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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee 14 September 2021

Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, Petition, Scottish Government Priorities for Equalities and Human Rights, Subordinate Legislation


Contents


Scottish Government Priorities for Equalities and Human Rights

The next agenda item is to hear from the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government. The cabinet secretary appears before us today to speak on behalf of both her portfolio and that of the Minister for Equalities and Older People. All our panel 2 witnesses are joining us virtually today. I welcome Shona Robison, the cabinet secretary, who is joined by Scottish Government officials Nick Parton, unit head of the connected communities division; Emma Harvey, divisional performance manager from the business support unit; Elisabeth Campbell, deputy director for human rights; and Jess Dolan, deputy director for equality and inclusion.

I refer members to papers 4 and 5, and I invite the cabinet secretary to make a short opening statement.

Thank you, convener, and good morning to the committee. I am delighted to take on my new portfolio and I welcome new and returning colleagues on the committee. I acknowledge the strong position on equality and human rights on which, thanks to the leadership of current and past ministers, we are able to build. I am sorry that, for understandable reasons, my colleague Christina McKelvie cannot be with us today.

I will take a moment to focus briefly on the on-going situation in Afghanistan. Scotland has a long history of welcoming people of all nationalities and faiths, including those seeking refuge and asylum. Work is under way to ensure that people have the support and services that they need on arrival and as they settle into communities. We are working with the Home Office, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, local authorities, the Scottish Refugee Council and other partners to provide people with the safety and security that they need to rebuild their lives.

Events in Afghanistan remind us how important it is that we support human rights around the world, and I look forward to welcoming the latest participants in the Scottish human rights defender fellowship, who will be arriving from Brazil and Columbia later this month.

Our experience during the past 18 months has also reminded us that equality, inclusion and human rights are our collective responsibility. Throughout the pandemic, inequality and human rights issues have been exacerbated, particularly for women, minority ethnic communities, disabled people and older people. We have taken significant steps to mitigate those impacts, with well over £1 billion committed to efforts to support communities and individuals at risk during the pandemic. We have seen admirable examples of people coming together to support their communities and develop new ways of working.

However, the situation has also exposed where we can do better, and we must continue to ensure that equality, inclusion and human rights are embedded throughout our work as we enter the next stage of renewal and recovery. We have invested an additional £5 million in front-line services tackling gendered violence, and we have started development of a new five-year plan to tackle social isolation and loneliness, with £1 million in funding for organisations this year.

Later this month, we will set out our immediate priorities to tackle racial inequality, building on our learning from the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on our minority ethnic communities. Furthermore, during this year, we will consult on a strategy to mainstream and embed equality, inclusion and human rights better across Government and wider society.

A human rights bill will be introduced in this parliamentary session. That will demonstrate global human rights leadership, placing Scotland at the forefront of human rights legislation and, most important, practice.

We will reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004 with a bill introduced in this parliamentary year, and ensure that LGBT people are protected from the deeply damaging practice of conversion therapy.

We will review our equally safe strategy with COSLA to ensure that we are doing all that we can to tackle the pernicious issue of violence against women and girls. We will also implement our strategy with COSLA to end destitution for those at risk due to immigration restrictions, doing all that we can within devolved powers to protect communities and support people.

Later this year, we will set out progress on tackling hate crime, before working with stakeholders to develop a new hate crime strategy. That will include implementation of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021.

That is just a brief outline of the work to come. I welcome the opportunity to give evidence and take your questions.

Thank you. We are keen to explore a number of issues. I do not think that we have time to cover everything today, so we will almost certainly be writing to you about a few points that we want to pick up on. Committee members will focus on issues that they are particularly interested to hear more about.

We are keen to try to pin you down a little bit more on the timescales for legislation. You mentioned two bills in particular that you expect to be introduced, one of which will be in this parliamentary year. Can you give any further indication about when we can expect legislation to come before the committee? That will help with our planning for the work that we intend to do.

We expect to move forward with the gender recognition bill next spring, so we will be giving you more information about that. The human rights bill will be introduced later in the session. Good work is being done on the bill, which is very complex. Again, we will be able to give you more defined timescales on that as we move forward. It is a far-reaching piece of legislation. Christina McKelvie recently convened the advisory board that is progressing a lot of the detailed work on the legislation. Good progress is being made.

In a second, Pam Gosal will ask about the proposals on gender recognition. First, I will ask about the human rights legislation. You said that work is on-going. Will the committee see some of that work? As you develop the proposals, is the work likely to be published, or will that mainly take place behind closed doors?

