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.

3. People, Rights And Advancing Equality

Ten Calls To Action in this section focus on ensuring that everyone has an adequate home; food to live and thrive; full and affordable access to services and the digital world and to the information they need – online or otherwise – to lead their best lives. Everyone means everyone, including asylum seekers and refugees, who have made Scotland their home. And everyone should have the power to exercise their rights, free from hate, stigma and discrimination.

What Do We Know?

Evidence shows that we are not keeping up with housing need. Issues such as an ageing population, homelessness, and poverty and inequality are driving demand for more affordable housing on a significant scale. The impact of the pandemic will further increase the need for affordable housing. While the ban on evictions offers some temporary protection, paying missed rent back in the future may be challenging. The number of people at risk of homelessness could increase with the economic impacts of Covid-19.

Existing studies have also shown the negative impact of living in unsuitable, inaccessible temporary accommodation, particularly for women and children and disabled people. This is supported by the lived experience examples submitted to the Housing System policy circle, which highlight further examples of domestic abuse victim-survivors either being housed in refuges which do not meet their needs or being allocated unsuitable properties. There were also reports of limited temporary accommodation options for wheelchair users. While these are only a few examples, they highlight the need for those in need to be able to access safe and affordable accommodation which meets their needs and for this accommodation to be provided as quickly as possible.

During the pandemic, particularly in lockdown, many people found that it wasn't easy to work from home or self-isolate in overcrowded housing. Overcrowded housing may be one of the reasons why minority ethnic communities have been additionally at risk from Covid-19. Poor and overcrowded housing was an issue raised by the Expert Reference Group on Covid-19 and Ethnicity, which outlined the risks for some minority ethnic groups, such as migrant workers, asylum seekers and Gypsy/Travellers. In addition, the Expert Reference Group noted the need to address the low proportions of minority ethnic people in social housing, which links to the housing quality issue. The report also highlights the various housing and homeless issues facing minority ethnic groups and suggests a number of recommendations, including the need to have reliable and up-to-date data and the need to close evidence gaps and identify solutions.

Those who lacked space found dealing with the unexpected childcare and home-schooling requirements that resulted from school and early learning and childcare closures even more of a problem, and one that again disproportionately affected women, especially lone parents and those with larger families. This was intensified for disabled women, where social care packages had been compensating for inaccessible housing, but were cut at the outset of the pandemic. LGBTI people were also less likely to have a comfortable home life, with more than one in three stating they needed to hide who they were at home. Women who experienced domestic abuse during lockdown were unable to have the perpetrator removed from shared housing or to access adequate refuge or emergency housing provision.

The Poverty Truth Commission work and evidence gathered by the Housing System policy circle also highlighted the need to improve housing quality standards across all tenures, including a suggestion of minimum standards on fixtures and fittings. alongside concerns about access to repairs during the pandemic. There were also examples of the frustrations arising where tenants or neighbours had not been involved in design or planning processes and concerns about private housing developments, whereby the cheapest or easiest solutions are implemented with little engagement with those who will actually be living in or near the development.

People's access to a decent home that meets their needs is connected to the widest range of social and health outcomes. With people spending more time indoors at home during the national lockdown, the necessity of housing being affordable – including all costs, like heating – was thrown into sharp focus.

  • "I have a pay as you go meter for my gas I'm struggling to keep this topped up and worry some weeks I'm not going to have hot water if [the lockdown] goes on into the colder months I worry I won't be able to top it up for heating." – Dundee Fairness Commission

To address these concerns, Call To Action 6 asks the Scottish Government to legislate to incorporate in domestic law the right to an adequate home. Realising this right will require more safe, warm, accessible, affordable homes, available in the places people want to live – this is the focus of Call To Action 7.

Food insecurity was a challenge well before the pandemic, with the Scottish Health Survey showing 9% of adults worried about running out of food because of lack of money or other resources. Children, lone parents, minority ethnic communities, disabled people and those living in areas of multiple deprivation were identified as being most at risk. The significant government investment in food support – through shielding boxes, support for free school meals in lockdown and across the school holidays, and for emergency food providers – has been very welcome. Despite this, being able to afford food remains a key concern for many, with the Food Standards Scotland monthly survey (for September 2020) showing 18% of adults worrying about affording food in the next month, a decrease from the peak of concern in May 2020 (25%). We know, from before the pandemic, of mothers going hungry so that their children can eat. Given anticipated growth in unemployment, it is likely that food insecurity and demand for emergency food aid to continue to rise in coming months – indeed the Trussell Trust predicts a 61% rise in food bank use among its network.

How food insecurity is addressed is crucial. The need for dignity and choice in the response was highlighted by the Poverty Truth Commissions:

  • "Financial support is important so people have the power and resources to purchase food and choose what they eat."
  • "Cash given to families to support purchase of food while school have been closed over summer means a lot to families. This gives them dignity and choice. They can shop where they usually shop and purchase fresh food."

During the pandemic, non-financial barriers to food also emerged clearly, including physical and digital barriers, the availability of appropriate food, the reduced availability of social care support to access or prepare food and the resilience of local food systems to meet diverse nutritional needs, with older and disabled people being particularly affected. The Deep Dive with Older People described just how hard non-shielding older people had found buying groceries during the first lockdown and, even when things improved with priority hours access to supermarkets, one older person commented that she was made to feel guilty by other shoppers for moving to the front of the queue.

