Chapter 9 Communities, Social Security and Equalities
Communities, Social Security and Equalities has a core responsibility for equality and human rights across government, tackling discrimination and promoting equal opportunity and equal outcomes across many key issues.
Portfolio spend focuses on providing opportunities to deliver good quality, sustainable and affordable housing, supporting regeneration activity within Scotland's most deprived communities, leading planning reform and the design of quality places, and responding to welfare reform. Portfolio spend also supports the drive for social justice, tackling poverty (including fuel poverty), and strengthening the third sector and communities.
Scottish Government funding through this portfolio also represents the vast majority of local authority income, paying for a wide range of services which are coordinated and delivered at a local level to meet locally-agreed outcomes.
Key Strategic Priorities
The portfolio budget has continued its commitments to affordable housing, especially social rented housing, to energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty and to social justice through place-based regeneration and other project work. The Scottish Welfare Fund ( SWF) and Discretionary Housing Payments ( DHPs) have been protected to mitigate the negative impacts of UK welfare reform and the Equality Budget, which is important in a range of ways to delivering a fairer Scotland, has been protected. The Local Authority Budgets provides resources and fiscal flexibility whilst protecting key priorities of health, social care and education.
Our aspiration is to move towards more streamlined, effective and easier to use communities funding arrangements and over the next year we will start to progress this aspiration working closely with our stakeholders.
Equality Implications of the Draft Budget 2017-18
The Scottish Government's More Homes Scotland approach supports our bold and ambitious target to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes over the five years to March 2021, backed with investment of over £3 billion which is estimated to support 14,000 jobs a year across Scotland. We are committed to preserving and expanding our social housing stock as part of creating a fairer society, and 70 per cent of the 50,000 affordable homes target will be for social rent, representing a 75 per cent increase on our previous five-year social rented target. The social rented sector is a particularly important tenure for lone parent households and long-term sick and disabled people amongst others; the lower rents in this sector play an important role in protecting the after-housing-costs income of less-well-off households. There will continue to be a correspondingly higher proportion of capital grant funding (rather than loan funding) in the 2017-18 Housing Supply Budget to reflect this. This funding will enable councils and housing associations to maintain the momentum needed to increase the pace of delivery.
Once again, we made more than £100 million available for fuel poverty and domestic energy efficiency during 2016-17. In 2017-18, the overall budget has been increased to £114.1 million. Within this, we have preserved funding for Warmer Homes Scotland, which is prioritised for people likely to be vulnerable to fuel poverty, and we are looking to combine with related energy funding programmes to support Scotland's Energy Efficiency Programme ( SEEP) and meet the commitment in the Programme for Government to provide £0.5 billion for SEEP over the next four years. Further funding will be available for SEEP pilots in 2017-18 to test new and innovative approaches to tackling fuel poverty and improving the energy efficiency of all Scotland's buildings.
Some key equality groups, as well as those households with the lowest incomes, are more likely than other groups to experience fuel poverty at present (45 per cent of older households and 92 per cent of households with weekly income of less than £200 were in fuel poverty in 2015). The eligibility criteria for Warmer Homes Scotland has been particularly designed to target help at vulnerable people (people in receipt of certain benefits, including older and disabled people). We expect to help around 4,000 vulnerable households through £19 million funding for this scheme to make their homes warmer and more comfortable by installing a range of energy-saving measures.
Scottish Government funding of Home Energy Scotland has enabled continuing links with national partners targeting low income and vulnerable groups, including older people and disabled people, experiencing or at risk of fuel poverty. This partnership working includes delivering fuel poverty and Home Energy Scotland awareness training to frontline staff.
During 2017-18, we will maintain funding of £10 million to Registered Social Landlords to carry out housing adaptations that will help their older and disabled tenants live safely and independently at home.
The Housing Voluntary Grant Scheme provides funding to national voluntary housing and homelessness organisations to help vulnerable people, and to provide training to those that provide these services. The bids received are assessed on the basis of their approach to equality (among other criteria) and the groups who benefit include homeless people and those at risk of homelessness, disabled people, older people, refugees, asylum seekers and minority ethnic communities, as well as women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. Funding for the scheme is to be reduced in 2017-18 and fewer organisations are likely to be funded in the coming year. The majority of those we are recommending for a reduction also receive significant income from elsewhere which can be used to support their projects.
Social Justice and Regeneration
Inequalities in power and influence can have a direct impact on people's life chances and opportunities, and on how public services help them to achieve what they need. Social Justice and Regeneration Budgets have both a place-based and a people-based focus.
