The Fairer Scotland Conversation
Fairer Scotland was built on the public debates about independence in 2013 and 2014. In those discussions, social justice was often at the very centre of people's concerns. Yes voters and No voters discussed - openly and passionately - the possibilities and the challenges for a more socially just and open society. These conversations were some of the most engaged of the entire Referendum period and both sides offered valuable insights into how Scotland should move forward.
The Fairer Scotland conversation was launched to build on this. It started with a simple question: what matters to you about fairness and social justice in Scotland? We had a fantastic response. Seven thousand people took part in public events and local discussions. Even more engaged online, with around 17,500 visitors to the Fairer Scotland social media platforms. People of all ages came along to events from Dumfries to Stornoway. We heard from people with experience of poverty and people who had suffered homelessness. We heard from minority ethnic communities, from disabled people, from women's groups, from Gypsy Travellers, from faith groups, from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex ( LGBTI) organisations, and from young offenders. And we held events in some of the most deprived communities in Scotland.
In March 2016, the ideas from the conversations were summarised in an interim report. 1 This came up with these five initial themes that people had been talking about and which, wherever possible, are addressed in this Fairer Scotland Action Plan.
1. Work and living standards - Addressing poverty was seen as key to creating a fairer Scotland, with general agreement that society should do everything it could to end poverty in all its forms. The 'poverty premium' was discussed as part of this - how people living in poverty could be further disadvantaged through, for example, higher utility bills and no access to affordable credit. Poverty is a key theme in the Fairer Scotland Action Plan.
Fair work was seen as important for helping people escape poverty. Again, there was general agreement that everyone needs access to a job that pays a fair wage and treats people fairly. Improvements in working conditions were also discussed, with suggestions that employers should give more consideration to individual employee circumstances and build job flexibility around the employee. Equal pay between women and men and between people of different ages if they are doing the same job was seen to be key. We heard that the problem is not simply having fair access to work but also being able to progress over a working lifetime. Fair work is another recurrent theme across the Action Plan.
2. Homes and communities - Affordability and access to housing were major issues, for example in relation to increasing housing supply, taking action on private sector rent levels and helping lower income households to buy their own home. A variety of ideas were suggested on how to improve the standard of housing in both the private rented sector and in social housing, including tougher penalties for landlords providing sub-standard housing. Housing features as one sub-section of this plan.
3. Early years, education and health - Childcare was another key issue in the discussion, with many suggesting that childcare flexibility and choice were as important as availability, particularly for parents who work outside of nursery or school hours. There was also much discussion about the costs of childcare and a view that more affordable childcare would help parents who wanted to move into work.
There was a view that vocational learning should have the same value and resources as academic learning. A number of suggestions were made about how to encourage young people to follow vocational career pathways.
Nutrition and access to healthy food were seen as key health issues, particularly for children. Mental health was another important focus, with a strong argument for mental health services to have the same priority as physical health services, both in terms of quality and access. Support for carers was raised, with calls for greater availability of respite for carers, and for Carer's Allowance to be raised.
These issues are addressed in this Action Plan.
4. Community participation and public services - Public involvement in democracy was one of the most talked about issues in the conversation. There was a call for greater opportunities for local people to play a part in decisions that affect them and their communities.
The role of public services was another standout issue to come out of the discussion. The key point raised was that service providers should listen to and involve service users at the design stage so that any new service 'fits' the needs of people as best it can. This point was made in particular about integrated health services, education and transport.
Access to services was raised in relation to rural communities, arguing that more resources were needed to improve access. Improving broadband access and speed to provide better access to online services was one example given.
These issues are covered in the Action Plan.
5. Respect and dignity - Respect and dignity emerged as strong themes in terms of how people are treated by public services and, in particular, the social security system. Many people felt that the UK welfare service should be fairer, more helpful, provide security and treat everyone with respect. On specific social security benefits, restoring lifetime awards for people with permanent or deteriorating conditions was one suggestion. There was also a view that people should be made fully aware of the benefits they were entitled to by right and that help should be offered to complete the necessary forms to make a claim.
There were also a number of discussions about ending discrimination and advancing equality. For example, there were suggestions about greater representation of minority ethnic communities in senior positions and in key decision making roles. Greater representation of women across society was raised, including that there should be a 50/50 gender split in company boardrooms and in senior positions. Reducing the gender pay gap was another key issue. Promotion of LGBTI issues across society was proposed in order to generate greater awareness, with transgender issues a particular focus.
The issue of care for older people was also discussed as was the issue of loneliness and the need to address social isolation among older people.
Again, these are key issues addressed in the Action Plan and across our work in government.
These are short summary descriptions of a nine-month conversation across Scotland. We can't do justice here to what were rich and wide-ranging discussions - so if you want to know more about the conversation, please read the full interim report. 2