Thank you for your commitment to the people of Scotland by taking up your role as Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice. I look forward to continuing to work together to deliver real, tangible improvements in the lives of the people of Scotland.
We, as a country, have faced incredible challenges over recent years. We are still recovering from the impact of the COVID pandemic. War continues in Europe, and the impact of Brexit and the cost of living crisis have combined to create some of the most challenging economic conditions in living memory. Alongside this we face the twin crises of climate change and nature loss, which are global threats of existential proportions.
As a Government, we must be unapologetic about supporting those who need help the most. We will collectively deliver on the promises we have made in our Policy Prospectus and use the priorities it sets out to drive our decision-making, our accountability to parliament and our engagement with partners and the people of Scotland. This will mean that we will need to make tough decisions to ensure that every pound we spend and invest is targeted in such a way that it reaches those that need it most and delivers maximum value.
Our aims as a Government
To ensure we maintain a laser focus on delivery for the people of Scotland we have set out three critical and interdependent missions in our policy prospectus Equality, opportunity, community: New Leadership – a fresh start for the period between now and March 2026. These will be underpinned by our refreshed National Performance Framework and our shared policy priorities set out in the Bute House Agreement. These three outcomes are:
- Tackling poverty and protecting people from harm. Continuing to tackle poverty in all its forms to improve the life chances of people across Scotland.
- A fair, green and growing economy Delivering a wellbeing economy through harnessing the skills and ingenuity of our people and seizing the economic and social opportunities from meeting our net zero targets.
- Prioritising our public services. Creating, investing in, and maintaining sustainable public services, to ensure the people of Scotland can access modern, effective, and timely services when they need to.
These missions will define our work as a government. You and I have agreed an ambitious range of outcomes to improve social justice, reduce inequalities and in particular, tackle child poverty across Scottish society over the next three years, including laying the foundations for us to meet our statutory child poverty targets in 2030. We also have a collective responsibility across Cabinet to deliver all of the objectives we have set out in our policy prospectus to succeed in our missions.
Having agreed this range of longer-term outcomes, I now ask you to consider what this looks like in terms of outcomes and delivery actions over the next year.
Objectives for your portfolio for 2023/24
As Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, the work of your portfolio is key to meeting these missions while also ensuring that you are contributing to Scotland's National Outcomes. Our National Outcomes describe our shared priorities, including the need to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and allow all in Scotland to live free from discrimination.
I welcomed our recent discussion of the priorities for your portfolio for the remainder of this parliamentary term (listed in Annex A). Following that meeting, I am asking you to deliver on the following objectives, which will contribute greatly to these key outcomes:
For this financial year we have agreed that you will deliver on the following outcomes:
- To address this government’s critical mission of tackling poverty in all its forms, and with a particular focus on child poverty, you will lead cross-government work to drive down child poverty through establishing a new Ministerial group to deliver the actions of Best Start, Bright Futures; invest in welfare advice, Scottish Government benefits and financial support; and take action to increase take-up rates. You will also ensure that we take a whole family wellbeing approach to our child poverty work, which will enable us to support the Government’s commitments to meet the Promise.
- We know that the Scottish Child Payment helps to reduce the financial pressure households are under at this time. That’s why we will invest £405 million in this game changing benefit this year, improving the lives of over 300,000 children across Scotland.
- You will build on the success of establishing a social security system for Scotland by extending further the support we provide to carers by introducing the Carer Support Payment and Pension Age Winter Heating Payment. You will drive forward the transfer of cases from the DWP to Social Security Scotland, including the majority of children on disability benefits, ensuring they become part of a system built on the principles of fairness, dignity and respect. You will continue to support care leavers into employment through the Job Start Payment, and our own Care Experienced Internship Programme at Social Security Scotland, as we work to Keep the Promise.
- To achieve the government’s commitment to reduce homelessness and supply affordable homes, you will work with partners to reduce the number of people in temporary accommodation, introduce the Year 3 Housing Bill to legislate for rent controls, new tenant rights and new prevention of homelessness duties.
- You will progress the delivery of affordable homes towards our 2032 target of 110,000 affordable homes, supported by a Remote, Rural and Island Housing Action Plan, which will be published in the Autumn, to make housing available to those who need it most, tacking poverty and regenerating communities supporting economic growth and contributing to net zero targets. At least 70% of those homes will be available for social rent and 10% will be in our remote, rural and island communities,
- You will ensure that we have identified all buildings with potentially unsafe cladding across Scotland by commissioning a stock survey of all medium and high-rise buildings. You will commence the survey by Summer 2023 and report initial findings by early 2024. You will focus on supporting residents by ensuring that each of the buildings already on the Pilot Programme is on a Single Building Assessment pathway by Summer 2024.