The Social Justice Budget is £6.9 million in 2017-18. This budget invests in key priorities emerging from the Fairer Scotland Action Plan ( FSAP), which aims to reduce poverty and tackle inequality. The budget will continue to fund advice services to support income maximisation of the most vulnerable groups and measures to tackle food poverty, with a focus on implementing the key recommendations of the Independent Group on Food Poverty. It also supports a range of third sector organisations that work on this agenda, including the Poverty Alliance and the Poverty Truth Commission.
This specific budget line has been reduced from £8 million in 2016-17. We do not expect negative implications on equality or on tackling poverty from this reduction as the change in budget is largely due to programmes coming naturally to an end. These include a pilot project to test the role of advocacy support for face-to-face assessments for disability benefits which is now complete - the findings of the pilot are informing development of future powers in this area; a project to support local authorities to improve service delivery for people affected by poverty has completed its work; and now that the FSAP has been published, the line that covered the FSAP conversation has been removed from the budget with these kinds of engagements becoming a normal part of government business.
In 2017-18, the total Regeneration Budget has increased to £52.3 million (from £48.5 million in 2016-17) and will continue to be focused on supporting regeneration in disadvantaged areas, with a particular focus on projects that engage and involve local people.
We believe strongly in supporting communities to tackle poverty on their own terms. Through our £20 million Empowering Communities Fund, we are supporting over 300 community organisations to deliver locally identified priorities to tackle poverty and inequality in a responsive way. The fund impacts on thousands of lives across the country, supporting community-led approaches (including money advice, childcare, training and up-skilling, healthy eating initiatives and volunteering opportunities), all of which can help to directly tackle inequality as well as promoting inclusive growth.
We are building on what we know works through this fund using our resources, knowledge and approach to lever European Social Funds. This has enabled us to create the £18.9 million Aspiring Communities Fund which will support communities to work collaboratively with partners to accelerate the design and delivery of community-led initiatives that tackle poverty, inequality and exclusion.
The Smith Commission set in train the eventual devolution of a range of responsibilities for social security to the Scottish Government, including payments relating to disability and ill-health and life events. The Scotland Act 2016 confirmed that the ability to top-up existing benefits and create new ones would also be available to Scottish Ministers. For the most part, these new powers will not be delivered until after 2017-18 and as such, with the exception of the Scottish Welfare Fund ( SWF) and Discretionary Housing Payments ( DHPs), there is no detailed discussion of social security budgets here.
However, a programme of work is already underway to help ensure that the new social security system is, as far as possible, equality-proofed. This is described in the illustrative box.
Building in equality at the very start of the social security policy process
1. Scottish Ministers have undertaken a large-scale consultation on the use of the new powers which included a partial Equality Impact Assessment as a starting point for further discussion. The consultation paper itself was made available in a variety of formats including Easy Read, British Sign Language, Braille, Cantonese and Mandarin. The consultation closed on 30 October, and a full analysis of all the consultation responses, including feedback from stakeholder engagement events, will be available in early 2017.
2. 'Experience Panels' are being set up to involve at least 2,000 people who have recent experience of applying for and receiving benefits to help to design and test the new Scottish social security system to ensure it works for them. People with recent experience of receiving benefits will be recruited to the panels in two ways: by direct invitation mailed to a representative sample of current benefit recipients and by an open invitation, publicly asking for volunteers. An accessible recruitment, including alternative formats, will be launched after the New Year. The Experience Panels will include, amongst others, disabled people, older people and people from different ethnic groups.
3. From Spring 2017, there will be the opportunity for Experience Panel members to take part in a variety of activities to help shape a Scottish social security system. These activities will use a variety of methods to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to take part, and we will ensure that their knowledge and experience help to identify and resolve equality concerns.
The Scottish Welfare Fund ( SWF) is a national grant scheme, delivered by all local authorities on a voluntary basis since April 2013. The scheme acts as a safety net for vulnerable people on low incomes by providing Crisis Grants which help those facing disaster or emergency situations, and Community Care Grants which help people live independently, preventing the need for institutional care. In April 2016, the scheme became statutory, and all local authorities are required to maintain and administer a Welfare Fund. To date, 164,000 low-income households have been supported, including more than 54,000 households with children. To ensure investment is well targeted, key equality data is collected about application numbers and grants issued; and SWF guidance has been developed over time to address equality concerns as these arise.
The SWF has benefited from consistent investment levels for the last four years. Funding for the SWF (including administration) remains at £38 million in 2017-18, following the implementation of new review mechanisms by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.
The Scottish Government also invests in Discretionary Housing Payments ( DHPs) and has set aside an additional £35 million in 2016-17 (as in 2015-16) to top up the money provided by the UK Government. DHPs compensate local authorities for the cost of fully mitigating the 'bedroom tax' (the cuts to housing benefit in the social rented sector introduced by the UK Government in April 2013). At the time of introduction, it was estimated that 80 per cent of affected Scottish households contained someone with a disability - so this investment is particularly important for disabled people. DHPs will be fully devolved in April 2017 and the DHP Budget commitment of £57.9 million will mean that the Scottish Government will continue to fully mitigate the effects of the bedroom tax until it can be formally abolished in Scotland. This will be through Universal Credit flexibilities and will be dependent on full roll out.
