Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)
Meeting date: Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Health and Wellbeing of Children and Young People, Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Point of Order, Protection of War Memorials
- Portfolio Question Time
- Health and Wellbeing of Children and Young People
- Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Point of Order
- Protection of War Memorials
Portfolio Question Time
Health and Social Care
Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio question time. The first portfolio is health and social care. If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, I invite them to press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question or to enter the letter R in the chat function. As ever, I make a plea for succinct questions and answers so that we can fit in as many questions as possible.
Alcohol Services (Funding)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to allocate any funding specifically for alcohol services, in addition to that allocated to alcohol and drug partnerships for drugs services. (S6O-01215)
We are currently working in partnership with Simon Community Scotland to pilot and evaluate an innovative managed alcohol programme for people who experience homelessness.
Funding allocated to alcohol and drug partnerships—ADPs—is for both alcohol and drug treatment services. In 2021-22, ADPs and health boards received more than £106 million for alcohol and drug services. That funding is used to ensure that services meet the needs of people who experience alcohol as well as drug harms, and it includes preventative approaches.
I thank the minister for his answer. Although the Scottish Government stated that it recognises the twin public emergencies of drug deaths and alcohol harms, it stated earlier this month that it has no plans to introduce alcohol-specific treatment targets until 2024. I think that that is unacceptable. In 2020, the number of people who tragically died because of alcohol increased by 17 per cent to 1,190. Will the Scottish Government now rethink its approach and introduce specific treatment targets?
Alcohol and drug-related harms are both important public health issues in Scotland, which is why we established a national mission to improve and save lives. At the core of that national mission is ensuring that every individual is able to access the treatment and recovery that they choose. We are working to ensure that people with alcohol use disorder continue to receive the same quality of care as those who experience problematic drug use.
The forthcoming alcohol treatment guidelines will provide support for alcohol treatment that is similar to the medication assisted treatment—MAT—standards for drugs. We are developing alcohol treatment targets alongside stage 2 of the implementation of drugs targets, in 2024. I am more than happy to hear from the member should he think that there are things we are not tackling in our approach to alcohol issues, but I am very comfortable with the work that we are doing and the learning that we are gaining from the work that is being done in tackling our drug challenges.
Long Covid (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the support being made available to people with long Covid. (S6O-01216)
This year, we are providing £3 million to national health service boards to help them to respond flexibly to improve the care and support that is already available for people with long Covid.
That investment will enable boards to introduce care co-ordinator roles, which will provide a single point of contact for people and their families to ensure that they have access to the most appropriate care and support. It will also provide additional capacity for community rehabilitation, to help people to address issues that affect their day-to-day lives. Those include managing pain and fatigue and supporting a return to employment.
We have also established a national strategic network for long Covid, to ensure that the continued development of our national approach is informed by evidence and expertise, as well as by those who have lived experience.
I thank the cabinet secretary for his response. I have been assisting a constituent whose physical health has been so compromised by Covid that they are now wheelchair bound and remain in hospital almost one year after they were admitted. As they are a council tenant, their local authority is working with NHS colleagues as they try to secure a more suitable tenancy and resolve the debt that the person has unintentionally accrued. However, that is taking time, and the longer it takes, the longer they remain in hospital—essentially bed blocking. How is the Scottish Government working with councils and health boards to ensure that people have timely access to the health and social care support that they need as they adjust to living with long Covid?
I am sorry to hear about Audrey Nicoll’s constituent. It must be a difficult experience for them and their wider family. I do not know all the details of their situation, but Audrey Nicoll is more than welcome to provide further details offline if she wishes.
We work regularly with local authorities, NHS boards and, crucially, health and social care partnerships across Scotland. We want them to work in an integrated fashion to deal with and address the issues to which Audrey Nicoll refers. We are putting considerable investment into tackling delayed discharge. It is difficult, with workforce being one of the most significant challenges in the social care sector. That is why, over the past 12 months, we have introduced two pay rises for adult social care workers.
However, there is more to do. The number of delayed discharges is far too high. Where health boards, local authorities and health and social care partnerships are not working closely together, I and the Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care will be more than happy to have the necessary conversations with relevant stakeholders.
It is not just Audrey Nicoll’s constituent; there are 150,000 long Covid sufferers in Scotland. According to Professor Edward Duncan of the University of Stirling, many thousands of those 150,000 Scots require treatment but remain unsupported. It is also believed that some health boards are reluctant to offer support for sufferers of long Covid for fear that they will be overwhelmed.
Will the cabinet secretary commit to establishing a network of long Covid clinics to co-ordinate the support that long Covid sufferers are crying out for? Will he tell us whether any of this year’s £3 million tranche has been allocated and for what?
I saw the comments to which Dr Sandesh Gulhane refers. Some of the comments on signposting were well made. Therefore, we are picking them up with health boards up and down Scotland.
I do not recognise his comment that health boards are reluctant to support people with long Covid. As a clinician, he will know that clinicians—certainly, any clinicians that I have met—are not only willing but able to treat people with long Covid. I detect no hesitancy from health boards or clinicians to provide support for people with the condition.