11:15  

I am happy to write to the committee to give more detail on work so far, if that would be helpful. A lot of detailed work has gone on. Work is still going on but, certainly, there is plenty that we can update the committee on—in writing, if that would help in terms of time.

That would be helpful, so that we can work out what we are going to do prior to any legislation being introduced. As you have said, it is a big piece of work.

My question is on gender recognition reform. Is there any way of telling from the individual responses what the level of support was for the draft bill?

I hope that, when we take forward the bill, we can try to find as many areas of consensus as possible and that it can be done in a respectful environment—in particular, when we discuss the issues in more detail in Parliament.

You might be aware that the first consultation showed that 60 per cent of respondents were in favour of the reform. The second consultation sought views on the draft bill itself, so its approach was qualitative rather than quantitative. For example, it asked whether the minimum age should be reduced to 16, and it included other specific questions on the bill.

Because of the volume of responses—there were 17,000—an in-depth analysis of them was not possible. That is why only the organisational responses were published; it would have taken an inordinate amount of officials’ time to extrapolate all the detail from 17,000 responses. The same approach was taken in the first consultation on the issue and with the equal marriage legislation. It is important to note that there has been an independent analysis of the consultation, which has given a clear summary of views on key aspects of reform such as the minimum age.

Can the Scottish Government do anything about misinformation on the gender recognition bill? We are seeing some confusion in the public mind about things that are already in place in the Equality Act 2010. Those misconceptions are leading to requests to roll back legislation that is already in place. What messaging is getting out about there being no conflict between the bill and women’s rights, and about the difference between the bill and other legislation that is already in place?

Karen Adam has made important points. In the second consultation, we tried to put out information and to reassure people. There is no conflict between the proposed legislation and the rights of women and girls. The Scottish Government has brought forward a huge amount of work on protecting women and girls. That work continues with the misogyny working group. The equally safe strategy, which we might touch on today, is hugely important. Through the work on the bill, we are trying to make the lives of a small number of people that bit easier by changing the process by which someone can obtain a gender recognition certificate.

Karen Adam made the point that some of the debate seems to indicate a desire to move away from the ability to obtain a gender recognition certificate in any way. I hope that, as parliamentarians, we can focus the debate on making the process—which already exists—easier and on removing the difficulties that make the lives of a small number of people very difficult. It is about making the process easier for those who are affected. As we take forward the proposals, we will ensure that they in no way impact on the rights of women and girls.

I will follow on from what Karen Adam said. This is, of course, a very sensitive subject, and a lot of people have opposing views. Mothers, daughters and wives are all very worried that the proposals will take away their protections—it would be pointless to sit here and pretend otherwise.

Cabinet secretary, given that you said that we cannot go through all 17,000 responses, how will the Scottish Government carry out further consultation and engagement on the issue before the bill is introduced? I am mindful that you said that you are looking to introduce it in spring. Should we do any further work to ensure that we protect women’s rights, too?

There have already been two large consultations, which have elicited a huge number of responses, as the member points out. It is not likely that a further consultation will resolve some of the existing polarised views on the bill to which the member alluded. We can best move forward by having open communication, by challenging misconceptions and inaccurate representations and by showing leadership in the Parliament. As I said, there is no conflict between the rights of a small number of trans men and women and the rights of girls and women.

Threats to women and girls come from abusive men, which is an issue that is very close to my heart, as a lifelong feminist. In my experience, those men have never found the need to pretend to be a trans woman in order to abuse women and girls. We have to tackle men’s violence in society and to stay focused on where the real threat to women and girls comes from.

That said, as we take forward the bill, we will ensure that we listen to genuine concerns. There are already protections for single-sex spaces and for services that need a level of discretion, and it is important to maintain those protections. That has already been laid out.

As we move forward, even though there are divergent views, I hope that, as MSPs, we can try to take some of the heat out of the debate, dial down some of the rhetoric and consider the issues in a calm and measured way. At the end of the day, we are talking about a small number of very vulnerable people whose lives can be made that much better by the bill.

I agree with Pam Gosal that this seems to be a very difficult subject—certainly online.

We have talked a lot about engagement, and 17,000 responses seems to be a fairly large response. Will the cabinet secretary comment on the most recent poll on the issue and on many other subjects—I mean the election, of course—and on the manifestos of all the political parties that were elected to Parliament? How important is it that political parties commit to their manifestos when the Parliament restarts its work?