Accessing culturally appropriate food is an issue that people from minority ethnic communities who access Self-directed Support experienced before the pandemic, as a recent report makes clear. Glasgow Disability Alliance research heard these and other related problems on food:

  • "My shielding packages have stopped but I still can't physically get to the shops."
  • "There's volunteers helping people with shopping in my area but I've no money to pay them, and the foodbank doesn't deliver."

The pandemic has shown us that working in partnership across the public and third sectors and with the private sector can deliver a partially effective emergency food response, but that there are still people who were struggling to enjoy their right to food. Many people did not get access to culturally appropriate food or food that met their medical or health needs. With this in mind, Call To Action 8 asks government to do more to address the financial and non-financial barriers to ensure everyone can access nutritious and affordable food.

The pandemic has also shown us the real benefit that digital inclusion can bring to people and communities. The Connecting Scotland programme is a partnership between Scottish Government, SCVO and local authorities, supported by a range of organisations across the country. It has been doing a great job getting digital devices, training and support out to older and/or disabled people, families with children, care leavers and registered care homes. The programme aims to get 50,000 digitally excluded households online by the end of 2021.

Many services, like education, have been moving online, and being able to engage and communicate using digital technology is now more important than ever. However, some people may not be able to benefit – again because of affordability and skills – and a move towards online service delivery can be a source of anxiety:

  • "[I have] worries about my children's education – limited internet access means they would have trouble schooling from home." Scottish Refugee Council
  • "Digitally excluded people were disadvantaged as so much is being done online. These disadvantages also showed a lot for groups such as people with learning difficulties." – Community Listening Event

Other barriers in accessing digital services also exist. For example, we know that older and disabled people are less likely to have access to the internet. The Scottish Household Survey tells us that 38% of people over 65 did not have internet access. Many others do not have the skills or confidence to use digital tools or may face language or literacy barriers. This has been a particular challenge during the pandemic. Our Community Listening Events and the Deep Dive with Older People drew this out as an issue:

  • "The loss of activities has had a detrimental effect on the older population. Many struggled with digital technologies and there is no Wi-Fi in sheltered housing." – Community Listening Events
  • "The drive towards services like digital banking and online shopping, ultimately meaning less face to face interaction, [there is] a growing fear that technology was leaving older people behind… a loss of control over their lives was a major issue when discussing this topic." – Deep Dive with Older People

Young people in Great Britain were more likely to experience loneliness during the early stages of lockdown. So, although many young people will have grown up with digital devices and will have smartphones, it shouldn't be assumed that all young people, particularly young carers and those living in poverty, will have access to a device and data to keep in touch with friends and family.

Bearing in mind the increasing importance of digitalisation in our society, and to ensure that everyone can have affordable access to digital tools, connectivity and literacy, Call To Action 9 asks the next Scottish Government to set an ambitious target to end digital exclusion in the next parliamentary term.

The pandemic has also demonstrated the importance of basic services in providing protection to groups at risk from emergencies like Covid-19. Call To Action 10 therefore calls on the next Scottish Government to adopt the principles of 'Universal Basic Services', to ensure as far as possible that all citizens have access to a range of expanded services to meet basic needs. The young people we spoke to highlighted this ambition as something very important to them. They saw particular benefits from access to transport and the internet as these support access to other services and opportunities, in turn supporting their wellbeing and ensuring they are connected no matter where they live. For older young people, fuel and energy costs were seen as key, with transport one of their biggest expenses, which can be a barrier to accessing employment too.

This report has already discussed how particular groups have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 crisis. That's why Call To Action 11 is to incorporate key international human rights instruments into Scots Law – for disabled people, minority ethnic groups, and women, as well as on economic, social and cultural rights for all – to address current gaps in the protection of human rights and ensure the fulfilment and respect of these rights.

The pandemic has highlighted several failures in protecting the basic rights of disabled people. For example, problems in the social care system were evident before the pandemic, but became particularly acute in the early days of lockdown. For various reasons, social care packages were cut in some cases and this left people without the support they needed. This led to people going without food, medicine and healthcare, people being left in bed all day, a lack of personal care, loss of social interaction, and heightened pressure on families and carers.

  • "When the pandemic hit [disabled] people had their support reduced or stopped entirely – with the expectation that family, friends and neighbours would step in – relatives were themselves high risk, or were frontline workers having to take on additional caring responsibilities between shifts." – Deep Dive with Disabled People
  • The Deep Dives with older people and disabled people discussed this issue – both agreed that the guarantee of basic services was an issue central to their lives and that "Social Care should be at the top of the agenda".
  • "All participants were gravely disappointed that a [social care] system that had been set up to assist the most vulnerable members of society had been withdrawn from many disabled people when they actually needed it the most and all wished this to be noted from their discussion." – Deep Dive with Older People
  • The official policy was for services to be replaced with signposting and wellbeing calls to check in whether people were coping without their usual supports. However, hundreds of [Glasgow Disability Alliance] members shared their experiences during lockdown, of having care cut indefinitely, with no notice, and never received any check-in or follow up calls. – Deep Dive with Disabled People

People in receipt of social care should never be put at risk in this way again. That is one reason why, in Call To Action 12, we ask for a concrete plan of action to help realise disabled people's rights in full, including an essential focus on good quality data, proper social care and adequate incomes.