As I mentioned in the debate that we had recently, the first tranche of that long Covid support fund has been allocated. On long Covid clinics, I say what I have said to him previously: there is nothing preventing any health board in Scotland from establishing a long Covid clinic if it thinks that that is the best way to address the condition or, indeed, to provide support for people who are suffering from it. We will leave those decisions to local health boards, for them to come up with tailored, local solutions for the areas over which they preside.
There are 155,000 people in Scotland with long Covid and the number is rising every month. The majority are simply not receiving services. The £3 million that the Scottish Government has allocated is, of course, welcome but is a drop in the ocean. It works out at £19 per head in a given year. As the Scottish Government’s response is two years late and inadequate, given the scale of the task, will the cabinet secretary commit to increasing the resources that are available this year?
I will consider any request to increase resources, but Ms Baillie’s comments are misinformed. The suggestion that the funding that she mentions is the only money that is being invested to support people with long Covid is, of course, incorrect. Prior to the announcement of £3 million of funding for specific projects in health boards up and down Scotland, health boards were already supporting people with long Covid.
However, I accept Ms Baillie’s point that many people who are suffering from long Covid feel that they have not had the support that they require. There are also many people—I have met a number of them—who tell me that, if it was not for the support that they received from physiotherapists, general practitioners, doctors or nurses, they would not be alive today. Some have been as strong as that in the opinions that they have expressed to me.
To suggest that the only money that is being spent to support people with long Covid is the £10 million that has been announced is incorrect. I will, of course, explore Ms Baillie’s broader point about considering what further money can be invested.
Nursing and Midwifery Vacancies
I remind members of my entry in the register of interests.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce the 6,600 nursing and midwifery vacancies reported at the end of 2021. (S6O-01217)
Nursing and midwifery staffing is at a record high. Staffing levels have increased by almost 15 per cent under this Government and by over 2 per cent in the last year alone. Although the nursing and midwifery vacancy rate is high, it has started to come down in the last quarter. Investing significantly in workforce expansion, as we have done, creates new vacancies in the short term and we are now starting to see those posts being filled.
To continue the downward trend, we will invest a record £11 million to support further international recruitment, building on recent successes, which will see Scotland welcoming almost 400 new nurses from overseas. We are increasing domestic training, too. Over the last 10 years we have doubled the number of funded places for nursing and midwifery to a target intake of 4,837 in 2022-23.
First and foremost, I pay tribute to, and thank, all the staff in our national health service. One of the reasons why NHS staff are, in the words of the health secretary, “knackered”, is that they are overworked. One of the reasons why the staff are overworked is the high level of vacancies that I am raising with the cabinet secretary today. This is down to poor workforce planning, but it is also down to the undervaluation of NHS staff, including nurses and midwives. With inflation running at 9 per cent, does the cabinet secretary seriously think that a real-terms pay cut for nurses, midwives and other NHS staff of 4 per cent, which he is offering NHS unions today, will cut it?
We are offering a 5 per cent increase, which is the largest single-year increase in the history of devolution, including, of course, when Richard Leonard’s party was last in power—which I accept was many years ago. I should also say that since that time, we have increased staffing levels in the NHS by almost 30,000. We have seen increases in nursing and midwifery staff and, of course, NHS staff in Scotland continue to be the best paid in the entire United Kingdom.
Of course, it will now be for trade unions to take that deal away and consult their members, and I absolutely respect that right. Discussions and negotiations with our trade union colleagues have been constructive and, at times, robust and challenging—I would expect no less from our trade union colleagues. We have a process in place and an offer has been made. I will leave it to trade union colleagues to take that offer to their members to either accept—which I hope they will—or reject.
I have previously met the Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport, Maree Todd, and midwife representatives from the Lothians about the roll-out of the best start five-year plan for maternity and neonatal care, which includes continuity of carer. NHS Lothian has agreed to meet me about that shortly.
Can the cabinet secretary assure me that he is aware that midwifery vacancies may increase because of the way that the best start programme is being rolled out? Many single parents, other working mothers and older midwives may not be able to operate on call 24/7, five days a week, may not be contracted to do so and may leave the profession. Will he robustly question the pilot’s statistics? The results for mothers, babies and midwives are far from evident in the Lothian pilot, and I understand that the NHS Lanarkshire pilot was stopped.
Fiona Hyslop can be absolutely assured that Maree Todd and I will look robustly at the data that is coming back from the projects that are in place. I should say that continuity of carer has restarted in all health boards right across Scotland following it being paused due to the pandemic. As part of that remobilisation, we will gather data on the implementation of the model of continuity of carer, which involves the same midwife, or a small team of midwives, providing care for a woman during and throughout her pregnancy, birth and after birth, which helps to build a continuous caring relationship between the woman and her midwife.
I should say that the best start model does not require, and has never required, midwives to work on call 24/7, five days a week, although I will explore the points that Fiona Hyslop has just made. We expect all boards to develop models of continuity in midwifery care that are flexible and focused on women but that also work for staff, including those who work part time and those who have other caring responsibilities.
Before I bring in the next supplementary question, I again make a plea for succinct questions and answers. The questions and answers in the last few exchanges have been quite lengthy.