Fulton MacGregor made the point that social media is not necessarily representative of society on a range of issues. I think that we all know that.

I intend to build as much consensus as possible in Parliament. There was consensus on the issue across most of the manifestos and recognition that it must be resolved. We must build consensus and tackle the issues that have been raised. If there are suggestions about how the proposed bill can be improved, we will try to reassure people as much as possible.

A process for gender recognition certification already exists; the legislation will make it that bit easier. Some who are involved in the debate want to get rid of gender recognition certification entirely. I hope that that is not where Parliament is—I do not believe that is where it is; I do not think that any party in the Scottish Parliament wants that. Therefore, we are discussing what the process for gender recognition certification should be.

The proposition is to make the certification process easier for the small number of people whose lives are affected, and ensure that we safeguard the rights of women and girls as we do so. I have already referred to the exemptions for single-sex services and to the penalties that will exist for any misuse of the gender recognition certification system.

There are safeguards. We can discuss them in more detail and I am happy to work with the committee to do that in a respectful atmosphere.

I want to ask about the race equality framework and action plan that was published in March, and about—you referred to this—the immediate priorities plan that was announced in the programme for government last week. Will you tell us about the immediate priorities plan and the ethnic pay gap strategy? How will they make a difference as quickly as possible to communities across Scotland?

I was the convener of the cross-party group on racial equality during the previous parliamentary session. You will be aware that organisations representing those communities feel that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government have good intentions but that things do not always happen as quickly as they would like them to. Will last week’s announcement help in that regard?

The “Race Equality Immediate Priorities Plan” was published this morning—it is hot off the press. The plan runs for 18 months, until 2023, and sets out actions to tackle the structural disadvantages faced by minority ethnic communities that have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. The plan includes the fulfilment of the recommendations of the expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity and the cross-Government work to tackle racism. It will act as a foundation for the development of a long-term programme of systemic change from 2023 to ensure that, by 2030, Scotland fulfils its vision of being a fair and equal country for all.

Fulton MacGregor also asked about the important issue of the pay gap. In March, we held a public sector leadership summit on race equality and employment to address the recommendations in the Equalities and Human Rights Committee report “Race Equality, Employment and Skills: Making Progress?”

We have also unveiled a joint commitment to take forward and make progress on the committee’s recommendations. In addition, we have engaged in a comprehensive strategic review on race equality policy. We must also engage private sector employers to ensure that they are aware of the need to examine their own policies. A lot of work is going ahead, but there is a lot still to do.

11:30  

My question is on ethnic minorities in deprived areas. How will the Scottish Government work with those groups that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic? How can we help to guide that recovery?

That is an important question. Part of the Deputy First Minister’s Covid recovery work is focused on listening to the experiences of those communities that have been most impacted. The DFM has undertaken a number of engagements, listening to those with lived experience to find out what their priorities are to build a Covid recovery strategy. Again, I am happy to write to the committee with more detail on that work, if that would be helpful.

Throughout the pandemic, as everybody knows, a lot of ethnic minority people have been really affected, especially front-line doctors and nurses. Is the Government doing any work in that regard? With Christmas coming up, and the flu coming—although I hope that it does not—we might go through the same situation again. How do we protect our doctors and nurses who are from ethnic minority groups?

That is one of the issues that has emerged from the pandemic, not least from work showing that those groups are disproportionately vulnerable to the virus. There is a lot of learning around that to ensure that we understand the issues. In the future, the needs of those with additional vulnerabilities who are working on the front line will need to be taken into account with regard to the protections that are afforded to them in the workplace in particular. Humza Yousaf has been doing some work on that, on the back of the emerging findings from the various pieces of research that have been done.

Of course, we were quite a way into the pandemic before a lot of the evidence started to emerge, so a lot of work is still on-going. Again, I would be happy to write to the committee to furnish you with more information.

Fulton, do you want back in on that point, or do you want to move on to your next question?

I have a range of questions in the same area, so if anyone else has a supplementary, I can wait.

I think that Pam Duncan-Glancy wants to come in on this issue.

If that is okay, convener. I thank Fulton MacGregor for allowing me in.

Last week, I met representatives of an organisation called Tell MAMA—“MAMA” stands for measuring anti-Muslim attacks—who talked about the increase in hate crime that people from ethnic minorities have experienced. One of their concerns is that such crime is being experienced more in a home setting, from neighbours and people in their local community. That has a particular impact on the way in which we use our hate crime legislation. Do you have any plans to look at that issue? Do you plan to work with housing associations, for example, to look at how we could start to address some of those concerns?