We have seen the importance of clear and accessible communication during the pandemic. Everyone should be able to get the information or support they need when they need it. However, there were mixed views about the clarity of Covid-19 communications, as our Community Listening Events heard:

  • "It pains me to say it but I can't fault the Scottish Government. They have been very good at keeping everyone informed."
  • "I work with many non-native speakers and they told me they felt very anxious because they couldn't understand the guidance from the government."
  • "The daily briefing from the Scottish Government [was] incredibly helpful. Clear communication and helpful comments. We need strong local messages and clear communication if we have local lockdowns."

Good work was happening. Our Call for Ideas heard from one local authority project to provide Covid-19 Emergency Information in different languages and formats – audio, large print and other formats for people with sensory impairments; Easy Read for those with Additional Support Needs. The Mental Health Foundation, which is part of Scottish Refugee Council's online forum for community groups, used its funding to translate specific guidance related to Covid-19 into Welsh, Arabic, Tigrinya, Farsi, Somali, French and Urdu. This resource is free on their website and contains information on mental health tips, support when working from home, and how to look after your mental health coming out of lockdown.

But there was not a consistent picture. Glasgow Disability Alliance members highlighted the lack of accessible information and inclusive communications during the pandemic. Members shared examples of local authorities and housing associations repeatedly refusing or failing to provide accessible information, to the extent that disabled people have been pushed into debt. More action was felt to be needed to address this:

  • "Services and facilities across all sectors need capacity building and incentives to make their information accessible and inclusive, as this is the first hurdle to disabled people being able to access them." – Deep Dive with Disabled People

That's why, in Call To Action 13, we call on national and local government to build 'inclusive communication' into all frameworks, including funding requirements, to ensure that all those with specific communication needs – some from minority ethnic groups, some older and some disabled people – have those needs met.

Call To Action 14 calls for strengthened action to address and prevent hate crime and public sexual harassment. In the period from April to June 2020, the number of hate crimes reported in Scotland was 5% higher than at the same time the previous year, with the increase showing from mid-May. An increased reliance on social media may also have had negative impacts. Young people in Scotland aged 12-24 found that almost six in 10 had seen prejudicial posts, comments and/or attitudes increase online and more than four in 10 had seen more racism. More than one third reported an increase in homophobic material, with higher rates of online bullying and prejudice perceived by LGBTI respondents. There has also been a reported increase in hate crime towards disabled people from a number of Disabled People's Organisations, because of some disabled people being unable to wear a mask.

Call To Action 15 calls for the rights in this report to be available to all migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers. The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the devastating consequences of the UK Government's 'No Recourse to Public Funds' (NRPF) policy, which means that even when some migrants are destitute, the state cannot give them public money.

  • "Many families [with NRPF] from the [minority ethnic] community relied on the income coming from their employment as they are not eligible for benefits. These groups of people were not protected from contracting Covid-19 or preventing the spread of the virus when infected." – PTC Report

No Recourse to Public Funds is an area that the Expert Reference Group on Covid-19 and Ethnicity commented on, noting that the Scottish Government should review the nature of the restrictions, and produce a strategy within those restrictions which can navigate how they can be overcome.

The human rights situation for refugees and asylum seekers is difficult and will worsen with recent changes at the UK level to the Immigration Rules and the Sovereign Borders Bill. This is a population with high levels of mental health need stemming from forced displacement and a UK asylum system characterised by persistent delays in making early decisions that result in good-quality outcomes. Whilst waiting, asylum seekers are left in severe poverty with very few routes out. Their economic and social human rights are undermined because the UK asylum system: a) prohibits work; b) gives financial support at half the value of social security minimum; and c) provides accommodation, increasingly institutional, often of poor standard and in the most deprived areas in the UK under the dispersal system. In general, there is no or little realisation of human rights for asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. This is most acute in the asylum system, but it is common also for those in resettlement schemes, especially in terms of high levels of unemployment and isolation. Direct funding, devolved and local government control over asylum or resettlement programmes, and the involvement of charities and communities are needed if real progress is to be made for asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.

We now go into more detail about each of these Calls To Action on People, Rights and Advancing Equality, beginning with four essentials that everyone should always have an adequate home, food that's nutritious and affordable, digital access and participation, and a guarantee of basic services for all.

Call To Action 6

Incorporate the right to an adequate and accessible home in Scots law

Our Aspiration – The right to an adequate and accessible home should be enshrined in domestic law in line with the implementation guidelines on the 'Right to Adequate Housing' set out by the UN Special Rapporteur. This is important for all of us, but most of all for those who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness, including migrants and those people, predominantly women, affected by domestic abuse. We need to understand and respond to the circumstances that can threaten that right for women and people who are older, disabled, or from minority ethnic communities.

How Do We Get There?