- You will progress the provision of longer-term, settled, housing for displaced Ukrainians. This will involve increasing the supply of longer-term housing and developing a transition plan to reduce temporary welcome hotel accommodation and mitigate the risk of homelessness. You will update the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy and develop an action plan with partners to underpin the strategy to support the integration of those fleeing war and persecution into our communities. This update will reflect the lessons Scotland has learned since the last strategy was published, taking account of the challenges and responses related to COVID, Afghanistan, Ukraine and the changed legislative landscape within asylum policy.
Human Rights Legislation and Equalities
- You will consult on a Human Rights Bill, and bring a revised UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill back to Parliament, which will support our ambition to ensure that everyone enjoys access to their human rights without discrimination, and consult on a mainstreaming strategy, as part of our commitment to embed equality and human rights throughout government and the public sector. You will also publish the cross-government Non-Binary Equality Action Plan and continue work to progress a consultation on ending conversion practices. You will publish an Immediate Priorities Plan for disabled people that recognises the disproportionate impact the cost-of-living crisis has on this group, setting out clear actions for change. You will also 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 start to eradicate racism in Scotland.
- As part of our commitment to support the third sector with Fairer Funding, you will improve the 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.
- You will respond to the demographic challenges facing Scotland. Through the publication of an Addressing Depopulation Action Plan we will work with partners to deliver community-driven migration solutions which support local economies and public services.
- You will also introduce a Talent Attraction and Migration Service delivered through a digital platform. The service will provide information and advice to employers looking to attract talent to Scotland as well as supporting people considering Scotland as a place to live and work.
A number of commitments that support the achievement of these outcomes have been identified as part of the priorities set out in our policy prospectus. These will not be the only areas of work to contribute, but are some of the key levers we have to deliver the outcomes set out above. I expect impact and improvement to be key considerations as you deliver these priorities and I expect you to bring forward suggestions for where we may achieve better outcomes if you think there are additional or alternative options. I would also like you to consider the opportunity for public service reform within your portfolio and the efficiency of the institutions and public bodies you have responsibility for to deliver better outcomes for Scotland.
Responsibility for financial sustainability
As we take action together to carefully manage the Scottish Budget to deliver these priorities, you must work within your portfolio to drive efficiency and reform, and identify measures that can be taken to create additional flexibility within the wider Budget and deliver a balanced outturn against agreed envelopes.
We must prioritise, to ensure that we use our finite resources in the most effective way. That prioritisation work is significant, but it will also be demanding, and will require us to make hard decisions. I know you will be guided by our commitment to support those who need the most help and prioritise resources to the policies and programmes which make the biggest difference to our three core missions.
Collaborative working with partners
It is important to recognise this work cannot be achieved in isolation. It requires collaboration with key partners: Local Government, agencies, business (including small businesses), communities and third sector partners, among others. I believe, as I know you do, that the participation of, and collaboration with, these key partners is essential. I ask you to continue to ensure you listen to their ideas, their views, and their lived experience, take into account potential impacts – as well as benefits - on them and put them at the centre of our work. You will also work closely with our colleagues and partners in the Scottish Green Party, to ensure a continued, positive, and productive relationship, via the Bute House Agreement.
Our Policy Prospectus set out our commitment to resetting important relationships. As well as resetting the relationship with business, our commitment to resetting the relationship with local authorities and working collaboratively with Local Government is central to the delivery of many of the things we have committed to achieve. I ask you to work with your colleagues to support the Deputy First Minister in building on the constructive progress already made in developing our relationship with Local Government. I would also particularly encourage you to work closely with the business community to ensure that policies and how they are delivered takes account of potential impacts on businesses and considers opportunities for businesses, including small businesses, to benefit from our policies and spend.
Collaborative working across Cabinet
It is your responsibility to engage, timeously and appropriately, with your Cabinet colleagues and their junior Ministers as we seek to deliver on these objectives. In addition to those objectives laid out above, you are also expected and required to work on cross-cutting government objectives, which will contribute to our priority outcomes. These include, but are not limited to, the transition to Net Zero; work to meet our child poverty targets; Keeping The Promise; your role as Chair of the Ministerial Taskforce on Population and lead delivery role for the Population Strategy, and the incorporation of human rights treaties into Scots law, as far as possible within devolved competence. I know you will also continue to work closely with the Minister for Independence to provide the people of Scotland the information they need to make an informed choice about whether Scotland should become an independent country.