That should be of concern to us all, and I ask Pam Duncan-Glancy to write to me with the details. It is the responsibility of us all, including organisations such as registered social landlords and local authorities, which have a huge role to play in supporting people in communities through their policies where there is an issue. For example, antisocial behaviour that has a racist element might breach tenancy agreements and should be taken incredibly seriously—as I think that it is—by social landlords. There is hate crime legislation in place and there are aggravated offences, so the police should be taking those issues seriously, as I am sure that they are.

I am happy to raise the issue with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, Keith Brown, to ensure that we consider it as we recover from the pandemic. It is perhaps a legacy issue, but it might be that issues have arisen from people being at home. People are spending more time in their homes and if they are feeling unsafe there, that is a very concerning situation.

I will certainly pick up the issue with Keith Brown and we will respond to Pam Duncan-Glancy if she writes to me with some more detail.

I was going to ask about the public sector leadership summit on race equality and employment, so I am glad that the cabinet secretary included some comments on that in a previous answer. That issue is really important. As she mentioned, our predecessor committee held an inquiry into the topic, and it is good to hear that the work is being progressed.

I will move on to the Gypsy Traveller action plan. It is worth putting on record that, in the previous parliamentary session, Christina McKelvie, who is not here today, and Mary Fee were big advocates in that area. Will you comment on current progress with the action plan? Is there any evidence that it is having a positive impact on the lives of Gypsy Travellers?

I am happy to respond to that. I recognise the very important work that Christina McKelvie has done in the area.

We have made good progress, particularly on the accommodation actions in the plan. The £20 million Gypsy Traveller accommodation fund, which was launched in June, will initially be focused on the development of demonstration projects to establish model sites. As part of that, we are working in partnership with members of the Gypsy Traveller community and local authorities to develop a design guide for modern, accessible sites. The fund builds on the £2 million short-term funding that was provided for public sites in 2020-21, as a sustained investment to support local authorities in relation to site provision.

Officials are organising the next community conversation, which is due to take place online later this month. In that conversation, we aim to get further feedback and insight from community members on our on-going work and issues that are important to them. We will also take the opportunity to share an update on where we are with the actions that are set out in the plan. I will be happy to update the committee on that and provide more detail, if that would be helpful.

We will also reconvene the ministerial working group on Gypsy Travellers before the end of this year to oversee progress on the action plan. I am also happy to keep the committee updated on that.

Thank you. With the convener’s permission, I confirm that that would be helpful.

On the same topic, cabinet secretary, I want to draw your attention to a newspaper article that I saw today on Christina McKelvie’s social media. Referring to the UK Government, the article has the shocking headline:

“Government says discrimination against black people and Travellers ‘objectively justified’ with new laws”.

Under the headline, it says:

“Documents defend disproportionate impact of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill”.

I do not know whether you have seen that. I do not expect you to comment if you have not, but I wonder whether, broadly speaking, I can seek an assurance that our Government in Scotland will not seek to have a similar response or ideology, given all the work that you have outlined.

I have not seen the article, but if Fulton MacGregor wants to pass it to me, I will be happy to have a look at it. I think that I have laid out pretty comprehensively the ethos with which this Government approaches any issue regarding hate crime or, indeed, the needs and rights of people from diverse communities, which is that they should all be protected.

We have taken steps to ensure that that is the case. The proposed human rights bill will be a further iteration of trying to strengthen people’s rights, particularly the rights of those who are most vulnerable to hate crime.

I hope that I have given a flavour of the Government’s ethos. Obviously, it is for other Governments to defend their actions.

I call—

Sorry, convener—I have a supplementary question on a current issue in the same area.

I thank you for that response, cabinet secretary. You were pretty clear, and it was good to get that on the record.

My final question relates to a matter that affects people in my constituency and throughout the country, but particularly those in the west of Scotland, and which particularly centres around specific football games. It relates to the anti-Catholic or anti-Irish racism that is sometimes seen. I know that that can be more of a criminal justice issue and that what we see on social media and the queries that we get about it can perhaps require police action. Is education on such discrimination part of the plans that you are progressing and the action that you are taking? Education will be crucial if we are going to tackle the issue properly.

It goes without saying that Scotland is a diverse and multicultural society, that that diversity strengthens us as a nation and that we are better for it. There is absolutely no excuse or justification for hatred, bigotry or prejudice, and we absolutely condemn anti-Catholic prejudice and anti-Irish racism.