1. Conduct a systematic analysis of Scotland's current position and then take the actions needed to embed this right. A commitment in the Scottish Government's Housing to 2040 strategy will be welcome. As a first step to achieve these ambitions, government needs to conduct a systematic analysis of the current position of Scotland against its aspiration to make the right to an adequate home a recognised human right. The former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing set out clearly the 16 steps to be taken to establish and embed this right. We recommend this is used by the Scottish Government and all partners working together to benchmark the current position and commit to a route map of actions that lead to the establishment of the right to an adequate home in Scottish law. A key consideration here will be how the right to an adequate home in practice can advance equality – for example, it should ensure that a gender analysis is included in that process and particularly for defining security, peace and dignity in the home. Reliable and up-to-date data for minority ethnic communities, in line with the recommendations of the Expert Reference Group on COVID-19 and Ethnicity, will also be needed.

2. Make the prevention and ending of homelessness a national priority for the next parliamentary term. National and local government and the third sector have shown great commitment to the implementation of the plan to end homelessness. All elements of the plan must be delivered in full and at pace, giving full 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 stable, secure, suitable and accessible housing as quickly as possible along with any extra support if they need it. Preventing homelessness, including women's 'hidden' homelessness, and the right to an adequate home 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.

3. Address gaps in financial housing support. The Scottish Government and partners should identify gaps in financial housing support and provide adequate resources to address these gaps. This should identify the groups who are most disadvantaged by the current system or likely to face the most severe financial impacts of the pandemic. This may include those who are in or at risk of rent arrears, private-renters in high-cost areas, fuel poor households, victims-survivors of domestic abuse, low income families, students, young people, disabled people, minority ethnic workers, the self-employed, Gypsy/Travellers and those with 'No Recourse to Public Funds'. In line with the Calls to Action in the Money and Work chapter, this will require a combination of:

  • working with the UK Government to consider further flexibilities for social security in Scotland (e.g. review of Local Housing Allowance rates)
  • maximising existing social security flexibilities in Scotland (e.g. Discretionary Housing Payments, Scottish Welfare Fund)
  • developing new financial support mechanisms to support vulnerable groups (e.g. funds for 'move in ready' homes, tenant hardship grant, bundle packages for utilities)

Call To Action 7

Make sure there are enough safe, warm, accessible and affordable homes in places people want to live

Our Aspiration – Everyone should have access to an affordable home that meets their needs. Our vision is that the housing system provides the right home, for the right person, in the right place, at the right time. This means that there must be enough homes and that they are secure, warm, accessible, affordable, and with enough space for everyone, in the places where people want to live.

How Do We Get There?

The pandemic has shown us that homes not only make lives, they save lives. Scotland has a strong track-record of providing affordable, accessible, high quality homes for those in the most need and we need to build on this success. We also need to ensure we deliver successful places and communities which meet peoples' needs (see Call to Action 18 for further proposals on place-based approaches). The work of the Housing System policy circle provides more detail and some longer-term proposals on how this can be achieved in a way that reflects the Board's principles of equality, fairness and social justice. This work is feeding into and influencing the Scottish Government's Housing to 2040 plan which will be published shortly and which will provide the blueprint for the future of a housing system in Scotland.

To achieve the right to an adequate home and respond to what people are telling us, specific actions are:

1. Address housing affordability. As well as ensuring that help from financial support mechanisms, including social security, are in place to meet housing need and establishing a clear framework for assessing housing affordability, improved data collection is needed on rent levels in the Private Rented Sector (PRS). This would help set up Rent Pressure Zones, where they are needed, to tackle excessive rent increases in local areas.

2. Increase housing availability. Partners should commit to fully using the existing housing stock to increase availability and provide accessible homes for as many people as possible. This could be achieved through a substantial and accelerated programme of acquisitions in the second-hand market, targeted according to need. This should also include provisions to map the existing stock and resources to convert empty homes in all sectors back into use as affordable homes.

3. Commit to long-term planning and investment. Government should develop a new National Housing Strategy which delivers both the supply of housing and the broader vision of a well-functioning housing system for Housing to 2040. Addressing Affordable Housing Need in Scotland Post-2021 will also 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 which are driven by local need and place-based approaches, as well as reducing inequalities in access for disproportionately disadvantaged groups.

4. Improve standards and guidance. Partners should develop a cross-cutting approach to improving quality, accessibility and energy standards for all tenures in both new and existing housing. This should involve working with national representative bodies to assess the cumulative impact of regulatory, legislative and compliance requirements (e.g. Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing post-2020, Scottish Energy Efficiency Private Rented Sector Regulations) and their impact on rent levels, affordability and fuel poverty, ensuring that these offer positive outcomes for tenants and communities.

5. Ensure communities are at the heart of planning and placemaking policies

Homes play a vital role in placemaking and we need to build communities with the services and facilities, including housing, which communities themselves design while making sure these are locally sustainable and resilient. Local authorities should be appropriately resourced to enact new Planning legislation and ensure individuals and communities are able to meaningfully participate in decision-making and Local Place Plans (see Call to Action 18). The forthcoming National Planning Framework (NPF4) should elevate the importance of placemaking, including housing quality and location of housing (taking into effect its energy use implications through transport).

Call To Action 8

Ensure everyone can access nutritious, culturally appropriate and affordable food

Our Aspiration - Scotland should take active steps to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger, which commits us to integrated approaches that respond to the multiple, interconnected causes of hunger and malnutrition. This means that everyone should have a sustainable and secure income that protects them from food insecurity. Where financial hardship does occur, cash-based support should be readily available so that food aid is rarely required. A multi-sectoral approach should be in place to meet households' whole and diverse needs - financial, material and social - with dignity, aiming to prevent future crisis. This includes support for those older and disabled people who have particular access needs. Action to tackle food insecurity seeks to build local food resilience in partnership, including through public sector and community food. Scotland's recovery from the pandemic requires fit and healthy citizens – it's important for public health that all have fair and equal access to good nutrition.