Across Scotland, one in four vacancies for nurses and midwives has been open for at least three months, and nearly 300 vacancies are left unfilled for more than six months after first being advertised. Beyond the minister’s usual empty rhetoric, what long-term action is the Scottish National Party Government taking to tackle those long-term and hard-to-fill vacancies in our national health service?
Craig Hoy might wish to dismiss facts as “empty rhetoric”, but I say to him that we have record levels of staffing in our NHS, and the numbers of qualified nurses and midwives have increased.
I take the points that have been made around retention and, on vacancies, I have asked the chief nursing officer to look into the issue of where we and health boards can provide greater levels of flexibility.
I should say that, as I am sure that Craig Hoy is aware, in Scotland, we have 8.5 qualified nurses and midwives per 1,000 people, which compares with 6.1 per 1,000 people in England. That is not “empty rhetoric”—those are, of course, the facts.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the cervical screening programme. (S6O-01218)
The impacts of Covid-19 continue to pose challenges to the cervical screening programme. However, we are working closely with the organisations that oversee screening in Scotland to ensure that the programme remains on track against its agreed recovery road map. The latest uptake data for the cervical screening programme, for 2021-22, is due to be published later this year.
In recognition of the fact that the pandemic is likely to have exacerbated screening uptake inequalities, including for the cervical screening programme, we have committed more than £2 million over two years to tackle that. In addition, we have awarded more than £456,000 to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust in support of cervical awareness campaign work, and that includes the cervical screening awareness week that is due to start on 20 June.
I have been contacted by a couple of constituents who are facing longer waits for cervical screening results than normal, including one constituent who has been waiting for more than 12 weeks, which surprised me.
If someone goes for cervical screening and has never had any problems before, they usually forget about it. However, someone who has had problems will be waiting for that letter to arrive to tell them that they are clear.
The minister knows about this situation—I wrote to her last week about it. Can she advise what work is being done to ensure that everyone gets their results in line with the targets set?
The national health service is currently meeting its target for the average turnaround time for all samples, which is within 14 days. In fact, more than 80 per cent of the participants in the programme receive their results within a week of the sample being taken. I am aware of the particular case that the member raised with me on behalf of one of her constituents, which my officials are looking into, and I am keen to hear about others that there might be.
The Scottish Government’s women’s health plan accepts that women from higher socioeconomic areas are more likely to take up cervical screening than those from the more deprived areas. Given that we know that a clear way of bringing screening closer to home is by rolling out self sampling, can the minister outline any progress that has been made in that regard and say what role self sampling will play in the cervical screening programme in years to come, if the women’s health plan target of reaching more people who might not ordinarily engage is to be met?
Although I agree that self sampling is likely to help in terms of uptake, it is not the whole answer, which we can see by looking at the bowel screening programme, which is done entirely at home but still does not have 100 per cent participation. We need to work harder and cleverer.
The chamber will be aware that home screening for cervical cancer is at an experimental stage. We are participating in piloting in Scotland, and we are happy to do so. The decisions about that will be made by the four-nations national screening committee, and we are putting in place work in Scotland to ensure that, if a decision is made to use home sampling, we are more than able to hit the ground running as soon as that decision is made. We are keen to do it; we are keen to do what we can. This is one of the most important issues that we are dealing with because, with cervical screening, we have an opportunity to prevent cancer before it is even there.
The effectiveness of the human papillomavirus—HPV—vaccine should be acknowledged and praised. The minister will be aware of research that shows that, with the vaccine’s success, the screening programme strategy could change in order to focus resources. Will that happen? If so, does the minister have a plan to communicate those changes, in order to ensure high take-up for the continuing screening?
I thank Beatrice Wishart for her question and for her interest in that area. At the moment, uptake is higher among those who have received the vaccine than it is among those who have not received it. We are very keen to continue at the moment with the twin strategy of vaccinating the eligible population as well as using cervical screening to ensure that we detect cancer before it develops.
The member might be aware that the World Health Organization has some work and targets in place and is considering the possibility that cervical cancer could be eradicated. Of course, in Scotland, we are extremely interested in that work and are keen to play our part in leading the way in the eradication of cervical cancer.
Residential Care (Future Funding)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it considers it possible in the future for all residential care to be provided as a fully funded public service. (S6O-01219)
I thank Mr Coffey for writing to me on that important topic last month.
As he knows, individuals who have been assessed by their local authority as needing personal and nursing care, and who reside in a care home, will receive that care directly from the care home provider. For those who are self-funding their care home place, a payment to contribute to those aspects of their care will be made directly to the respective care home by the local authority.
The Feeley review considered whether it is appropriate for people to contribute to their accommodation costs in residential care or whether those, too, should be free at the point of use. The review concluded that, where the individual’s means permit, it is reasonable for some charge to be made because, in other circumstances, that person would be paying accommodation costs at home.
The minister will be aware of the huge cost of private residential care in Scotland. It can run into thousands of pounds per week and often requires families to sell their homes in order to pay for it. Does he think that we can look forward to a system in Scotland in which families, who have paid their dues throughout their working lives, do not have to lose their life savings, pensions or homes in order to pay for that care? Might Scotland move towards a publicly funded and delivered residential care service at some point?