Fulton MacGregor has made a good point about tackling sectarianism in our schools. Third sector organisations in particular are doing a lot of good work in our schools to try to tackle those issues. They are not easy to tackle—some of them are deep rooted and generational—but we need to do absolutely everything that we can to tackle them, and the Government is determined to do so.

My question is about disabled people’s equality and human rights. You will be aware that the disability employment gap remains high, at around 32 per cent. A number of disabled people still do not get access to the social care that they need, and some of that has stopped and not restarted since the pandemic began. The Fraser of Allander Institute has said that we are not doing enough in Scotland to enable people with learning disabilities

“to live safe, secure and fulfilling lives”,

and tens of thousands of disabled people are still waiting for accessible homes.

At the summit that the Government held with disabled people last year—I think that it was in December—it was noted that, given the serious discrimination and inequalities that disabled people face, they rightly want a focus on actions as opposed to problems and continued plans and strategies. I welcome the Government’s commitment to a disability equality strategy, but what specific actions will it take in the short term to address the issues that I have raised?

Pam Duncan-Glancy has asked a number of questions. I will try to cover all of them.

Pam Duncan-Glancy referred to the disability summit last year. That summit, which was very well attended—there were more than 100 participants—was an opportunity for ministers to hear from disabled people’s organisations and disabled people in particular in responding to issues that were highlighted. We have a wealth of information from that summit that will help to guide the development of the next disability equality plan.

Pam Duncan-Glancy specifically mentioned employment. “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: employment action plan”, which is now three years old, sets out the actions to deliver the ambition, working with partners, to at least halve the disability employment gap by 2038.

11:45  

The second annual progress report, which was published in March this year, highlights the work that has been undertaken to date in supporting the delivery of that ambition. It shows that the disability employment gap in 2019 was the lowest recorded in recent years. However, that gap widened in 2020, unfortunately. That was particularly in relation to Covid, I suspect. It moved from 32.6 per cent to 33.4 per cent, so we have work to do, and we need to ensure that we take further action to address that.

Pam Duncan-Glancy mentioned social care, and that issue has been raised by stakeholders, as you would imagine. We have ambitious plans for the national care service, which she is more than aware of, and those will be important in restructuring our care services. However, we need to ensure that people are supported. There are undoubtedly lessons to be learned from the pandemic on people’s vulnerability and on the situation that they have found themselves in.

Finally, on learning disability, we are taking forward a learning disability, autism and neurodiversity bill to make improvements in that area. There is a commitment to having a commissioner, as we recognise that there is a particular vulnerability and a need for an office to support the rights of those who are most vulnerable.

On accessible homes, the member will be aware that “Housing to 2040” contains a lot about accessibility and ensuring that homes are barrier free as we develop and deliver the affordable housing supply. It is really important that homes stand the test of time and are barrier free, no matter what challenges people have.

A number of the actions that you have outlined are not necessarily in legislation. For example, the targets on accessible housing are not in legislation; they are a matter for discretion, and that reflects some of the inequalities that still exist for disabled people.

You have said that there are plans for a national transitions strategy. Can you set out why that would be a strategy and not a bill or a legislative right at this stage?

It is important that we begin work on a new national transitions to adulthood strategy to support disabled young people as they make the transition to adult life. That feels like the right approach. We can keep these things under review and under discussion, but that feels like the right approach to take on that. I am happy to engage directly with Pam Duncan-Glancy on the detail as we take forward that approach.

I have a small supplementary question. You mentioned something about considering a suite of legislation or support for neurodiverse people. Would it be relevant to the scope of that work to include discussion on our approach to conversion therapy? We have been talking about that in the committee in relation to LGBTQ+ rights, but there is an important issue around neurodiverse people who are challenged and people who try to “fix” them. Do you see that as a legitimate area to consider within the scope of that work?

I will probably have to reflect on that question, which is quite complex. I would want to write to the committee with a response to that, rather than respond at the moment. I would want to give it further thought.

Thank you.

Pam, do you want to come in with your other brief question?

Yes. It is on a slightly different subject from my previous question—but it is on ending conversion therapy. The cabinet secretary will be aware that, last week and this morning, we took evidence on the need to end conversion therapy. One thing that came across strongly in that evidence is that we need to set out the Government’s policy intention in Scotland as soon as we can. Is it your intention to legislate to cover sexual orientation and gender in the conversion therapy ban? Do you intend to include the advertising of conversion therapy and to exclude exemptions in the case of consent?

