Since June 2020, the Social Renewal Advisory Board has been discussing and planning a way forward towards a renewed post-Covid future, one with genuine ambition and hope. This report, with its 20 CALLS TO ACTION, sets a course towards this hopeful future and asks national and local government, employers and the third sector to join forces with people and communities to help us get there.
We don't just want to 'build back better', as the recent phrase has it. We want to see a genuinely renewed Scotland, one that proactively addresses the structural inequalities that have been in place for decades. Our focus throughout has been the people and groups most affected by the pandemic and, of course, it is those who were already struggling the most who have been hit the hardest. Covid-19 has shone a light on structural inequalities, poverty and disadvantage and the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on different people and communities. These inequalities were already limiting life chances and the pandemic made them worse. To mention just two examples, the massively differential impact of the virus itself on people from deprived areas or from particular minority ethnic communities, and the range of devastating effects on gendered and disability-related inequality that will set women and disabled people back decades if we do not take action now.
At the same time, the immediate response to the Covid-19 crisis has been shaped by remarkable partnerships across communities, volunteers, national and local government, businesses and a wide range of third sector organisations. Scotland has shown that real change can happen at scale and pace when we work together with values-based leadership, a passion to deliver positive outcomes, flexible resources and empowered communities and teams. We have all demonstrated a real desire to work differently and not to accept the inevitability of the same old failures. We have shown together that we can renew, reform and reimagine.
The speed and effectiveness of our partnership response to homelessness during the pandemic, for example, resulted in a dramatic reduction in the numbers of people sleeping rough, taking us closer to our goal of eradicating rough sleeping. Taking a rights-based and public health-focused approach, national and local government worked with frontline organisations to ensure people had appropriate accommodation, making use of hotel and B&B accommodation as well as drawing on social and private rented sector stock. The action plan building on this response now includes a commitment to end the use of dormitory-style night shelters. Significant change can happen, even in the middle of a pandemic, so just imagine what we can achieve once the pandemic is over.
Of course, it's the case that the report has been written right in the middle of a fast-moving, evolving pandemic with many 'unknowns'.
The Social Renewal Advisory Board process
It was with a vision to harness the power of the response that the Boardwas first brought together in June 2020 by Aileen Campbell and Shirley Anne Somerville, the Cabinet Secretaries for Communities and Local Government and Social Security and Older people, respectively. The Board includes stakeholders from the third sector, think-tanks and universities, equality representative organisations, and Local Government to make recommendations for change that would address the causes and impacts of poverty and inequality. The full membership of the Board is set out at Annex A.
The Board met virtually 11 times over the course of its eight-month lifespan (from June 2020 to January 2021). The Cabinet Secretaries asked the Board "to lead the development of a programme for social renewal following the Covid-19 pandemic that delivers real change. The work will be outcome-led – our ambition is to form a series of proposals at pace, proposals with the power to transform Scotland."
The Board's work had lived experience at its heart. Conversations and discussions took place in 31 local authority areas. 'Community listening events' were held with local people and with four local Poverty Truth Commissions. 'Deep dive' focus groups were organised with equality groups (disabled people, older people, women, and young people). A 'Call for Ideas' asked local and national organisations for evidence of the impacts of the pandemic and their ideas for social renewal, with over 100 responses from across the country. These contributions have informed this report and inspired us and you will see references to these engagements throughout this report, with a summary in Annex B.
The scope of the Board's work has been strongly influenced by the work of the nine 'policy circles' set up by the Cabinet Secretaries. These explored the following themes:
Access to Food
Addressing Low Income
Age and Disability
Communities and Volunteering
Community-led and Place-based Renewal
Cross Cutting Delivery
The Board's work was split into two phases. Phase One was to develop immediate recommendations for the Scottish Government's Programme for Government (PfG) 2020-21 – recommendations included in the PfG are set out in Annex C. Phase Two was to develop bold proposals for renewal, beyond the pandemic and the immediate year, building on the response to Covid-19, which is the focus of this report.