As I pointed out, that was looked at in the independent review, and I have already stated what Derek Feeley had to say about it.
We recognise that the cost of residential care can be high and, to recognise the increasing costs, we have increased the free personal and nursing care rate—by more than the rate of inflation—for the past two consecutive years. That is an increase of 18.3 per cent since April 2020, and we will continue to review those rates annually.
Bearing in mind what the minister has just said, I am interested in whether he can continue to claim that the new national care service will be like the national health service, which is free. If we continue to charge for residential costs, how can we justify the difference between those who are in hospital, who do not have to pay residential charges, and those who are in the national care service, who have to do so?
One of the reasons why it is different is that folks who are in hospital normally still have to pay for their accommodation costs while they are in hospital.
I am open to discussions with members in the chamber on lots of issues, but I also have to know, from those folks who advocate change, where the money will come from to pay for that change. I have heard nothing from the Opposition on that front in any of the budget debates or discussions that have taken place in recent times.
Question 6 was not lodged.
Accident and Emergency Departments (Waiting Times)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce waiting times at accident and emergency departments. (S6O-01221)
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to put pressure on hospitals and services. Despite that, more than two thirds of patients are being seen in our A and E departments within the four-hour target.
On 1 June, we launched our new urgent and unscheduled care collaborative for health boards, supported by £50 million, which will support the implementation of a range of measures to reduce A and E waiting times and improve the patient experience. The measures include offering alternatives to hospital, such as hospital at home; directing people to more appropriate urgent care settings; and, where it is clinically appropriate and safe to do so, scheduling urgent appointments to avoid long waits in A and E.
That new approach will capitalise on the positive work that is already under way, such as discharge without delay, virtual capacity and the redesign of urgent care.
The most recent waiting times at Forth Valley royal hospital for accident and emergency and minor injuries show that more than 500 patients waited for more than eight hours and that 100 patients waited for more than 12 hours, despite staff working around the clock.
The cabinet secretary has outlined additional finance, but what practical and urgent steps, including the recruitment of additional staff, will he take to help Forth Valley royal hospital to address those wholly unacceptable waiting times?
I agree with Dean Lockhart. We have regular discussions with NHS Forth Valley. The level of performance there is not acceptable and the management team knows that that is the case. As Dean Lockhart rightly said, along with clinical staff, the team is working hard around the clock to make improvements.
With regard to what we can practically do, a whole range of initiatives is under way, including at Forth Valley royal, and I am happy to write to Dean Lockhart in detail about them. I will give one example here, which is the hospital at home programme, which I referenced in my previous answer. We have recently increased our investment in that programme. Between September 2021 and February 2022, 4,500 people who would otherwise have been admitted to hospital were treated by hospital at home services. That equates to a saving of more than 26,000 bed days.
There is a range of initiatives, but, in the interests of brevity, I am happy to write to Dean Lockhart after this session with full details of all the interventions that are taking place and what we are doing to support Forth Valley royal hospital in particular.
I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests.
Scottish Ambulance Service workers play a vital role in supporting the delivery of patient care in our A and E departments, but Unite the union’s recent survey of those workers reveals that those departments are increasingly understaffed, that the staff are working longer shifts and facing greater abuse, and that many workers are contemplating leaving the Ambulance Service altogether. Will the Scottish Government begin immediate negotiations with Unite the union to explore the formal recognition of the Ambulance Service as an emergency service, with workers being employed on similar terms to those in the police and fire services?
I have regular engagement with the trade unions that represent all those who work in the Scottish Ambulance Service, and I will continue that engagement.
Last year, we had a record year of recruitment of staff to the Scottish Ambulance Service, and one of my first acts as health secretary was to introduce the paramedic bursary, which is incredibly important for the future pipeline of Scottish Ambulance Service staff. We continue to invest in the Scottish Ambulance Service, but, on Mercedes Villalba’s specific point, I will take up further discussions with trade union colleagues.
I can take question 8 if I have succinct questions and answers.
Unpaid Carers (Mental Health) (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to unpaid carers who are experiencing poor mental health. (S6O-01222)
Our national wellbeing hub includes specific resources to help unpaid carers to look after their mental health. We have increased funding for breaks from caring as well as local carer support, including counselling and peer support.
Our “Mind to mind” wellbeing website links to lived experience videos and national resources that directly relate to unpaid carers. We have also expanded local psychological services and therapies teams, which unpaid carers can access if they require bespoke help.
Forthcoming standards for those services will include information about how carers should be supported as part of a whole-systems approach using a stepped care model.
Evidence suggests that the pandemic has greatly exacerbated the poor mental health of carers. According to Carers Trust Scotland, 45 per cent of young carers and 68 per cent of young adult carers stated in a survey that their mental health is worse due to the coronavirus. Furthermore, Support in Mind Scotland’s report “Marginalised Rural Communities Report February 2021” establishes that
“money worries, care for relatives, feelings of isolation and stress”
greatly exacerbate the poor mental health of young carers. What targeted mental health support is being offered to unpaid carers, specifically in rural areas such as my Galloway and West Dumfries constituency?