We have been in discussion with the UK Government on that matter. As the committee is probably aware, the UK Government has said that it is looking to legislate in the area. We have had communications with it to try to get clarity on the scope of that. We have said all along that, if the scope does not go as far as we want it to, we will look to legislate. There are some complexities in relation to devolved and reserved issues, which we would need to work through. However, we have been pretty clear.

I caught the tail end of the earlier evidence session—very powerful testimony and evidence were given. We need to find out from the UK Government what its intentions are in more detail. However, as we have said, it still stands that, if the UK Government either will not legislate or will not go as far as we want to, we will bring forward our own legislation.

It was clear from this morning’s evidence session that people think that a lot of the legislation in relation to the ban is devolved to Scotland. Is it the Scottish Government’s position that any ban in Scotland would include gender as well as sexual orientation? In addition, would the ban include advertising, and not include exemptions in the case of consent?

We need to reflect on that. I am not in a position to answer at the moment. I would want to come back to the committee to bring more details on those questions, if that is okay.

I am sure that we will come back to speak to the cabinet secretary about that issue.

I will move on to the topic of older people.

As we know, we have an ageing population, and a large percentage of our society falls into that bracket. “A Fairer Scotland for Older People—A Framework for Action”, which came out in April 2019, identified a number of priorities, including outcomes for access to services, health and social care employment, financial scrutiny and housing. Will the cabinet secretary give an update as to where we are with the framework, and how likely it is that a report will be published? Obviously, the pandemic has had an effect on the report, but it has also had a huge effect on the older population across Scotland.

I concur with Alexander Stewart; he is right that the pandemic has had a huge impact. I will respond as briefly as I can on what is an important area.

Back in March, the then Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People wrote to the older people’s strategic action forum setting out the next steps on the creating a fairer Scotland for older people framework, which is important and which contained 56 actions. We have been able to deliver or partially deliver 48 of those in total, which, given the challenges over the past year and more, is a significant achievement.

Officials will provide a further update towards the end of this year—we can furnish the committee with it, if that would be helpful. We are also mindful that some of the actions may have been superseded by work or policies that have been or will be implemented as a result of Covid-19. We are collecting feedback from the older people’s strategic action forum on the framework action updates, particularly around the gaps or actions that are yet to be delivered—that is, the ones that need more progress to be made.

We have had sessions to hear about and reflect on the social renewal advisory board’s report and the review of adult social care, and we have committed to updating stakeholders on all the outstanding actions by the end of the year. We also recognise that there is work to be done to help older people recover from the pandemic’s impacts, especially as they adapt to potentially new ways of living in, if you like, our new normal.

Policy officials in this area are working across Government to ensure that older people’s voices are being heard in wider policy development spanning a number of portfolio areas, and it is important that the lived experience of those people informs that policy making. We must continue to talk to older people through the forum and in other ways.

You have pointed out the progress that has been made and have touched on potential new ways of working. Technology, for example, has developed quite rapidly over the past 18 months of the pandemic to tackle loneliness and social isolation. I also believe that some work has been done on intergenerational wellbeing. It would be good to hear your thoughts on those two areas, as they will continue to develop over the next few years and during this parliamentary session. We might have to change direction slightly as we tackle such issues, enforce measures and change how things have been done in the past to ensure that we capture as many individuals as we can who fall into the older age group.

Barriers to technology are also a problem for some people, as they might not have full knowledge and understanding of all the technology that is available to support them. How do we enhance that knowledge and ensure that they are exposed to some of that technology and receive the support and training that they need in that respect?

That is very important. It is relevant to highlight our commitment to starting work on a social isolation and loneliness plan, which is backed by £10 million over five years. Such isolation has been a real challenge, and it has been exacerbated by Covid. We have also recently allocated £1 million to organisations tackling social isolation and loneliness, and the intergenerational dimension that the member referred to will be an important part of that work.

It is important that we take this forward. I highlight the connecting Scotland programme, which has been working to support those who are still excluded from technology or who do not have the right technology to take advantage of opportunities. The programme’s digital inclusion element has been really important, and the funding has helped 5,000 older and disabled people to get online and tackle isolation and digital exclusion.

There is a role for the third sector and social enterprises in all that. What discussions are you having with those sectors to capture their projects and proposals and marry them with your work in Government?