Of course the Board did not work in isolation, and its Calls to Action reflect other work underway over the same period which will be central to recovery. In particular, the Expert Reference Group on Covid and Ethnicity was set up in the early months of the pandemic to understand the impact on minority ethnic communities and to inform the Scottish Government's public health response. Very quickly, it became apparent that the disproportionate impact experienced by some minority ethnic communities was a consequence of existing and deep-rooted inequalities, which risk become further entrenched by the pandemic. The Scottish Government has already provided an initial response to their recommendations, which acknowledges the importance of understanding and addressing these structural inequalities. This work will also inform the basis of the Scottish Government's response to this report.
As we have tried to finalise this report, shortcomings in the process have become clear. In short, trying to plan and write a report about a theme as broad as social renewal, in the middle of a pandemic when everyone is already over-stretched, is highly challenging. For example, capacity issues within an organisation we had partnered with meant that the Deep Dives with minority ethnic communities were not able to go ahead as planned and we had to use other evidence instead, including the two sets of recommendations from the Expert Reference Group on Covid-19 and Ethnicity and reports such as The Impacts Of Covid-19 On Equality In Scotland and Scotland's Wellbeing: The Impact of COVID-19 | National Performance Framework. Also, pulling together recommendations from nine policy circle reports has inevitably meant that there has not been time to work up some emerging ideas for inclusion within this report. But for those who want to see more detail, all the circle reports and our lived experience reporting has been packaged together in the "Supporting Files" tab here.
We also know that many other areas deserve attention – but climate change, environmental justice, physical and mental health, and educational inequalities have not been the central focus of this work. All these are the subject of detailed consideration in other advisory or expert groups reporting to government (see Annex D), and ideally had time allowed, they too would have been included.
About this report
This report calls for action in 20 areas, across three main chapters. Chapter 2 focuses on Money and Work. Chapter 3 looks at People, Rights and Advancing Equality; and Chapter 4 explores issues of power, place and the third sector, via a focus on Communities and Collective Endeavour. A final short section looks at Closing the Gap between Promise and Practice, with a proposal for how we could assess progress towards meeting the Calls to Action.
The many social impacts of the pandemic have been considered in detail in reports such as those analytical papers mentioned above. Third sector organisations have provided additional perspectives on age, disability, gender, race and migration status. Our 'Deep Dives' with equality groups, the community listening events and our Call for Ideas and Evidence have also provided rich, personal and organisational viewpoints. All these have fed into the discussion that follows, in which each call for action is introduced with a short narrative setting out the basics of what we know.
We wanted to make sure these Calls to Action could bring about transformative change. If they are delivered in full, they will. They are bold and in some cases radical. They are informed by an understanding of systemic inequalities and demonstrate deeply held aspirations for equality and social justice. Because they focus for the most part on system change, we know many of them cannot be delivered overnight, but wherever possible we include 'first steps' so action can start now. And, as the title of our report has it, "if not now, when?"
In order for the Board to think freely, this report has been developed independently. The Calls to Action are ultimately those of the Board Members and not politicians. The two Cabinet Secretaries and Cllr Alison Evison, the COSLA President, and Cllr Elena Whitham, the COSLA Community Wellbeing Spokesperson, agreed that the report's proposals should be developed independently of both Scottish Government and COSLA politicians. The Cabinet Secretaries and COSLA politicians have been informed of progress as the report has been developed and an 'Editorial Sub-Group', made up of a smaller group of Board members, has shared initial recommendations asking for views on deliverability and ambition. Both the Scottish Government and COSLA are expected to issue responses to the report at some point after publication.
Equality and Human Rights
Scottish politicians, civil society, and individuals share a vision and long-held ambition to secure legal protection of human rights and to secure the realisation of rights and advancement of equality. The international commitments of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and legislative and policy frameworks for human rights, climate, economic and social justice provide a context for Scotland and our aspirations as a progressive small nation. The experience of many during the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the extent of pre-existing economic and social inequalities, the fragility of public service frameworks and the structures of households, families and workplaces. For women, demands of childcare and unpaid care, their employment status as segregated into occupations that have been traditionally undervalued and underpaid, the experience of the pandemic and policy and organisational responses to it have seen women's unpaid work and division of unpaid domestic labour increase. For disabled people, the withdrawal of care and support services and the absence of consultation, involvement and communication has left individuals and families further marginalised, isolated, their immediate needs unmet and their future relationship with funded services and providers insecure. For minority ethnic people in Scotland, Covid-19 has had disproportionate impacts on their health and economic wellbeing as a consequence of racialised discrimination in employment, housing provision, and household structures.
