Social Renewal Advisory Board: our response

The Scottish Government’s initial response to the Social Renewal Advisory Board’s Report “If not now, when?”.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Response

During this past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives on a dramatic scale. The direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic have been devastating for individuals and communities across the whole of Scotland, with particular impacts for those living in areas of multiple deprivation, children and young people, older people, disabled people, minority ethnic communities and women. The joint Scottish

Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) report on Scotland's Wellbeing: The Impact of COVID-19[2], published in December 2020, highlights that people and communities who were already struggling are being hit hard. This is driven by reduced income as a result of job loss, reduced working hours, the inequalities arising from furlough and what happens when furlough ends. With unemployment predicted to rise in the medium term and already affecting particular sectors, this negative impact will likely be exacerbated unless strong action is taken.

The Scottish Government has already acted quickly to support people and communities, doing all we can to protect people's jobs, homes, living standards and access to necessities. In doing so, the Scottish Government has invested more than £1 billion in additional resource since the onset of the pandemic to support people impacted and build resilience in public services[3].

This funding has supported councils, charities, businesses, third sector and community groups to allow them to deliver swiftly and directly for the people of Scotland. They have risen to the challenge and have shown compassion, ingenuity and innovation in how they have worked together in partnership. All this has demonstrated that real change can happen at scale when we work together at pace, with flexibly and passion to deliver positive outcomes for our communities.

This additional resource includes over £140 million to tackle food insecurity, including over £50 million to continue Free School Meal provision during school closures, holidays and period of online learning up to Easter 2021, while promoting dignity through a cash-first approach. We have also launched a Community and Third Sector Recovery Programme, now backed by £40 million, to help the third sector continue support to people and communities in responding to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

Moreover, as part of the 2021-22 Scottish Budget, we will make over £100 million available to local authorities to support people on low incomes. This includes a £130 Low Income Pandemic Payment expected to benefit around 500,000 households receiving Council Tax Reduction. We have also extended this funding to support other households, including those living in temporary accommodation and care leavers. We estimate that around £65 million will be paid to people through this measure. We will also provide two Family Pandemic Payments, worth £100 for each child, for those who are in receipt of Free School Meals on the basis of low income. Payments will be made in the summer and prior to Christmas with around 144,000 children expected to benefit from this investment totalling over £28 million. These payments are in addition to the two COVID Hardship Payments, paid in December 2020 and April 2021, which put over £28 million in the pockets of families and will mean that between last December and the end of the year families could receive additional direct cash payments totalling £400.

At the same time, we are focusing on delivery of existing social justice commitments and these will help many affected by COVID-19. For example, in February 2021, we formally launched the 'game changing' Scottish Child Payment, initially for eligible families with children under six. Payments have now started and for those who applied by 15 February 2021 their payment will be backdated to that day, regardless of when it is processed. This new payment will provide £40 every four weeks for each eligible child with no limit on the number of eligible children per household. Social Security Scotland has written to everyone eligible on their database, and those on data feeds from HM Revenues and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions, to proactively invite them to apply and they will continue to do so as more people access these qualifying benefits.

We also continue to raise concerns with the UK Government regarding welfare cuts, policies that are making people poorer and causing hardship, and the failures of Universal Credit to provide an adequate safety net.

This is significant and unprecedented additional support, however, we realise further substantive action can be taken. The Board's report offers a route-map to address the structural inequalities that lie at the very heart of many of these problems.



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