We will continue to do all that we can for all the population of Scotland to ensure that people’s mental health is the best it possibly can be.
Mr Carson touched on money worries. I agree that there are money worries, particularly given the Tory cost of living payment. Carers in Scotland who have been in continuous receipt of carers allowance have received more than £2,520 more than carers south of the border since 2018, thanks to our introduction of the carers allowance supplement in that year.
We will continue to urge Westminster to match our effort and to increase the level of support for unpaid carers, including by ensuring that unpaid carers who are not on universal credit also benefit from the United Kingdom Government’s cost of living payments.
Thank you, minister. That concludes health and social care—[Interruption.] Could we have some quiet, please, while we are trying to conduct business? That concludes health and social care portfolio questions.
Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
The next portfolio is social justice, housing and local government. If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question or enter R in the chat function. I again make a plea for succinct questions and answers.
Mid-market Rental Accommodation (Lothians)
To ask the Scottish Government what action is being taken to promote the creation of mid-market rental accommodation in the Lothians. (S6O-01223)
The Government is determined to increase and accelerate the affordable housing supply across all tenures, including mid-market rent, and to support local authorities to deliver their strategic housing priorities.
Mid-market rent housing is supported where it is identified as a strategic priority and meets a recognised need. In the four years up to March 2021, 1,817 mid-market rent homes were completed in the Lothian area. In the current financial year, we expect there to be 449 mid-market rent home approvals in the Lothian area and around 200 further mid-market rent homes should be available through the mid-market rent invitation.
Our capital is facing a crisis. The LAR Housing Trust is trying to address that by building and letting affordable mid-market rental properties. It works with a funding model that relies on loans from the Government that get paid back in full, with interest. Why will the Government not commit to supporting housing trusts such as LAR Housing Trust, which is helping to provide local affordable rental properties and is good for the public purse?
We certainly are aware of the work that that trust is doing. It pioneered the use of financial transaction loan money from the Government and has delivered housing with that. We have continued to work on that basis since 2016. We have provided £102.5 million of financial transaction loan funding, enabling private investment into large-scale mid-market rent housing projects.
As I said in my first answer, it is the wider affordable housing and social rented housing supply that will meet the critical need and be the more sustainable option for a great many people. The Government is delivering on that at pace.
The cost of living crisis is squeezing every household in Scotland, none more so than those on low and moderate incomes. In these difficult times, does the minister believe that mid-market rent can play an even greater role in the affordable housing supply programme, offering an alternative route for tenants?
Yes, indeed. As I said in my answer to Mr Balfour, mid-market rent is one of a range of affordable tenures. We are actively looking at how further innovative delivery mechanisms can provide much-needed affordable housing of all kinds and all tenures.
However, we recognise that social rented housing is the more affordable option for many. That is why we have committed to delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, with 70 per cent of those being for social rent. That comes on top of the announcement yesterday that we have surpassed the target of delivering 50,000 affordable homes since the start of the previous parliamentary session. It is worth saying that 9,757 affordable homes were delivered in the previous financial year; that is the highest figure in a single financial year since 2000-01. The Government will continue with this important work, benefiting communities right across Scotland.
Accessible Housing Need
To ask the Scottish Government what information it holds on the level of need for accessible housing in Scotland. (S6O-01224)
Local authorities are responsible for assessing the housing need in their areas and setting out in their local housing strategies how that need will be met. That includes targets for wheelchair-accessible housing across all tenures. Local authorities should make their local housing strategies available on their websites in the interest of transparency. Wherever possible, all affordable new-build homes that are delivered as part of the affordable housing supply programme are built to housing for varying needs standards. Ninety-five per cent of new-build homes that were delivered by housing associations and councils in 2020-21, where information was returned, met that standard.
The new Scottish accessible homes standard is an important part of the housing to 2040 strategy, building fairness and adaptability into Scotland’s housing vision. What will the minister do to ensure that a culture of accessibility will remain at the heart of her house-building programme?
The Scottish Government is committed to delivering accessible homes that are fit for purpose now and in the future, to meet the needs of older people, disabled people, wheelchair users and people with specific needs. We are currently reviewing “Housing for Varying Needs: a design guide”, to help us inform the Scottish accessible home standard.
Our guidance for local authorities on preparing local housing strategies makes clear that they must ensure that specialist and accessible homes are central to their housing planning and delivery process locally. That includes the setting of all tenure targets for the delivery of wheelchair-accessible homes.
I have a number of supplementaries, and I hope to take all of them. The first is from Miles Briggs.
Evidence shows that people with motor neurone disease spend their final months fighting and waiting for adaptations to accessible homes that are urgently needed. What plans does the Government have to fast-track applications for adaptations to accessible housing for people with MND, which is a life-limiting condition?
Miles Briggs will not be surprised to know that I have a personal interest in ensuring that people with MND live to the best standards that they possibly can. As I said in my answer to the previous question, we are looking to review the current housing adaptations system in order to make recommendations on how best to improve and streamline the system and to maximise the impact of those investments.
