpinning 'Universal Basic Services' thinking and practice to date. Further Scottish development work will be needed to work out the gap between where are now and where we want to arrive at. Universal Basic Services offers a model for greater financial security, with improved and expanded collective services that meet essential needs, whether delivered by the state or other partners. Services should be designed to be inclusive and address barriers faced by women, refugees, older and disabled people, amongst others. In many ways the model builds on the Scottish Government's current approach – for example, the Scottish Approach to Service Design – and there are steps that can be taken now, including development of pilots to deliver reductions in energy, travel, housing and digital costs.
Read Call To Action 10

The next Call to Action is to incorporate key international human rights instruments into Scots Law, in line with the forthcoming recommendations from the National Taskforce on Leadership in Human Rights. This will help address current gaps in the protection of human rights and ensure the fulfilment and respect of rights for all. These are the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the UN Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD), the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRDP) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). These, and the use of refreshed existing mechanisms, such as the Public Sector Equality Duty, offer us the potential to transform practice in the design, delivery, and resourcing of public services, the formulation of public policy and finance decisions.
Read Call To Action 11

Disabled people have seen their rights breached or put at risk throughout the pandemic. We need to acknowledge these breaches and make sure this can't happen in future. The incorporation of the UNCRDP willmean that people can take legal action if their rights are breached.But in addition, a concrete plan of action is needed to provide further support for disabled people. This involves making sure that social security policies support the incomes of disabled people and their families and allow for the extra costs that come with disability. It means making sure that social care proposals currently under consideration take disabled people’s needs fully into account. And it means improving data collection on the wider impacts of Covid-19 and resultant inequalities, including collecting and reporting on the numbers who have died with Covid-19 who are disabled people, older people and carers.
Read Call To Action 12

We have seen the importance of clear and accessible communication during the pandemic, making sure everyone - including those who are visually impaired, British Sign Language users, and those whose first language is not English - can get the information or support they need when they need it. Public bodies should improve their approach to make sure communications are as inclusive as possible. To address this, we call on national and local government to build 'inclusive communication' into all frameworks, including funding requirements. The public sector and recipients of funding should have to demonstrate how they will ensure inclusive communication and accessible processes in their work.
Read Call To Action 13

The pandemic has seen increased reporting of hate crime and foregrounded the importance of tackling issues like racism, ableism and homophobia. We are therefore calling for action to strengthen approaches to address and prevent hate crime and public sexual harassment, which harms individuals and damages families and communities. Hate crime must be addressed for all affected groups. We want to see significant investment in preventative approaches to hate crime, based on evidence of what works. While of course we want to see reductions in experience of hate crime, we recognise it will continue to happen in the short-term. Current reporting mechanisms are inadequate, so we want to see a significant improvement in the accessibility of reporting a hate crime or hate incident over the next five years so that hate crime reporting is more closely aligning with actual incidents. We also want to see an increase in people reporting street harassment to Police Scotland whenever they experience it. Significant improvements to the Third Party Reporting Scheme are needed to deliver this.
Read Call To Action 14

We want the rights in this report to be available to all migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers. This also mirrors the recommendations of the Expert Reference Group on Covid and Ethnicity. However, all of the powers to make this a reality do not lie with the Scottish Government. In order for these rights to be realisable, the UK Government must urgently review the socio-economic impacts of the 'No Recourse to Public Funds' policy, which means that even when some migrants are destitute, they are unable to access public money such as Universal Credit. The UK Government should allow asylum seekers to take on paid work while they are awaiting a decision on their claim. The Scottish Government should clarify whether those with No Recourse to Public Funds can access employability support services and engage with employers to promote the right of asylum seekers to volunteer. It should also conduct a wider review of where existing devolved powers and services can be used to prevent and mitigate the poverty and precarious situations people in the asylum process and those with no access to public funds suffer. This could include clear and comprehensive signposting to all sources of financial and wider support that can be offered to this group.
Read Call To Action 15

Communities and Collective Endeavour

The four Calls to Action in this section focus on giving more power to people and communities, empowering frontline teams, developing new arrangements for local governance, and collectively focusing our thinking, actions, and behaviours on improving places. This is not all about funding: it's about leadership, culture, values and an enduring commitment to change.