How Do We Get There?

1. Invest in local food partnership working. Local food partnerships have been essential to the pandemic response. We need to build on this, with a multi-sectoral approach to developing and strengthening referral pathways, responding to food insecurity in a dignified whole-person way, and improving food access with a view to reducing the need for food aid and preventing future crisis.

To deliver successful partnerships will require ongoing flexible investment, guidance and a culture of shared practice and continuous improvement that helps us towards dignified food access. We have seen good practice on food provision for those whose circumstances require direct delivery in our communities that needs to continue and be strengthened. Dignified access to food - whether as parcels, shopping, hot or pre-prepared meals that are tailored to need – should include an opportunity for social and cultural participation and access to wider support where needed. Partners should be working with communities to connect activities, establishing robust referral pathways between community food organisations, advice services, the Scottish Welfare Fund and other support services to meet whole needs. This should include those groups, like disabled people, who routinely miss out on community responses. Crisis support should continue to be delivered as cash wherever possible to reduce the need for food aid. We also think there's a need to encourage proactive, preventative income support, such as Moray's Flexible Food Fund – see case study box.

Case Study: Moray's Flexible Food Fund (FFF) aims to provide financial support to individuals and families finding it difficult to afford food during the Covid-19 crisis. FFF payments are a monthly contribution towards food costs based on the size of the household. The fund is administered by the council's Benefits Service via their Money Advice Moray (MAM) team. This approach allows the FFF to be provided alongside advice on other benefits and available grants (including Scottish Welfare Fund, Council Tax Reduction, Housing Benefit); budgeting support; debt advice; and support with disability benefit appeals. The MAM team will also make referrals to other support services - such as mental health, housing, and employability support - and will help clients to access other local third sector support.

2. Invest in public sector food to increase access to nutritious, culturally appropriate food for all and build greater local food resilience. Public sector food is an established route to supporting households, and has many objectives beyond tackling poverty.

School meals and the role of the schools in our communities are a good source of support that can be expanded. Access to food in school settings should be as easy and as rewarding as possible. So, there should be consideration of how auto-enrolment can be made to work and we should look to regularly involve pupils in reviews of all types of food provision in school to boost take up of meals. Of course, food insecurity for families is driven by low income, so the work underway in many areas to bring Financial Inclusion Advisors into schools to support families with financial pressures should be expanded nationwide. We should be expanding current provision for all to include breakfast clubs, possibly after-school meals, and doing more in the holidays, including possible connections to rewarding activities. Recent announcements by politicians of various parties on these points are very welcome. Our Deep Dive with Women highlighted the importance of expansion of free school meals:

  • "Committing to a universal free school meals approach can significantly reduce health and educational inequalities and help many families who struggle with in-work poverty but do not currently fit qualifying criteria for such schemes."

Local food economies should be strengthened in a number of ways, including by the public sector food and drink procurement, sourcing food from, for example, local producers and providers. The Scottish Government's offer on the Best Start Foods programme could be improved by collaborating with local food businesses. More should be done to purchase surplus direct from producers and encourage the donation of surplus for social good.

School kitchens and wider public sector premises are public resources and should be available throughout the year for community use and to better enable local food provision. Making best use of schools, early years settings, care homes, hospitals and other facilities could help deliver services in a more efficient and collaborative way. Good practice in overcoming barriers to access should be shared.

3. Tackle non-financial barriers to food. Many people, especially older and disabled people, experience non-financial barriers to food including physical and digital barriers and issues around the availability of food and the resilience of local food systems to meet diverse nutritional and cultural needs. It is important to be clear that drivers of financial and physical barriers to accessing food are usually separate but related and will intersect.

To overcome non-financial barriers to accessing food, there's a need to invest for the long-term in local shopping and meal delivery services, and these must be knitted together with other local services. For example:

Case Study: Food Train, a Scottish charity, makes hundreds of grocery deliveries every week for older people, providing vital services to those who are no longer able to manage independently, through age, ill health, frailty or disability. The charity, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, delivers support across nine local authorities. Teams of local volunteers help with household jobs, delivering books from their library service and providing friendly social contact and meals through befriending services. It runs a Scotland-wide Meal Makers service which matches volunteers with an older person in their community to share weekly home-cooked meals.

A practical approach, tailored around people's food needs, can also help tackle isolation and support public health and provide access to wider services. This doesn't necessarily need to be delivered by local authorities and defined by geographical boundaries, but could make use of public kitchens, community organisations and existing routes to people's homes like the postal service.

Finally, the supply chain issues we were concerned about during the pandemic are not going away. There are risks from the changes brought in by Brexit but, still more worryingly, the likelihood of increasing weather-related disruption. All of us, working in partnership, need to develop a proactive approach to food availability, resilience and response planning that involves producers, suppliers and retailers and provides fair access in all parts of Scotland.

Read the 'Access to Food' policy circle report here.