It is incredibly important that we are doing that piece of work. We are working with stakeholders on it, and ensuring that we are fit for the future and fit for changing needs, which is an important aspect here.
I thank the minister for her answers so far. However, she will be aware that, despite the strategies and the guidance, tens of thousands of disabled people are waiting on accessible homes, and some of them awaiting years. I would like the minister to set out whether she will commit to action to enforce—including possibly with legislation—that 10 per cent of homes that are built in every new development are accessible homes, in order to reduce the huge length of time that people are waiting just now.
Again, it comes down to the review that we are undertaking on housing needs and assessment. As I said, local authorities set those targets, but we are looking to have targets set across all tenures. That standard and process are 20 years old now, so I am really looking forward to the review of that work, which will be done with stakeholders. I am sure that Pam Duncan-Glancy has great ideas that she can share with us to ensure that the review is as targeted and specific to the needs of people as possible.
The north-east has a significant number of military veterans, including disabled veterans, but does not have an adequate supply of accessible housing. I thank the minister for the detail that she has already provided in previous answers, but what steps can we take to ensure that there is a supply of accessible social housing that is proportionate to the needs of the whole community, and in particular the needs of veterans in geographical hotspots?
Funding is available through the affordable housing supply programme to deliver accessible homes, including homes that are specifically for veterans, where local authorities identify that as a strategic need. Since 2012, more than £6 million has been made available through the programme to deliver more than 100 homes for veterans. In preparing their local housing strategies, local authorities must demonstrate that they have considered all housing needs, including those of armed forces communities, and that engagement has taken place with relevant organisations such as Veterans Scotland.
Addiction Treatment (Retention of Tenancies)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans to allow people who are seeking treatment for addiction to retain their tenancies through continued housing payments. (S6O-01225)
Under current United Kingdom legislation, housing benefit, or the housing element of universal credit, are reserved benefits and cannot be used to support both a tenancy and residential rehabilitation. Therefore, last year, the Minister for Drugs Policy introduced the dual housing support fund to cover full tenancy costs while someone is in residential rehabilitation, to ensure that no one has to make the impossible choice between accessing residential rehab and keeping their home. The Scottish Government’s dual housing support fund is part of the £5 million per year recovery fund, which supports individuals to access residential rehabilitation.
I am glad that the minister spoke about the dual housing support fund, which was introduced in May 2021 and helps people with drug and alcohol dependencies not to give up housing. However, over a year later, there is very little information on the scheme, and implementation appears to have stalled. How many people have received support from the fund? Does the minister think that it is right that some people still have to choose between their health and their home?
I am sure that Dr Gulhane will be interested in engaging with the Minister for Drugs Policy in making the case to the UK Government for changes to reserved benefits to help in that regard.
To answer the question directly, the dual housing support fund has not stalled; it has been working and helping people. To date, there have been several referrals to the fund, which have all been successful, and five people have been supported through it so far. If Mr Gulhane wants to see more support for people in such situations, I encourage him to engage with his UK colleagues on housing benefit and the housing element of universal credit so that those can be used to support both a tenancy and residential rehabilitation, along with the additional support that I have mentioned that the Scottish Government has provided.
Social Housing Construction (Labour Shortages and Materials Costs)
To ask the Scottish Government what impact the reported labour shortages and significant cost increases on materials will have on social housing construction in Scotland. (S6O-01226)
We are of course aware of the global issues that are affecting construction and impacting affordable housing delivery. We are working closely with the construction industry and housing partners to mitigate that where possible, and we operate a flexible grant system that can take account of increased costs.
Despite those challenges and the challenges that have been caused by the global pandemic in recent years, including the necessary lockdowns, the Scottish Government has, as I mentioned earlier, delivered 111,750 affordable homes since 2007, with 78,000 of those for social rent. We have passed the target of delivering 50,000 affordable homes, and we are starting on the delivery of an ambitious plan for a further 110,000 affordable homes by 2032.
Can the minister elaborate on what modern methods of construction are being considered by developers and the Scottish Government to meet our affordable housing targets?
There is a great deal of work with the sector to examine the potential for modern methods of construction. We already deliver homes using off-site construction methods—predominantly timber-frame methods—and will continue to support proven approaches. Given the real potential benefits to housing delivery, tenants and the environment, we are considering how we can increase uptake of and investment in off-site construction to support the delivery of more efficient high-quality and net zero affordable homes in the future.
Social housing construction obviously depends on approval numbers, and recently published statistics show that the number of affordable home approvals has dropped significantly, with around 7,800 in 2021-22 compared with 12,800 in the previous year. Since 2016, the figure has never before dropped below 10,000. What is the reason for the drop in approvals, and how can the Scottish Government get the pipeline of affordable home delivery back up to previous levels?
I have now had three opportunities over the course of two questions to remind members that, just this week, we have announced that we have surpassed the target of delivering 50,000 homes since the start of the previous parliamentary session. We are already making progress on delivering a longer-term and even more ambitious target of delivering 110,000 homes by 2032. In my previous answer, I think that I mentioned the figure of 9,000 homes, which have had the most significant impact in any financial year to date.