Our communities have responded to the pandemic with courage, hard graft, kindness and togetherness, and a renewed Scotland must build on this shared sense of purpose to further shift the balance of power. We are therefore calling on the public sector to give more control to people and communities over the decisions that affect their lives. This is a central recommendation in this report. To get there, we need increased participation, with decision-making as close to communities as possible, taking full account of equality and human rights and enabling involvement of lived experience experts in policy making, and an extension of participatory budgeting, so that communities of place and identity have more say on how public money is spent. More funding and support is needed to help communities buy land or buildings and run them for the benefit of the community so that they become self-sustaining. We also need to publicly and properly value the contributions of volunteers and take a range of steps to make volunteering easier and more accessible.
Read Call To Action 16

Another lesson from the collective response to Covid-19 has been that professional teams that have more flexibility and freedom to prevent or solve problems can quickly build trust in communities and deliver impressive results. These frontline teams are often best placed to help individuals, families and communities. So we are calling on the public sector and other partners to improve service delivery and design by empowering both teams and the people and communities they serve. Teams must be empowered to have more autonomy and choice, be able to take decisions and act quickly and flexibly to solve problems. Service users must be given more say in the services they receive. This means a change in public sector culture; it means a significant commitment to values-based leadership that creates space and gives permission for people to do more within their own roles, taking more ownership of how they deliver; it means embedding agile and streamlined ways of working.
Read Call To Action 17

To build on these new approaches at organisational and governmental scale, we are calling on the public sector and other partners to build on new ways of working, based on what has worked well during the pandemic, and to develop new arrangements for local governance, best suited to the communities they serve. This also mirrors recommendations from the Expert Reference Group on Covid and Ethnicity (recommendation 7). This will help make sure these changes are embedded for the long-term. Actions here include a shift towards long-term systems of risk and reward to bring about a secure and sustainable third sector. We say more about the need to improve the current model of how people are governed locally and for greater collaboration, including on the key issues of public health and health inequalities. We must make sure that the conditions are right so that communities can design and own their response. We should not expect to see a one size fits all approach across Scotland: local arrangements will be different but that diversity will be our strength and we should build on it.
Read Call To Action 18

The pandemic has demonstrated the vital importance of community, neighbourhood and local places. There has been a tremendous effort to look after people in places and to focus efforts rapidly to help those in need. To build on this, we must look to "ground" the benefits of the Calls to Action in this report into building stronger, more resilient, fairer and healthier communities, which meet social, climate and economic equity requirements. This means that all of us must consider how we can collaborate and focus our activities to improve opportunities and advance equality at the local level. This is as true for our island communities as it is for places in the urban central belt, whether at the village, town or city neighbourhood level, or as it is for remote and rural locations.
Read Call To Action 19

Closing The Gap Between Promise and Practice

This concluding section of the report makes a final Call to Action on how the actions in this report can be taken forward.

Our final Call to Action is that decision-makers should commit to co-designing how we measure progress towards renewal. This means opening up the process of assessing how we are faring, with deeper engagement with those people and communities who have first-hand experience of poverty, inequality and restricted life chances. Essential building blocks will include asking tougher questions about how current policy measures contribute to long-term goals on climate change, child poverty, equality and human rights. There will need to be a step change in the collection and consistent use of granular data on equalities and human rights to improve monitoring, alongside independent evaluation of how far investment is driving renewal and for whom. And, 10 years on, we should recommit to the preventative principles of the Christie Commission to drive real change and ensure renewal happens.
Read Call To Action 20


Email: socialrenewal@gov.scot

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