You make an important point. We have provided more than £1 million to partners to tackle isolation among those in greatest need, and that funding includes £100,000 for Befriending Networks. The third sector and social enterprises have played such an important role, and I pay tribute to all of them for their work throughout the pandemic. There is no doubt that without their support people would be much more isolated, lonely and vulnerable, and that work has been important. I also highlight the new social enterprise plan, which is looking to support and grow the social enterprise network, and that, too, will be important in taking forward this work.

12:00  

I note the extra funding to combat gender violence, particularly as the pandemic exposed more of those vulnerabilities. Such funding is vital. Coming from the angle that the majority of that abuse is committed by men, what will be done to support people not just reactively when they have been abused but proactively to get to the root cause of it? Taking a helicopter type approach, would that be within the remit of the misogyny working group?

Karen Adam makes an important point. First, I reiterate that the protection of women and girls is an absolute priority for the Government. The equally safe strategy sets out a clear and decisive focus on preventing violence, advancing gender equality and tackling the underlying attitudes that perpetuate gender-based abuse. That starts young, so a lot of work is being done in schools to make sure that boys and young men understand issues such as consent. That is important, given many of the external factors and influences that impact negatively on the views of stereotypes that girls and boys hold that can damage attitudes in later life.

In August, we launched our Equally Safe at School online platform, which applies a whole-school approach to tackling gender inequality and gender-based violence. The website contains specialist toolkits and other resources for schools. Our partner, Rape Crisis Scotland, has been working with the University of Glasgow and conducting research alongside the pilot and the final online platform. Again, I would be happy to furnish the committee with more information about that really important work.

During the pandemic, when women and girls were particularly vulnerable and home was not a safe place to be for some, we provided new Government funding of £5 million to front-line services to ensure that those who are affected can access more quickly the support that they need. That is also part of £100 million in general support to front-line services during the next three years.

Karen, do you want to come back in?

I just want to thank the cabinet secretary for her answer. When I talk to certain equality and zero tolerance groups, it comes up a lot that there needs to be a wider approach, particularly in the early years, to change the culture of toxic masculinity and misogyny.

Alexander Stewart wants to come in.

Cabinet secretary, you talked about the staggering increase in levels of domestic abuse during lockdown in many communities. The police and other organisations and sectors had to be much more robust in tackling it because, as you identified, home was not a safe place for many individuals. The funding that you talked about will go to support that action but, as we saw, there needs to be more of a crossover between agencies and organisations to capture some of what different groups were identifying using different ways and means. Was information about that collated and transmitted to other support mechanisms to ensure that lessons were being learned about how vulnerable some of these people were and the conditions they were living in?

The member raises an important issue. A multi-agency approach to tackling domestic abuse has always been important, particularly during the pandemic. We know, for example, that the police have been paying particular attention to the issue and looking at trends. We have got a lot of the information around the heightened levels of domestic abuse from front-line organisations, but the police have been doing a lot of important recording.

If you think about the changes in how domestic abuse has been responded to during the past 10, 15 or 20 years, the approach that the police take now is unrecognisable. They work alongside other statutory partners and third sector organisations to ensure that there is wraparound support for victims.

Of course, the Parliament has also been very important not just in reforming laws and making it easier for people to report domestic abuse and for that to be taken seriously, but in looking at issues around tenancy rights to make sure that victims are not removed from their houses. The Parliament has done some good cross-party work in the area, and I am sure that the cross-party support will continue.

I thank the cabinet secretary for the answers that she has given so far. I add my voice to her earlier comments and put on record my very strong support for reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. As a woman, I do not think that it has any impact on my rights or women’s rights in general. I think that there is no conflict between those rights and the measures that are being taken to let trans people live as who they are.

I want to ask a couple of questions on new Scots refugees and the support that is available to them. I welcome your unequivocal support for Afghan refugees. The new Scots refugee integration strategy will come to an end next year. Can you provide a little bit more detail about what plans the Scottish Government has, in addition to the £500,000 support for local authorities to accommodate more unaccompanied children, to refresh and expand the strategy, especially in the light of the increased demand resulting from the refugees coming from Afghanistan?

The second new Scots refugee integration strategy runs until December next year, and partners have begun discussions on the arrangements to develop the third strategy with the aim of publishing that in 2023. We want the strategy to be shaped by refugees and people with experience of asylum as well as those with expertise in supporting them. During the past few weeks, I have met people who have settled here and have heard their voices directly on some of the issues that remain—some of which are reserved and some of which are devolved—which we need to work through.

