Programme for Government 2023 to 2024

Focuses on equality, opportunity and community.

This document is part of a collection

Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice

Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP

Strong and inclusive communities, defined by equality and good opportunities, are where the people of Scotland thrive. Communities work best when they work together to improve social justice, reduce inequality and tackle poverty. It is only by continuing to grow and nurture diverse communities in every part of Scotland that we will deliver on our three core missions.

Building on the strong foundations we have laid, driving forward action at greater pace and scale for us to meet our statutory child poverty targets remains at the heart of the work of my portfolio, as it does for all in Cabinet. Due to the policies of this government, an estimated 90,000 fewer children are expected to live in relative and absolute poverty this year, with poverty levels 9% lower than they would have otherwise been.

Only with the full economic and fiscal powers of an independent nation can we eradicate inequality and poverty. In the meantime, we will use our fixed budget and all the powers at our disposal to do all we can to reduce child poverty across Scotland.

Scotland cannot wait for the UK Government to act, so this government is taking action now, delivering vital support to low income families. More than £711 million has been spent in the last five financial years to mitigate the effects of UK Government policy, including investment in Discretionary Housing Payments and the Scottish Welfare Fund. Over 316,000 children were receiving the Scottish Child Payment at the end of June 2023 and the total amount of the benefit paid out since its February 2021 launch now stands at £352 million. This support, which is unique to Scotland in the United Kingdom, has provided families with crucial financial support, reducing poverty and guarding against the full impacts of the cost of living crisis.

Work is ongoing to deliver new Scottish Government social security benefits and ensure Social Security Scotland is providing a quality service underpinned by dignity, fairness, and respect, including through the Social Security (Amendment) Bill.

Practical support continues to be targeted to those most in need. We are supporting organisations through the Social Isolation and Loneliness Fund and have agreed funding for a new £1.8 million Cash First Programme to improve the response to those experiencing financial crisis and help reduce the demand for emergency food parcels, providing dignity and choice.

We are working with Disabled People’s Organisations to implement an Immediate Priorities Plan that delivers actions to help meet the barriers faced by disabled people. In doing so, we commit to improving our own disability competence within government to improve our policy making and its impact on disabled people. In addition, we will continue to work with partners to advance equality for those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. This includes engaging with the Older People’s Strategic Action Forum to identify and develop solutions to barriers faced by older people.

We are committed to our “Team Scotland” approach exemplified by the First Minister’s Anti-Poverty Summit, listening to and working with key partners, campaigners, cross-party leaders and those with direct experience of poverty – helping to inform Scotland’s choices to tackle poverty and reduce inequality.

We continue to look for new and innovative ways to reduce poverty and inequality – this includes continuing our work with the Minimum Income Guarantee Expert Group to consider feasible steps towards delivering a Minimum Income Guarantee in Scotland. The Expert Group will report on their recommendations in 2024. We are calling on the UK Government to legislate to put an Essentials Guarantee in place to adequately cover the cost of essentials, including food, transport, energy and to ensure that deductions, such as debt repayments to government, sanctions, or as a result of the benefit cap, can never pull support below this level.

Ensuring people have a safe and secure place to live is fundamental to delivering our missions. This is why we have laid regulations seeking to extend the emergency rent cap for most private tenants and the additional eviction protections across the majority of the rented sector until 31 March 2024. We continue to work with COSLA to deliver the Ending Destitution Together strategy to support people subject to the UK Government’s increasingly draconian immigration rules and the specific policy of No Recourse to Public Funds – giving crisis funds to people facing destitution and supporting access to legal advice.

We remain committed to delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032 and we are proud that an estimated 3,480 households with children have been helped into affordable housing in the year to March 2023. Keeping social rents lower than market rents benefits approximately 140,000 children in poverty each year. In our response to the recommendations from the Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group, we have set out the actions we will take to reduce the number of people living in temporary accommodation. As part of these actions, we have committed to support a £60 million national acquisition plan in 2023-24 through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme.

The Scottish Government will take action to tackle structural and systemic barriers to equality, including introducing our world leading Human Rights Bill, and I remain committed to ensuring Scotland remains a global leader in Equality, Inclusion, and Human Rights. We are working with COSLA and the Scottish Refugee Council to refresh the New Scots refugee integration strategy. This will continue Scotland’s pioneering and collaborative approach to supporting refugees, people seeking asylum, displaced people, and our communities.

As the conflict in Ukraine continues, Scotland has stood shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainians fleeing the country. We have provided sanctuary for more than 24,000 people displaced from Ukraine since March 2022, 20% of the total taken by the UK as a whole. Our Ukraine Longer Term Resettlement Fund of up to £50 million supports local authorities and Registered Social Landlords to bring empty homes back into use. We have already approved funding for almost 1,200 homes and there is a healthy pipeline of applications and expressions of interest in the Fund. We are also proud to have established the statutory Guardianship Scotland service, investing £1 million in 2023-24 to support vulnerable children who have arrived in Scotland alone.

Delivering in the year ahead

In the coming year, I will take forward the following critical activity.