The Equality Budget
The Equality Budget has been maintained at £20.3 million for 2017-18, demonstrating a continued commitment to advancing equality in Scotland. The resources available in this budget will enable investment in equality organisations and communities, building their capacity and supporting them to contribute to shaping policy and Scotland's future.
Everyone has a right to feel and be safe, and robust action is needed to challenge those seeking to spread hate and threaten our way of life. With the potential for increased uncertainties in the current climate, it is important that the Scottish Government strengthens its links within and between communities and builds trust, respect and good relations. We will continue to work with faith groups and others to identify those individuals who are most vulnerable to messages of hate to steer them towards a different path. Similarly, support for the implementation of the recommendations by the Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion will help advance equality and tackle prejudice and discrimination.
Building on the progress made towards more inclusive communities and working across religious and cultural boundaries, work to explore the diversity and understanding of different faiths will continue. Part of this will be informed by an interfaith summit in 2017 which will help support greater community cohesion and challenge hate crime.
Addressing all forms of violence against women and girls ( VAWG) continues to be a priority for this Government, and much of our investment here will support frontline services. Our national VAWG strategy will be supported by both the Equality and Justice Budgets, helping to ensure that early interventions prevent violence and maximise the safety and wellbeing of women, children and young people. This work will also help address deep-rooted structural inequalities to enable women and girls to thrive as equal citizens.
Embedding human rights responsibilities in our work is necessary to protect, respect and realise internationally recognised human rights and to defend existing human rights safeguards. The Equality Budget will promote engagement with people and communities across Scotland to explore how to give further and better effect to the economic, social and cultural rights set out in United Nations and other international treaties. Resource will also support the development of a national action plan to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Scotland.
This budget will support the implementation of the Disability Delivery Plan (2016) which will drive change to improve the lives of disabled people, helping ensure Scotland is fulfilling its obligations towards disabled people under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ( UNCRPD). We will use the UNCRPD framework to champion the rights of disabled people to have the same freedom, dignity, choice and control over their lives as everyone else.
This Government is committed to improving access to information and services for our citizens whose first or preferred language is British Sign Language ( BSL). The Equality Budget will support work in 2017 to produce the first ever National Action Plan on BSL.
This budget will also help to build on the progress made on equality for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people which will contribute to maintaining Scotland's position as one of the most LGBTI-progressive countries in Europe. Specifically, it will take forward the reform of gender recognition legislation as set out in the Programme for Government 2016-17.
Delivery against the Programme for Government 2016-17 commitment to establish a Women's Advisory Council to celebrate achievements and further promote gender equality in Scotland will also be possible as a result of this funding. In addition to continuing to champion our Partnership for Change 50/50 by 2020 campaign, efforts to increase the number of women on Boards will be assisted by the introduction of legislation for gender balance on public sector Boards.
This budget will also assist with the implementation of the Race Equality Framework which sets out a long-term partnership approach for promoting race equality and tackling racism and inequality from 2016 - 2030. The framework is based on partnership, but the resources set out in this budget will assist the Scottish Government in delivering its commitments. The appointment of a Race Equality Framework Adviser will give a focus to the implementation of the framework and identify priorities which will make a real difference to people's lives.
Resource will also underpin engagement with Gypsy Traveller people which will inform strategic work in 2017 to address specific issues for this community.
Scotland is proud to have received around 1,250 Syrian refugees under the Syrian Resettlement Programme since October 2015, and is committed to providing appropriate support to assist with ongoing refugee integration in Scotland. This funding will facilitate consultation, community engagement and the development of the next phase of the New Scots: Integrating Refugees in Scotland's Communities 2014-2017 strategy to ensure that we take a holistic approach and continue to support refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into our communities. Resource will also enable us to respond to the current humanitarian crisis and meet our commitment to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Scotland and to support them to rebuild their lives in our communities.
Older people's needs and experiences vary, but facilitating the means by which older people can have their voices heard in policy making is key to addressing these issues. This budget will help to support a range of work, including a Ministerial group on older people and work on social isolation and loneliness, to help inform work across Scotland to reduce inequalities faced by older people.
It is essential that the diversity of Scotland's communities is reflected in policies developed across government, and that we continue to take a progressive and inclusive approach that recognises a social and economic duty to advance equality, recognise human rights, and tackle poverty. The Equality Budget will support mainstreaming and training work around our Equality Outcomes for 2017-21 to ensure policy development continues to meet the varied needs of Scotland's population. Central to this work is increasing the knowledge and confidence of staff in equality and diversity matters to effect positive change on policy implementation, alongside continued engagement with partners and stakeholders.