We are making significant progress. That contrasts very sharply with the approach of the United Kingdom Government, which is contemplating rebooting the desperately damaging right-to-buy policy, which this Government prevented from being introduced in Scotland. We have no intention of repeating the mistakes that the UK Government looks about to repeat.
What is the Scottish Government doing to address the skills shortage in the construction industry in the islands, which is impacting much-needed social housing projects that have been in the pipeline for years?
As the member knows, a significant amount of work is being done on skills and the supply chain not only for new builds but for retrofitting, which is a particular challenge in many island communities. We are working closely with the sector to address those challenges. I am sure that there will be much more on which to update the member as we develop the supply chain delivery plan later this year.
Question 5 is from Graeme Dey, who joins us remotely.
Child Poverty (National Mission)
To ask the Scottish Government how it is prioritising the national mission to tackle child poverty. (S6O-01227)
Our second delivery plan, “Best Start, Bright Futures”, sets out our actions to tackle child poverty, including our focus on long-term parental employment support, increased social security and measures to reduce household costs. The resource spending review allocates up to £300 million for tackling child poverty and for social justice. It also commits more than £23 billion through social security payments in the next four years, with almost £1.8 billion for the Scottish child payment, which will increase to £25 per child per week when the payment is extended to under-16s at the end of 2022.
The Scottish Government’s plans to mitigate the impacts of the cost of living crisis are as welcome as they are necessary, especially when they seek to tackle child poverty. However, those plans stand in marked contrast to those of the United Kingdom Government. Has there been an assessment of how many children could be lifted out of poverty by 2023-24 if the UK Government found its moral compass and matched the support that the Scottish Government is delivering as a result of the spending review?
Recent Scottish Government analysis sets out that, if key UK Government welfare reforms that have been implemented since 2015 were reversed, an additional £780 million would be put in the pockets of those in Scottish households in 2023-24, which would lift 70,000 people out of poverty, including 30,000 children. That would be part of the concrete long-term action that is needed to address poverty. Other actions could include matching Scottish Government action by uprating benefits and introducing the equivalent of the Scottish child payment.
However, we know that UK ministers do not prioritise tackling child poverty. The Scottish Parliament should have full powers over social security and employment so that we can take the action that is needed.
It has been estimated that about 30,000 children in Scotland are in poverty as a direct result of the cost of privately rented housing. At stage 2 of the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill last week, in response to my calls for immediate action to freeze rent, the Deputy First Minister said:
“Obviously, the Government will seek to take whatever action we can in the short term.”—[Official Report, COVID-19 Recovery Committee, 9 June 2022; c 96.]
Will the Scottish Government commit today to working with me ahead of stage 3 to strengthen amendments that provide for an emergency rent freeze?
I thank Mercedes Villalba for bringing up that issue. I am reliably informed by my colleagues that a meeting has been offered to talk about the subject that she has raised. I hope that she will take up that offer of a meeting, where that issue can be addressed.
Local Government Services (Shared Prosperity Fund)
To ask the Scottish Government how it will align its priorities for local government services with future projects by local authorities that are funded through the United Kingdom Government’s shared prosperity fund. (S6O-01228)
We have maintained that the replacement of European Union funding through the UK shared prosperity fund ought to be devolved to the Scottish Government and Parliament to guarantee that investment best supports our national economic priorities.
As the UK Government has chosen to bypass the Scottish Government in delivering the UKSPF, it is difficult to ensure alignment with Scotland’s national strategy for economic transition. Despite that, we will continue to work in partnership with our local authorities to ensure that all resources deliver the greatest benefit for Scotland.
Given that the UK Government plans yet another fund that is intended to bypass the Scottish Government and that Westminster’s Public Accounts Committee noted in a recent report that the UK Government does
“not yet have a strong understanding”
of what delivers local growth, will the minister consider legislation or perhaps even guidance in order to ensure that Scottish local authorities must take account of Scottish priorities when bidding for such funds?
I noticed that Conservative members sighed when the member pointed out that one of the Westminster committees supports some of the concerns of the Scottish Government.
We have no plans to legislate at this stage with Scottish local authorities. They have their own powers, responsibilities and financial freedom to operate independently, so it would not be appropriate for the Scottish Government to do so. However, we are very clear that we want to use the regional economic partnerships as well as have discussions with local government to see where we can ensure that public investment is aligned with national priorities.
Michelle Thomson highlights an important example of why the shared prosperity fund should have been devolved to Parliament, given that we were promised that Brexit would strengthen Scottish devolution and that European funding would be matched. Instead, there is a massive shortfall and this Parliament has been bypassed.
Affordable Housing Supply
To ask the Scottish Government what actions are being taken to ensure the success and viability of Scotland’s affordable housing supply programme. (S6O-01229)
More than £3.6 billion in funding is being made available in this parliamentary term to support the delivery of affordable homes, continuing the vital and ambitious work that we started in 2007, which, as was said earlier, has seen the delivery of more than 111,000 affordable homes.