The member also made reference to the work with COSLA on the “Ending Destitution Together” strategy, which was published in March. That looks at improving and strengthening the support and provision for people who have no recourse to public funds. The strategy has been informed by powerful testimony from people with lived experience of suffering destitution. It sets out the initial actions to deliver essential needs, to enable access to specialist advice and advocacy and to make sure that people can pursue their ambitions and be active members of our communities. That is very pertinent to the work that we are doing to make sure that Scotland plays its part in supporting those who have come from Afghanistan in terrible circumstances, who are very vulnerable indeed.

Afghan families are already being welcomed into Scottish communities through the Afghan locally employed staff relocation scheme and, so far, 22 local authorities have expressed a keenness to support the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. We have been pushing the UK Government for more information on that. Last week, Angus Robertson and I had a meeting with UK ministers to consider the details, including funding, to ensure that local authorities have the information that they need. There are some practical issues relating to access to interpreters and ensuring that people who first go to hotels are resettled as quickly as possible.

We have a long history of welcoming people of all nationalities and faiths, including those who are seeking asylum and refuge from war and terror elsewhere. It is important that we continue to play our part.

It is heartening to hear that there is a focus on lived experience, which is a theme across lots of different elements of the committee’s work.

What has been the response to the ending destitution together strategy? I am interested primarily in the response from the third sector organisations with which the strategy needs to work in partnership. How can we appropriately measure the strategy’s effectiveness? Quite often, we do not get the volume of quantitative data that is useful in that respect.

The work of third sector organisations in supporting people who have no recourse to public funds is vital. The UK Government has strict rules on those who have no recourse to public funds, so we have to proceed with caution because, ultimately, at the extreme end of things, we could jeopardise someone’s status as having leave to remain if they were to receive funds that the UK Government deemed they should not receive. We have to be extremely careful in that area, which is why funding third sector organisations is the best way of supporting individuals and families who need support.

Many of the people who have come to Scotland through the refugee or asylum process are hugely skilled and valued members of our communities. The sooner they are able to use those skills and work, the better it will be for our communities and our society at large.

Unfortunately, some of the issues remain reserved to the UK Government. Therefore, we continue to have dialogue in order to work through some of the remaining barriers for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Do you understand there to be any gaps in equality data? If so, how could they impact on policy development?

I am happy to say a little bit about that, but I might bring in my officials, who are a bit closer to the detail on the data challenges. One issue is that, if we do not have data, it is difficult to benchmark and to know what progress is being made and what progress is still to be made. We have strengths and weaknesses in our data collection.

I am trying to think which official it would be best to bring in. It might be Jess Dolan.

Jess Dolan (Scottish Government)

I think that it would be best if we wrote to the committee with a full update on the equality data strategy.

We look forward to getting that in writing later.

12:15  

I have a couple of questions on how we embed equalities and human rights into our budget process in a meaningful way. What steps is the Scottish Government taking to build the capacity of all Scottish Government members and officials to ensure that budget spend advances our equalities and human rights agenda? Further, how do we ensure that our budget processes are as transparent as possible, especially around those issues? How do we inform those who are doing the budget setting while being transparent in the interests of those who might want to be involved in that process?

The importance of ensuring that we can do better in that area was flagged up in discussions with the Scottish Green Party. The development of the equality and human rights budget process will build on the 10 key emerging risks in the next equality and fairer Scotland budget statement. We want to ensure that, as far as possible, people’s lived experience can be integrated into the budget process. The budget process is not simple and it is not easy to take things forward in it, but we have made a commitment to consider what more we can do in that regard.

One theme of the recommendations from the equality budget advisory group is that we should improve knowledge and understanding in this area. Suffice it to say that we are working on that. We do not have all the answers, but we could come back to the committee with more detail on that if it would be helpful.

In answer to the previous question, I will write to the committee in relation to the gaps. We have published research to improve our understanding of the collection and use of equality data and data on socioeconomic disadvantage by Scottish public sector bodies, and that will help us to understand where the gaps are and how we can fill them.

In that written information, could you clearly address the 10 risks that were identified in the equality and fairer Scotland budget statement? That would help us to be clear about what work is happening against each of those identified risks. Similarly, it would be useful to have information on progress against each of the recommendations of the equality budget advisory group.

I am happy to do that.

That takes us to the end of our questions. We look forward to receiving the information that you have agreed to send us, cabinet secretary. We will see you next month to discuss the budget specifically, when we will be able to return to some of the points that have been raised. For now, however, I thank you and your officials for attending.