The ambition of this report and the Calls to Action it contains is to transform these entrenched inequalities and to advance equality through securing the formal rights enshrined in international law: through new ways of working, modes of delivery, power and funding relationships between government at all levels, public authorities, public and third sector organisations and individuals. Although Scotland has obligations under more than 20 international human rights treaties, at present only the European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated at a national level. Following the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which provides important human rights safeguards in the context of EU law, when it is applied at the domestic level, will cease to have effect. The current gaps in legislation and therefore in the integrated practice of public bodies and partners in Scotland mean that immediate action is needed to ensure the protection, fulfilment and respect of rights for individuals.
Core to the ambition of the Social Renewal Advisory Board is our vision of a more equal, just, and progressive Scotland, where individual rights are respected, protected and fulfilled in relation to international human rights law, and the policy and practices of Scotland's public sector and delivery partners. This ambition is entirely consistent and aligned with the aims of the National Taskforce on Human Rights Leadership to incorporate the international human rights conventions in law in Scotland. The taskforce is currently developing approaches of new legislation which will enhance the protection of the human rights of every member of Scottish society.
Our Calls to Action in this report are clear – to incorporate the international conventions, specifically the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNRDP), the UN Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD), the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and the International Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which includes the right to an adequate home.
In addition, we are clear that the existing Public Sector Equality Duty and the specific Scottish duties provide an important mechanism for enabling transformative policy and services in Scotland through integrating equality analysis, identifying and eliminate existing inequalities, and working with and through communities to foster good relations that transform outcomes for people across communities.
Furthermore, our proposals are linked to and acknowledge that Scotland's National Performance Framework explicitly recognises the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil international human rights. The commitments of successive Scottish governments to gender and equality budgeting, and the commitments to human rights budgeting, have the potential to reinforce these calls and to produce improved outcomes across diverse communities and services by mainstreaming equality and human rights analysis and objectives in the process of decision-making on public policy and finance. Improving practice in this way, at all levels of governance in Scotland, would be a very significant step towards a core aim of ICESCR "to secure the progressive realisation of rights through the maximisation of available resources" and ensure a whole systems approach to integrating equality and human rights into policy making and service delivery in Scotland.
Our Calls to Action all aim to improve outcomes for people in Scotland. By acknowledging the poor experiences, persistent discrimination and entrenched inequalities that characterised Scotland before Covid-19 struck, and committing to a social and economic renewal that aims to secure lasting change in the conditions and structures that created and reinforced these inequalities, this report makes practical and urgent Calls to Action for government and its partners at all levels, for communities and for individuals to advance.
Christie and the pre-conditions needed for social renewal
Our Calls to Action have been framed with reference to the Christie Commission's Report of 2011 on the 'Future Delivery of Public Services'. Ten years since the publication of the report, Christie's four pillars of prevention, partnership, people and performance matter as much today as they did then and the need to radically change the relationships between people and services has never been more urgent. Christie was shaped by the dual challenges of austerity and demographic change and its vision now – with the pandemic, Brexit and climate change – matters now more than ever. Our response to these emergencies offers a unique opportunity to radically reframe the Christie principles and make them fit for the next 30 years.
So, what are the pre-conditions that need to be in place to achieve social recovery? Here are five starter points, shaped by Christie, that government and all politicians in Scotland and the wider UK should focus on as we move towards renewal.
First, we need to stop tinkering round the edges and providing mini-pots of funding for policy responses, and focus instead on making sure people have enough money as an essential pre-condition of social renewal. We have a crisis of inequality in this nation that we cannot continue to tolerate. A crisis where sticking plasters fail to address negative outcomes. A crisis of performance in a system that reacts to negative outcomes rather than preventing them happening in the first place. Moves towards a wellbeing economy should be the central goal of every government. If everyone had enough money to meet their basic needs, many of the challenges of food insecurity, funeral poverty, period poverty, furniture poverty, and fuel poverty would disappear almost overnight. So focusing on adequate incomes for individuals – from paid employment supported by social security as needed – is essential to genuine social recovery. That's why we've focused some of our most radical and expensive Calls to Action on Money and Work in Chapter 2.