Call To Action 9

Set a target to end digital exclusion in the next parliamentary term

Our Aspiration – Affordable access to digital tools, connectivity and literacy – digital inclusion – should be available to everyone. It enables participation and inclusion across communities and can "level the playing field", including for those such as disabled people or those living in remote areas who can't always participate in face-to-face activities. The huge shift to digital seen during the pandemic has been a lifeline for many. It has enabled people to access health and legal services, to buy food and other goods, and to remain connected to friends, family and the wider community. The Board believes that everyone should have access to digital kit, data and services and that our initial emphasis should be on those most digitally excluded. However, a goal for the Scottish Government should be an end to digital exclusion in the next parliamentary term, with the potential for digital access as a future right.

How Do We Get There?

1. Set a target to end digital exclusion in the next parliamentary term. Targets can, in some cases, usefully drive action. We think that an ambition to end digital exclusion in the next five years is achievable. The next Scottish Government should commit to setting and meeting such a target over that timeframe.

2. Deepen the Connecting Scotland partnership between the Scottish Government, local authorities, SCVO, and the third sector to ensure capacity and delivery that meets the needs of all citizens. The Board acknowledges the Scottish Government's significant investment in digital access, connectivity and skills. However, to end digital exclusion once and for all, further commitment and additional resources will be needed.

3. Consider creating a duty on public bodies to enable digital access. This would ensure that digital exclusion does not re-emerge as technologies change. This could be along the lines of the duty under Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Person's Act 1970 which compelled local authorities to provide a range of services.

4. Ensure that those who can't or don't want to use digital are not left behind. We know that some older and disabled people, amongst others, find it very difficult to use digital. People with literacy problems are also likely to struggle without significant support. We cannot end one form of exclusion only to create another. So parallel opportunities to engage – as well as or instead of digital - must be available and being planned to ensure inclusive and accessible communications for all.

Call To Action 10

Adopt the principles of Universal Basic Services

Aspiration – Scotland has long benefited from strong 'universal services' – services that everyone can expect to support them through their lives. We think the current set of universal services needs to be re-imagined and expanded if we are to address the challenges of the next decade. So we are calling on the next Scottish Government commit to the principles underpinning 'Universal Basic Services' thinking and practice to date. Further Scottish development work will be needed to close the gap between where are now and where we want to arrive at. In particular, the Scottish Government should develop pilots to deliver reductions in energy, travel, housing and digital costs, which will reduce and then remove the poverty premium facing low-income consumers.

How Do We Get There?

1. The Scottish Government should adopt the principles of Universal Basic Services as a long-term aim in Scotland. Universal Basic Services offers a model for improved and expanded collective services that meet essential needs, whether delivered by the state or not. 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 to make it happen.

2. The Scottish Government, working with communities, local authorities and key stakeholders, should reconsider what are defined as essential and statutory services. For example, social care is currently being explored as a potential universal service, funded through taxation and delivered alongside the NHS.

3. The Scottish Government should undertake feasibility studies into piloting approaches to delivering a Universal Basic Services approach in practice in Scotland. Prioritisation for services under consideration should be based on key costs for individuals that drive insecurity, and should be tailored to different peoples' and groups' needs. Universal Basic Services should not mean one-size-fits all state-run services, but should offer inclusive services, ensure that services deliver equality and fulfil human rights, and offer agency and choice for citizens, a range of ways to provide collective services, and take full account of the intersectional nature of financial insecurity.

In particular, the Scottish Government should undertake pilots into specific actions that could deliver reductions in energy, travel, housing, childcare and digital costs, working with regulators and providers where possible. This has potential to contribute towards our national efforts to tackle child poverty. These could include:

Ensuring housing with liveable rents, including new income-based rental agreements which guarantee that housing costs never surpass a certain level of affordability (e.g. 30% of income).

Social tariffs for broadband and other essential digital services – providing free and discounted digital access to low-income families across Scotland. This would obviously link into the previous Call to Action on digital inclusion.

Providing some element of free (or as close to free) heat and power each day/week for low-income households. This could include consideration of strengthened social tariffs for heat and power, making use of fuel vouchers and existing benefits to target those in fuel poverty and reviewing existing support for peoples' heating bills (such as Winter Fuel Payments, Warm Home Discount, Winter Heating Assistance, Cold Spell Heating Assistance).

Extension to travel discounts and free public transport provision – as Covid-19 restrictions begin to be removed and as part of Scotland's net-zero ambitions between now and 2045.

The next Calls To Action focus on basic rights to ensure everyone can participate fully in a renewed Scotland.

Call To Action 11

Incorporate key international human rights instruments into Scots Law so as to deliver real change

Our Aspiration – The Scottish Government should incorporate key international human rights instruments into Scots Law, in line with the forthcoming recommendations from the National Taskforce on Leadership in Human Rights, to 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) (already being taken forward by a Bill in the Scottish Parliament); the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UCRDP); 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.

How Will We Get There?

1. Involve Rights holders fully – from the very beginning – in the process to incorporate these conventions into domestic law. This will be essential for these conventions to have a meaningful impact on everyday lives. Lived experience will need to be at the heart of
co-design and implementation.

2. Fund awareness and understanding of these new rights. In practice, this will mean resourcing civil society organisations that represent the groups who are to benefit so people can be informed and supported and be able to take legal action if their rights have been breached.

