Website survey

We want your feedback on the Scottish Parliament website. Take our 6 question survey now

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 04 March 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, United Kingdom Government’s Approach to Negotiations with the European Union, Scottish Rate Resolution, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Early Years Education, Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill, Point of Order, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2020


Portfolio Question Time

Communities and Local Government

Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio questions on communities and local government. Questions 5 and 8 are grouped together.

Low-income Families

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle inequalities among low-income families. (S5O-04196)

Last year, we invested more than £1.4 billion to support low income families, including £522 million for affordable homes, £84 million to tackle fuel poverty and energy efficiency and more than £100 million to mitigate the worst impacts of United Kingdom Government welfare cuts.

The Scottish budget outlines an investment of £3.4 billion in social security spending, including £21 million to introduce our Scottish child payment. By year end, a low-income family with one child in the first year of their life will be entitled to receive an annual total of £1,572 in new Scottish benefits—more than £600 more than they would have got previously in the UK benefits system.

Does the cabinet secretary recognise that the good efforts on social security are undermined by continued cuts to local authorities? I welcome the reversal of the decision to close the Blairvadach outdoor education centre, but fewer cuts does not mean more money. Does she think that a £205 million cut and site closures will help to increase or decrease inequality in Glasgow?

We believe that we have afforded a fair budget to local government, although we understand that there are lots of challenges across public finances. However, our good efforts—all the things that I outlined in my answer to Anas Sarwar—are being undermined by the continued pursuit of austerity and welfare reforms by the UK Government. Imagine if the Scottish Government did not have to spend more than £100 million to mitigate the worst impacts of welfare reform. I put a hand out to Anas Sarwar and ask him whether he will join us in recognising that we need all the powers over social security and employment to come to the Scottish Parliament. We need independence to be able to properly tackle poverty in the way that we want to in this Government.

Affordable Homes (Budget)

To ask the Scottish Government what provision it has made for building affordable homes in the next financial year. (S5O-04197)

We are committed to ensuring that everyone has access to a safe, warm and affordable home that meets their needs. That is why we have increased the affordable housing supply budget by £17 million to £843 million in 2020-21 and committed to £300 million interim funding certainty for 2021-22.

We have transformed access to affordable housing with a record investment of more than £3.5 billion to deliver our 50,000 affordable homes target, which includes 35,000 homes for social rent, over the course of this parliamentary session. This Government can be very proud of its record on affordable housing, having delivered more than 89,000 affordable homes since 2007.

I welcome the extra £17 million for this financial year and note the considerable progress that has been made in this area, including on affordable housing. What wider progress is being made by the Scottish Government on the housing to 2040 vision, so that we will have a housing sector that meets the needs of Scotland’s changing population?

It is clear that Scotland’s housing system must help to address many of the challenges that we face, such as our ageing population, which means that business as usual is not an option. We also need to think carefully about how we support the distinct needs of rural communities and ensure that we have a housing system that works for all.

In the programme for government 2018-19, we committed to working with the whole of Scotland on a shared vision for how our homes and communities should look and feel by 2040. Since then, wisdom and expertise have been put into our consultation. Between 2 December and 28 February, we consulted extensively on our draft vision and principles and the options and choices to get there. We have received a wealth of feedback and ideas, which we will carefully assess as we develop the housing to 2040 vision and route map.

The announcement in the draft budget of an extra £300 million for 2021-22 is welcome, but that is enough to deliver only less than half of the extra 10,000 houses a year that are needed. Does the minister not agree that the figure should be increased?

I am grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes, for providing that £300 million to give comfort and certainty beyond the current parliamentary session. I am sure that Ms Forbes will look carefully at what is required for the future. It would be helpful if we actually had a United Kingdom budget that gave us the certainty that we need to carry out a full and comprehensive spending review so that we can deal with Scotland’s finances, including moneys for housing, in an appropriate manner.

Let us try to speed things up a bit.

Bad Weather (Impact on Council Services)

To ask the Scottish Government what analysis it has carried out of the impact on housing and other local government services of the recent poor weather, and what additional assistance it has offered to councils to respond to this. (S5O-04198)

Any impact on housing and other local government services due to the recent poor weather is a matter for individual local authorities. The Scottish Government, for its part, has activated the Bellwin scheme to provide additional revenue support to local authorities to assist with the immediate and unforeseen costs that meet the qualifying criteria in the aftermath of emergency incidents such as the recent storms. The scheme was most recently activated on 25 February following storm Dennis.