Second, we need to protect those people and groups who are hit hardest by every crisis. Throughout, we have taken an unwavering focus on prevention. This is one of the mainstays of the Christie Commission. Social renewal enables us to reframe and reset the challenges set out by Christie to take account of new learning, new challenges and opportunities for change. We only have to think of the damage done across a lifetime of experience of child poverty to understand why this is a priority of government and, while we welcome the steps taken by national and local government to date, this priority needs to be backed up by a significant shift of resources towards low-income households. Linked to this, advancing equality and human rights needs to be front and centre – not just of every policy and choice – but of all thinking about the work of the government. At the moment, despite warm words and good and robust practice in many areas, this still is not the case. That's why we've focused on expansion of services and incorporation of Human Rights in Chapter 3 on People, Rights and Advancing Equality.
Third, we need a new partnership between people / government / services that radically challenges our understanding of the relationship between people and public authorities and acknowledges and addresses issues of power and inequality. Partnership needs to be based on responding to the needs of people, communities and places, building on strengths, rather than swooping in to 'fix' things, without taking the time to understand the real nature of the problem as well as what matters to the people organisations are there to help. Who develops policy with whom is one of the central questions of this next decade – one where we can radically shift what happens and how. The idea of the state – government at all levels – being the power that does things to/for people is increasingly outmoded. Many councils have been revisiting their values, culture and behaviours and trusting their citizens as they build new relationships around respect and collaboration. We want to see more of these approaches developed to shift the balance of power in favour of the citizen and some of this thinking appears in Chapter 4 on Communities and Collective Endeavour.
There are several themes that run throughout the report, again with links to Christie.
We need to make sure we embed the best partnership and practice that we have seen from people across the full range of public, third and community sectors during the response. In the midst of a pandemic, we made things happen quickly. We had a clarity of ambition and a common purpose which we need to retain. When we reflect on why we cannot work in these ways as a matter of course, the answer is clear: we can, we just need to decide to do it and be assured that the risk of not doing so far outweighs the risks of change.
We need strong communities and a vibrant third sector, working with national and local government, to deliver the long-term change we are looking to see. It is soul destroying to constantly have to restate the needs of the third sector when it has proved so fundamental to sustaining people and places throughout this crisis. It is time to trust organisations to do good work without onerous requirements, in a way that delivers for and with communities. Equality and inclusion must sit at the heart of place-based working, ensuring that decision-making works for disabled people, minority ethnic communities, young and older people, and women.
We also need a strong focus on place itself. 'Place' is where our homes, schools, health centres, workplaces, shops, physical and natural environments, friends/family and more all interact to support our lives. A place-based approach is simply a more joined-up, participative way to deliver changes to services, land and buildings, and across sectors – all within a place. These approaches aim to bring about increased opportunities for people and communities to shape their own lives and better outcomes for everyone. As we finalise this report, we are all once again required by restrictions to stay local, shop local, and work at home where we can. The importance of good quality local facilities in neighbourhoods where we want to live and work has never been so clear. Place is where all the other Calls to Action come together on the ground and a strong focus on place is required across this report to deliver successfully.
Finally, we need to move equality from the margins of policymaking and service delivery to its very centre. Covid-19 has exposed that failing to deal with structural racism, sexism and ableism is literally a matter of life or death. The aim of recovery must not simply be to restore the status quo, which saw minority ethnic communities, women, and disabled people living with fewer resources, reduced or withdrawn services, at greater risk of violence, harassment, and abuse, and with less influence over the decisions that affected them. More than a decade of 'equality mainstreaming' has not brought about the change we need to see. All public bodies, including the Scottish Government, need to scale up their capacity to address racism, sexism and ableism. Public authorities should also be accountable for their actions to realise the rights set out in international frameworks that Scotland is committed to deliver. We need to be able to demonstrate that we have turned our equality and human rights ambitions into reality.