3. Co-produce delivery on key dimensions of these rights. Incorporating rights in law will only be meaningful if accompanied by action - planned and embedded in partnership with rights holders and duty bearers - to shift policy, practice and organisational cultures, to enable the rights to be enforced, upheld and become a reality in people's day to day lives. It also means eliminating discrimination, for example, by ensuring an inclusive education system and ensuring that people are protected from all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse.

4. Take action to recast and realise the full potential of the Public Sector Equality Duty. Alongside these rights, existing mechanisms must play their full part in advancing equality and human rights. In particular, the Public Sector Equality Duty needs a full review and refresh as it has not delivered the change we need to see. We are pleased that such a review has now been announced by the Scottish Government. The review must involve equality stakeholders throughout and must be able to deliver radical reform to the content of the Scotland-specific regulations and their implementation, where needed, so that its original promise can be delivered.

5. Commitment to integrate equality and human rights budgeting in the Scottish Budget process to ensure that needs are reflected in policy and resource allocation processes through the Scottish Budget to public authorities charged with delivering on the National Outcomes.

Call To Action 12

Take action to realise the human rights of disabled people

Our Aspiration – The last Call to Action focused on the incorporation of human rights conventions, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. A concrete plan of action is needed if those rights are to be realised fully. For example, to deliver for disabled people, a focus on good quality data, proper social care and adequate incomes is essential. Steps for each of these are provided here. We want to make sure that disabled people can live full lives and participate alongside their peers, with support and choices.

How Do We Get There?

1. Improve data collection on the wider impacts of Covid-19 and resultant inequalities, including collecting and reporting the numbers who have died with Covid-19 who are disabled people, older people and carers. Priority should be given to the collection and use of Covid-19 data disaggregated by disability (for example people with Downs Syndrome are 10 times more likely to die than other people), as well as age and ethnicity.

2. Ensure that social security policies support the incomes of disabled people and their families, allowing for the extra costs that come with disability. Disabled people are the only group who have had no increase in benefits so far and given that it is more expensive to live as a disabled person - e.g. extra costs for transport, heating, holidays - the Board feels that this should be rectified. This could be done by:

  • Improving the adequacy of Disability Assistance.
  • Reinstating the Independent Living Fund (ILF) Scotland and Northern Ireland. This should be reopened to new applicants, with a few improvements, to deliver funding directly to people with highest needs and ensure money intended for social care support is spent on social care support. We know the ILF works and we know it can be delivered.
  • The 'Care Tax' - Social Care charges - should be scrapped for social care support so that disabled people of all ages and their carers benefit. This 'Care Tax' pushes some disabled people into poverty and drags others, already on low incomes, further beneath the poverty line. These charges also create work disincentives for both disabled people and carers.

3. Ensure social care proposals currently under consideration take disabled people's needs fully into account. A key element of living independently is being able to access social care when, where and in what way it is needed. We look forward to the outcome of the planned Independent Review of Adult Social Care and set out here additional actions that could be taken to improve social care services. These include:

  • Exploring the concept of a National Care Service (separate from NHS but working closely together). This should be inclusive of third sector providers, free from profit-driven targets and free at the point of access, wherever you are and whatever your social care need.
  • Carers should be able to access short breaks and replacement care. Carers must be able to combine caring with employment, education, training and leisure.
  • Disabled people's access to vital services should be accelerated to mitigate unequal impacts of the Covid-19 restrictions and beyond on physical and mental health and life outcomes including: Healthcare; Social Care; Housing; Mental Health Supports; Wellbeing Support - including support established during the pandemic.

Read the Age and Disability policy circle here.

Call To Action 13

Build inclusive communication into all national and local government funding requirements

Our Aspiration - Clear and accessible communication is always important but never more so than during the pandemic. During the first lockdown, when face-to-face communication was severely restricted, TV, radio, online messaging and even national helplines were pivotal in ensuring everyone received timely information in a format and language that was accessible to them. What this demonstrated was that for effective action that has broad buy in, or when communicating what local support is available, it is important to have clear and accessible public messaging that everyone can benefit from.

How Do We Get There?

1. Inclusive communication should be built into all national and local government funding requirements. We know that this isn't always considered by public bodies and lived experience suggests that complex application procedures in relation to financial or other support was a barrier to older and disabled people, including those with learning disabilities, and some minority ethnic communities, accessing that support. Learning from this and in addition to what is set out above on Access to Digital, the Board recommends that inclusive communication is built into all national and local government frameworks including pandemic responses and all related communications strategies. These should routinely consider British Sign Language, sub-titling and minority languages, as appropriate. Inclusive communications should also be built into funding requirements. This should require the public sector and recipients of funding to demonstrate how they will ensure inclusive communication and accessible processes in their work.

2. The UK Government should be encouraged to adopt inclusive and accessible communications in its approach to benefits. Social Security Scotland – the agency managing devolved benefits in Scotland - is working to a strong principle of inclusive and accessible communication but UK reserved benefits cannot be accessed in the same inclusive way. The UK Government should be encouraged to learn from this best practice.