Tackling poverty

  • Invest £405 million in the Scottish Child Payment this year, improving the lives of over 300,000 children across Scotland while continuing to drive forward cross-government programmes which support the three drivers of child poverty reduction (cost of living, income from employment and income from social security and benefits in kind) in key areas, such as parental employability, early learning and childcare, mental health, transport, and affordable housing – building on our place-based partnership work with local authorities and local partners to change how services are delivered.
  • Establish a new Ministerial group, focusing on the delivery of Best Start, Bright Futures across government to strengthen our approach and more closely co-ordinate policy to maximise impact on child poverty, ensuring that we take a whole family wellbeing approach to our child poverty work, which will enable us to support the Government’s commitment to keeping The Promise.
  • Continue to invest in a package of funding for income maximisation, welfare and debt advice services, supporting at least 40,000 people with free debt advice and increasing the accessibility of advice in education, health and community settings.

Social Security

  • Invest £5.3 billion in Scottish Government benefits in 2023-24, supporting over 1.2 million people, as well as improving the support we provide to carers by introducing the Carer Support Payment to replace Carer’s Allowance in Scotland – working closely with the Minimum Income Guarantee Expert Group to consider the Social Renewal Advisory Group’s recommendation to model a minimum income guarantee for unpaid carers, the majority of whom are women, and who have been hard hit by the cost of living crisis.
  • Continue to drive forward the safe and secure transfer of cases from the Department of Work and Pensions to Social Security Scotland, bringing tens of thousands more people into our social security system.
  • Support families by introducing regulations that remove income thresholds and so increase eligibility for Best Start Foods to around an additional 20,000 people from February 2024.
  • Support care leavers into employment, including through the Job Start Payment, and the Care Experienced Internship Programme at Social Security Scotland, as we work to keep The Promise.
  • Undertake an independent review of Adult Disability Payment to ensure the benefit continues to meet the needs of disabled
  • people, building on the analysis of a consultation on the mobility component of Adult Disability Payment published in August.
  • Support people with the cost of living by increasing the Scottish Child Payment, Funeral Support Payment and all disability and carers benefits in line with inflation.

Preventing and ending homelessness and supplying affordable, safe homes

  • Work with Local Government and stakeholders to reduce the number of people in temporary accommodation by preventing homelessness wherever possible and, where homelessness cannot be prevented, acting quickly to move people into settled homes.
  • Continue to promote Housing First, which offers a mainstream settled tenancy and wraparound support, as the default response for people experiencing homelessness who have multiple and complex needs, including people whose homelessness is made harder by experiences of trauma and problem substance use.
  • Introduce the Housing Bill to create powers for the introduction of long term rent controls – creating new tenants’ rights and introduce new duties aimed at the prevention of homelessness.
  • Invest £752 million this year through our Affordable Housing Supply Programme as we continue to support the delivery of affordable homes to meet housing needs and our longer-term target of 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, of which at least 70% will be available for social rent and 10% in our rural and island communities.
  • Publish a Remote, Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan this autumn to help retain and attract people in rural and island communities – making available up to £25 million from our Affordable Housing Supply Programme budget over the period 2023-28 to identify homes for key workers in rural communities.
  • Complete a stock survey of relevant medium and high rise buildings and introduce a Cladding Remediation Bill to help safeguard homeowners and residents by creating a new power to undertake urgent measures to remediate unsafe cladding that presents a risk to life.
  • Consider the recommendations of the short-life Housing Review Group which will be provided in the coming weeks, identifying those actions that can be taken by local authorities to address existing housing pressures within their current powers and budget – particularly around greater efficiency and effectiveness of resource use.

New Scots, population and migration

  • Transition from an emergency response to support a holistic and rights-based approach to long term integration of people displaced from Ukraine, aligned with an updated New Scots refugee integration strategy.
  • Respond to the challenge of depopulation, which is facing some parts of Scotland, through the publication of an Addressing Depopulation Action Plan, which will consider how we respond to the range of drivers impacting population decline including, but not limited to, access to public services, housing, transport and connectivity.
  • Work with partners to deliver community-driven migration solutions which support local economies and public services and continue to press the UK Government to deliver, in partnership with Scottish Government and local communities, a Rural Visa Pilot.
  • Introduce a Talent Attraction and Migration Service, providing immigration information and advice to employers looking to attract talent to Scotland, as well as supporting
  • people considering Scotland, from across the UK and abroad, as a place to live and work.

Human Rights legislation and equalities

  • Introduce a landmark Human Rights Bill, and invite the Scottish Parliament to bring back the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill for reconsideration stage, to deliver legislation that protects and enhances a fuller range of human rights within the limits of devolved competence – improving the lives of those most marginalised and vulnerable in our society.
  • Publish the cross-government Non-Binary Equality Action Plan and, subject to consultation and parliamentary approval, progress the Scottish Government’s commitment to a Bill on ending conversion practices. As the next step in delivering on this commitment, we will publish a consultation on proposals for legislative change by the end of this calendar year.
  • Publish an Immediate Priorities Plan for disabled people that recognises the disproportionate impact the cost of living crisis and the pandemic has had on this group, setting out clear actions for change.
  • Invest in a new Anti-Racism Observatory which will provide oversight and support for the Scottish Government and the public sector to develop anti-racism approaches, so that we can continue to eradicate racism in Scotland.
  • Consult on a mainstreaming strategy, as part of our commitment to embed equality and human rights throughout government and the public sector.

Supporting and collaborating with the Third Sector

  • As part of our commitment to support the third sector with Fairer Funding we will produce a plan to deliver improvements including greater clarity and consistency of existing arrangements, recognising the sector’s strategic role in enabling the transformation and delivery of person-centred services for the people of Scotland.
  • Building on the recent passage of the Charities (Regulation and Administration) (Scotland) Act 2023, we will work with the third sector and partners to develop the scope for a wider review of charity regulation.



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