We continue to work closely with our housing partners, who are critical to delivery, and have provided five-year resource planning assumptions to give them the certainty to plan ahead and ensure progress towards our commitment to deliver an additional 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, with 70 per cent for social rent and 10 per cent in remote, rural and island areas.
Challenges clearly exist in reaching the target of 110,000 affordable homes. It is important to celebrate the precedent that Scotland has already set. Does the minister welcome, as I do, the fact that researchers in Australia recently called for Scotland to be used as a model for effective affordable house building, and can he illustrate how the Scottish Government and partners will build on that international recognition?
We welcome that international recognition, which acknowledges the focus and priority that the Scottish Government places on ensuring that everyone has a warm, safe, energy-efficient and affordable home.
We will continue to work in partnership to build on our strong record, delivering affordable homes as part of our long-term housing to 2040 strategy. That strategy clearly recognises the vital role that housing plays in tackling poverty and inequality, creating and supporting jobs, meeting our energy efficiency and fuel poverty targets and tackling the climate emergency, and it ensures that we have connected and cohesive communities to live in. We should all be proud of, and look to build on, that international recognition.
Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Meetings)
To ask the Scottish Government when it last met COSLA. (S6O-01230)
The Scottish Government engages regularly with COSLA representatives to discuss a wide range of issues as part of our shared commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people and communities of Scotland.
I had my most recent monthly relationship meeting with the COSLA presidential team on 31 May, and, alongside other ministerial colleagues, I will meet the new COSLA presidential team soon, following their election this coming Friday 17 June.
COSLA is well aware of the financial constraints that the Scottish National Party Government has imposed on it. Despite allocating £20 million to preparations for a second independence referendum, the SNP will slash council budgets by 6.3 per cent in real terms, which means a cut of £11 million in East Lothian by 2025-26.Why does the SNP-Green Government not just give it a rest and commit that £20 million to council services rather than waste it on its constitutional obsession?
As was pointed out in the chamber yesterday, we have an obligation to the people of Scotland to fulfil the democratic duty for which we were elected.
I refer Craig Hoy to the poor record on local government funding that his party has in other parts of the UK—[Interruption.]
Excuse me, minister. Please resume your seat.
Members, please do not shout across the chamber while you are seated.
Minister, please continue.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Overall funding for the Scottish Government has also been cut by 5.2 per cent in real terms since last year, but in 2022-23 we increased the total package of local government funding to £12.7 billion, which was a real-terms increase of 6.3 per cent.
I have three supplementary questions, and I hope to take all three if they can be reasonably brief.
Last month’s local council elections were a chance to refresh and renew democratic connections between the Scottish Government and local authorities. Is the minister hopeful that the Scottish Government and COSLA can work positively, side by side, to address the major challenges that our communities are facing, such as the cost of living crisis and the impact of the war in Ukraine?
Bill Kidd makes important points, and I have discussed them with the COSLA presidential team on several occasions. We, in the Scottish Government, recognise and value the important and unique role that councils play in the daily lives of the people of Scotland. Therefore, it is vital that we continue to work in partnership with local government, as different spheres of government, through COSLA and directly with local authorities to tackle the challenges that Bill Kidd rightly highlighted, and that we continue to be ambitious and share ideas about progress on our mutual aims and priorities. We are unequivocal about working with local government collaboratively and collectively. The people of Scotland are best served when national and local government work together.
What discussions have been had with COSLA about increasing the mileage allowance for social care staff, particularly those who are in the private sector, as fuel prices rise to £2 a litre? The Scottish Government can intervene because it already tops up the salaries of care staff in the private sector. The First Minister promised action six weeks ago, so what has happened since then and when will care workers get an increase in their mileage allowance?
Jackie Baillie raises important issues. In a previous answer, I said that ministers with different portfolios engage with COSLA as well as those with a local government brief, so health and social care ministers engage with the health and social care lead for COSLA. I am sure that the new appointee to that position in COSLA will engage with relevant ministers on that issue as soon as the elections take place, on Friday.
Will the minister confirm that, even if there is a real-terms reduction in local authority budgets during the four years of the resource spending review because of cuts that have been imposed on the Parliament by the United Kingdom Government, it will still not in any way match the deep cuts that have already been imposed on local government in England by Mr Hoy’s Tory colleagues, and that £20 million for an independence referendum in no way matches £4 billion of personal protective equipment being burned by the UK Government—a Government that really knows how to waste public money?
Minister, please extract the bits that are relevant to your portfolio.
As he has done on several occasions, Mr Gibson rightly, wisely and passionately emphasises the extremely poor record of the Conservative Party when it comes to local government finance and financial management more generally.
The outcome of our resource spending review means that, despite the most challenging of circumstances, we have protected the local government revenue budget in cash terms, with an additional £100 million being added in 2026-27. Although local government funding is not wholly comparable, we have delivered a 3.6 per cent cash terms revenue budget increase to Scotland’s councils between 2013 and 2020 when, in the same period, English local authorities have faced a cash terms revenue budget cut of 14.7 per cent. The figures speak for themselves.
That concludes portfolio questions on social justice, housing and local government. There will be a very short pause before we move on to the next item of business.