In considering what issues to bring to Cabinet, I want you to prioritise those issues which most clearly support the delivery of our three core missions and therefore most significantly engage the collective responsibility of this Government. This will ensure that Cabinet is focused on long term delivery, on the most critical issues of policy and on what matters most to the people of Scotland.
Cabinet Sub-Committees and Ministerial Working Groups also play a key role in ensuring leadership and accountability of cross cutting issues to support delivery of our three core missions. They are critical for providing a space for oversight on delivery of our commitments thereby helping us to maintain our outcomes focus. I expect all members of the Cabinet Sub-Committees to play a proactive role in them, recognising that there will be a number of challenging decisions to be taken by the Cabinet Sub-Committees in the coming months.
Planning and accountability for delivery
I ask that you ensure that thorough, evidence-based and financially assessed delivery plans are in place for these commitments, to support the ongoing and effective monitoring of progress and impact. This plan should contain baseline performance measures for each commitment and highlight which commitments you are prioritising for early implementation, alongside related timelines, dependencies and assumptions. It will be my expectation that this articulates your agreed programme for the year ahead, with outcomes which represent best value for money for the resources you have at your disposal and that they demonstrate your balanced portfolio budget. This will in turn allow the Deputy First Minister and I to ensure all portfolios deliver within our overall budget the prioritised set of outcomes we are seeking.
I have asked the Deputy First Minister to consider these plans from all portfolios and to join me in six monthly discussions with you on progress against out agreed objectives. The Deputy First Minister will be in touch separately with you around reporting arrangements as part of her role in co-ordinating cross government delivery.
I look forward to working with you to deliver on our shared ambitions for Scotland.
Social Justice policy portfolio outcomes to be achieved by 2026 as set out in Equality, opportunity, community: New leadership – a fresh start
- Reduce child poverty rates through delivery of our tackling child poverty plan Best Start, Bright Futures using all available levers.
- Invest a further £1.3 billion in our game-changing Scottish Child Payment – which is forecast this financial year to lift 50,000 children out of poverty.
- Build on the successful establishment of our social security system and delivered Scottish Government benefits worth around £18 billion to over two million people treating them with dignity, fairness and respect.
- Transfer the awards of over 700,000 people from the Department for Work and Pensions to Social Security Scotland.
- Deliver affordable homes across the country, the majority of which will be for social rent, driving towards our 2032 target.
- Publish a Remote, Rural and Island Housing Action Plan; setting out our approach to rural housing delivery, including, support for community housing trusts; and actions to allow suitable properties, including empty homes, to be purchased, or long leased, and turned into affordable housing for those who need them in rural areas, including key workers.
- Legislate on a new deal for tenants, and new prevention of homelessness duties.
- Work with partners including local authorities to identify ways to reduce the number of people living in temporary accommodation, taking account of the recommendations of the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group (HPSG) Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group.
- Act decisively to protect lives by assessing and remediating medium and high rise multi-residential buildings with unsafe cladding and by holding developers to account for their commitments to residents and homeowners.
- Provide sanctuary to Ukrainians displaced by war, supporting those who wish to settle into our communities and progressed our New Scots strategy to support refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into our communities.
- Introduce world leading Human Rights legislation protecting economic, social and cultural rights and established an Equality and Human Rights Mainstreaming Strategy across the public sector.
- Establish the first Anti-Racism Observatory for Scotland, highlighting our commitment to taking a systemic approach to anti-racism.
- Publishing an immediate priorities plan for people with Disabilities.
- Publishing a non-binary action plan.
- Progressed Fairer Funding arrangements, including exploring options to implement multi-year funding deals, enabling the third sector to secure the resilience and capacity it needs to support the transformation and delivery of person-centred services for Scotland’s people and support our thriving social enterprise economy.
- Support people and employers to navigate the complex UK immigration system when moving to Scotland, through the establishment of a Talent Attraction and Migration Service, and begun to address community depopulation challenges, including through tailored, community-driven migration solutions which support local economies and public services, through an Addressing Depopulation Action Plan.
- Continue to press the UK Government to provide further powers to the Scottish Parliament so we can tackle poverty, and to make the vital immigration reforms required to meet Scotland’s needs, including making the strongest case possible for the need for tailored migration solutions such as a Rural Visa Pilot.
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