Scotland has a strong and dynamic third sector which plays a crucial role in the drive for social justice and inclusive economic growth, and is essential to the reform of public services, and to the wellbeing of our communities. The sector also plays a vital role in helping to advance equality, and in supporting communities most impacted by discrimination and disadvantage. The Third Sector Budget of £24.5 million has protected our funding support to the sector.
The investment made through the national and local infrastructure helps to support third sector organisations in their work with individuals and communities across Scotland. Many of these organisations work closely with communities of interest and of place to tackle inequalities and tough social issues at source.
Furthermore, Scotland is a world leader in social enterprise, and this sustainable and effective model of business has the potential to empower our communities and provide solutions to some of our most difficult challenges. This budget will enable investment to be directed at social innovation and social enterprise, driving forward our new 10-year strategy for social enterprise, including stimulating more inclusive pre-start activity for social enterprise, and work with partners to increase the number of disabled people establishing micro and social enterprises.
We also recognise and welcome the important role the sector plays in addressing poverty and disadvantage. We will use the European Social Fund programme, matched by our own resources, to invest in and strengthen Scotland's social economy, enabling organisations to do even more to transform the lives of disadvantaged individuals and families.
We will continue to ensure that equality communities are fully engaged in the broader activities of the sector, strengthening the alignment of interests. The sector is embracing the call for increased diversity on its Boards and the 2015 census of social enterprise in Scotland flagged that the majority of social enterprises are led by women.
Local government provides a wide range of services and plays a major role in local Community Planning Partnerships ( CPPs) that are essential to the delivery of the outcomes that matter to the people of Scotland. Funding from the Scottish Government represents the vast majority of local authorities' income. The allocation of this funding is based on area need. The methodology takes account of demographics, deprivation and other considerations and hence allocates resources to highest need with respect to several equality considerations, including age and deprivation. However, each local authority decides how to spend its total available finances on the basis of further understanding of local needs and priorities, and is guided by a set of national and local outcomes. The Equality Act 2010 and associated specific duties published in May 2012 provides a framework to help local authorities pay due regard to equality issues.
Local government equality considerations focus on general expenditure by Scotland's 32 local authorities, funded through the local government settlement and policies around council tax, non-domestic rates and other locally generated income. Other portfolios are responsible for assessing the impacts of any changes in grants that are ring-fenced for spending on a particular type of activity.
The Scottish Government will support spending on health and social care in 2017-18 by providing £357 million from the NHS Boards to Integration Authorities. This is an increase of £107 million over 2016-17.
£88 million will continue to be made available to local authorities to support their work on maintaining the pupil teacher ratio nationally at 2016-17 levels and securing places for all probationers who require one under the teacher induction scheme.
In addition, £120 million of ring-fenced Educational Attainment funding is included in the local government settlement which will be targeted at closing the poverty-related attainment gap in education. As educational attainment tends to be lower for more disadvantaged pupils, the increase in funds should help to address this inequality.
The Scottish Government believes that the package of measures set out in the Draft Budget provides local authorities with the necessary resources and fiscal flexibility that they need to protect key priorities around investment in education and health and social care.
The Scottish Government's council tax reforms will protect household incomes, make local taxation fairer and ensure local authorities continue to be properly funded while at the same time becoming more accountable.
The package of council tax reform includes the lifting of the council tax freeze and a 25 per cent increase to the child allowance within the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, benefiting up to 77,000 households by an average of £173 per year and helping nearly 140,000 children. This is particularly likely to benefit those from more socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
In addition, the option for councils to offer no discount to the council tax charged for second homes may encourage better use of housing stock in their areas.
The Local Government portfolio includes overall policy for non-domestic rates, including the small business bonus scheme. A revaluation has been undertaken and new rate values will come into existence on 1 April 2017. As these relate to taxes on businesses, it is not straightforward to identify direct equality impacts, however, they are an important part of the Scottish Government's commitment to driving economic recovery.
Overall, the Communities, Social Security and Equalities budget has the potential for significant positive impacts for equality groups. Local authority budgets continue to offer resource and fiscal flexibility as well as reflecting key priorities of health and social care and educational attainment. Spend on social security has been maintained demonstrating our commitment to mitigating the negative impact of UK welfare reforms. Third sector, equality and regeneration spend has been protected which, along with social justice funding, ensures that organisations in the field can continue to tackle poverty and remove barriers for equality groups. Portfolio spend on housing has been maintained, with particular commitments to increasing the supply of affordable and social rented housing and to tackling fuel poverty.
Email: Paul Tyrer