Call To Action 14

Strengthen measures to prevent and address hate crime and public sexual harassment

Our Aspiration - Hate crime currently covers disability, race (and related characteristics), religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity, with the Hate Crime Bill adding age and, perhaps, sex to that list. Hate Crime and public sexual harassment harms individuals and damages families and communities - it must be addressed for all affected groups. Significant investment in preventative approaches are needed. While of course we want to see reductions in experience of hate crime, because current reporting mechanisms are inadequate, a significant improvement in the accessibility of reporting a hate crime or hate incident is needed over the next five years. Action here should help ensure that hate crime and public sexual harassment reporting more closely aligns with actual incidents. Significant improvements to the Third Party Reporting Scheme are needed to deliver this.

How Do We Get There?

1. The Scottish Government should place significant investment on preventative approaches to hate crime and public sexual harassment, based on evidence of 'what works' to create attitude and behaviour change, e.g. positive messaging campaigns.

2. The Scottish Government should fund organisations independent of the criminal justice system that have the confidence of the communities they serve and that support the victims of hate crime and public sexual harassment.

3. The Scottish Government should also invest in a rebranded and revised Third Party Reporting scheme. This investment would ensure that those affected understand and acknowledge what constitutes a hate crime; also, that this should not be accepted or tolerated and finally, that they can be supported to report these incidents in a safe and supportive third party environment. Additional benefits of this investment will include raising awareness, providing peer support and access to positive roles models, addressing stigma and prejudice, effective use of the laws on hate crime and sentencing, positive role-models, and wider education on tolerance.

4. Government must learn from the work of the Misogyny Working Group, chaired by Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, which will identify approaches to tackling public harassment of women specifically.

Call To Action 15

Apply the rights and entitlements in this report to all migrants

Our Aspiration - Scotland warmly welcomes all migrants and we are playing a critical role particularly in ensuring displaced families have a new place to call home and a chance to build new lives and contribute to Scotland's future. Migrants who have settled in Scotland are part of our communities. They are our work colleagues, our neighbours and our friends. It is in this spirit that the Board wants to see the rights outlined above and throughout this document extended to all migrants including refugees and asylum seekers. This will become an increasingly important priority as the implications of Brexit begin to impact people's lives.

How Do We Get There?

1. Fully explore all possible powers/levers to prioritise refugee integration. Refugees and asylum seekers are assets to our communities and, as they rebuild their lives here, they help to make Scotland stronger, more compassionate and more successful as a nation. Therefore, the Scottish Government, COSLA and Scottish Refugee Council should work in partnership to lead the implementation of the current New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy, fully exploring and applying all possible powers and levers in Scotland to prioritise refugee integration, enjoyment of rights and incorporation of actions in this report. This should include developing dedicated national Public Health Scotland guidance on refugees and asylum seekers and migrant rights in the Covid-19 recovery phase.

2. Engage with employers to promote the right to volunteer of asylum seekers and encourage employers to recruit refugees into their workforce. In the immediate term, the Scottish Government should engage with employers to promote asylum seekers' right to volunteer, and review guidance to employers so they understand the right to work of refugees and asylum seekers, how to make their workplaces attractive and more accessible and why having a diverse workforce meets business needs.

3. Conduct an urgent review of the socio-economic impacts of No Recourse to Public Funds. There should be collective representations to the Home Office and HM Treasury for urgent review of the socio-economic impacts of No Recourse to Public Funds on migrant populations in Scotland and the ability of Scottish public and third sectors and communities to prevent and meet increased needs. The Scottish Government and COSLA Anti-Destitution strategy - to prevent and mitigate destitution of those subject to No Recourse to Public Funds - should be published and funding should be provided to take action as a result.

4. Conduct a review on the case for policy or executive devolution of asylum support policy. The Scottish Government should conduct a review on the case for policy or executive devolution of asylum support policy – with adequate UK resources – and on the basis of a clear inter-governmental arrangement and Memorandum of Understanding with the Home Office and HM Treasury. Such devolution must be on basis of powers of formal oversight by Scottish Ministers and local authorities over Home Office contractors and a commitment to UK-funded refugee dispersal and no use of institutional accommodation for asylum seekers.

5. Scottish Government should strengthen its ask of the UK Government to allow asylum seekers to work while they are awaiting a decision on their asylum claim and clarify whether asylum seekers and migrants with No Recourse to Public Funds can access employability support services. Allowing asylum seekers to lawfully carry out paid work whilst their application is being considered could help to mitigate the worst of these impacts and so the Scottish Government should increase their calls on the UK Government to allow this. In the same vein, the Scottish Government should clarify whether asylum seekers and migrants with No Recourse to Public Funds can access employability support services. The Scottish Government and COSLA Anti-Destitution strategy must be published and fully resourced so it can mitigate and prevent harm to those in the asylum process, as well as migrants also caught up in the NRPF regime. This links to the anti-NRPF commitments in the updated Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan and the Everyone Home Together Route Map against migrant destitution in Scotland.

6. Push back against enforced migrant removals. The economic recession from the Covid-19 pandemic combined with the end of the Brexit transition has created a perfect storm for an escalation of exploitation and vulnerability of migrants in Scotland. This could increase migrant homelessness and is particularly concerning in the light of recent changes to the Immigration Rules which will make rough sleeping a basis, with no safeguards, for refusal of or cancelling leave to remain. This may deter vulnerable migrants and refused asylum seekers from accessing support. Enforced removals may be attempted by the Home Office. It will be important for the Scottish public sector, especially Ministers, Police Scotland and local authorities to push back against any use of this in Scotland.


Email: socialrenewal@gov.scot

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