Obviously, the recent poor weather has caused fields, roads, railways and local communities in Scotland to flood, which can impact on housing estates and housing construction. In the light of the flooding’s impact on construction, and taking into account the large number of homes that were still to be built before the flooding, can the minister update Parliament on whether the Government remains confident that it will achieve its goal of building 50,000 affordable homes by the end of the current session of Parliament?

I am confident that we will deliver 50,000 affordable homes during this session of Parliament. At the moment, we are on track to do so. However, we must not forget the risks. The weather is one risk, but it can be counteracted. One of the biggest risks is Brexit and the fact that we might lose European nationals who are in the construction workforce, which might cause difficulties. We should also take cognisance of the current situation with Covid-19 and coronavirus, which might cause problems not only in the construction sector but in many other parts of the economy. That is why the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman, has been at the forefront of trying to ensure that we do our best to tackle that virus.

Planning Policy (Digital Infrastructure in New Homes)

To ask the Scottish Government whether the next version of the Scottish planning policy will include requirements for all new housing developments to have access to superfast broadband. (S5O-04199)

We are currently considering how planning policy in combination with other devolved powers might best ensure provision of digital infrastructure in new homes as part of our early engagement in preparation for national planning framework 4.

That is a helpful answer, and I hope that the minister comes forward with such a proposal, because it is a nonsense that new housing developments can be built without superfast broadband being built into the homes. Superfast broadband should be available automatically, as happens with other utilities, but far too many developments are being built without it. I hope that the minister includes that measure in the Scottish planning policy when it is published in September.

I encourage all members to engage with the formulation of national planning framework 4 and the review of Scottish planning policy in order to deal with such issues. I ask members to take a look at the website and discussion papers on NPF4 and Scottish planning policy, to get engaged and to try to get their constituents engaged, so that we have the right planning policies in place to take this country forward.

Local Authority Services (Budget)

I note that my question was lodged in advance of negotiations concluding.

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to protect local authority services, in the light of the claim by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that the proposals in its draft budget will hit “vulnerable communities the hardest”. (S5O-04200)

As confirmed by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance at stage 1 of the Budget (Scotland) (No 4) Bill, we have taken action to allocate an additional £95 million in revenue support for local government. That will deliver a total increase in revenue funding from the Scottish Government in 2020-21 of £589 million to support the delivery of local government services, including those for the most vulnerable.

Councils are at the end of their tether, thanks to years of underfunding by the Scottish Government. The recent £95 million does not account for inflation or restore the years of cuts. There will still be a £117 million black hole in capital funding. The Government’s reluctance to properly resource councils has left the financial burden on hard-working Scots. Why is the Government undermining and underfunding local government?

As I said in a previous response, we have tried to treat local government fairly. We recognise that there are financial challenges across the public sector, but those are not driven by decisions that the Government has taken; they are driven by 10 years of austerity from Alexander Stewart’s party at United Kingdom Government level. I really hope that he is as vocal with his UK Government colleagues as he repeatedly is in this chamber. If the UK Government reversed austerity, stopped welfare reforms and tried to rebalance the economy in a way that worked for people around the country, our communities would feel the benefit.

We are treating local government fairly. We have put £95 million extra into the local government budget, as voted for last week. I remind Alexander Stewart to have a wee look at his party leadership’s income tax proposals, which would benefit those in higher-earning households and disproportionately disadvantage those in lower income brackets. He needs to have a wee look at his party’s policy before coming here with a brass neck challenging us on how we support our vulnerable communities.

Council Services

To ask the Scottish Government what analysis it has carried out of the impact on communities of any reduced levels of council services. (S5O-04203)

Local authorities are independent democratically elected bodies with their own powers and responsibilities. Ultimately, it is for locally elected representatives to make decisions on how best to deliver services to their communities.

For its part, the Scottish Government is providing local government with a substantial funding package worth £11.4 billion in total, which includes an increase of £589 million or 5.8 per cent in 2020-21 in support for spending on core revenue services.

At the end of this month, people with vision impairments in Highland will lose the support of Sight Action, which is a statutory service for local government that is led by NHS Highland under the lead agency model. In light of the £205 million cut to the local government budget, what reassurance can the minister give my vision-impaired constituents that they will receive the support that they require after the end of the month?

I point Rhoda Grant to the additional money that we put into local government funding, and I ask her to recognise that local government is autonomous. However, as I am not aware of the details that she mentioned, I am happy to engage with her and, if she wants to furnish me with further information, to look at that. We have a number of powers and policies in place to help people cope with visual impairments or any other disabilities, and we can furnish her with relevant information if her constituents need support and help.

Will the cabinet secretary set out how the Scottish Government, by providing a local government funding package in 2020-21 of £11.4 billion—91 per cent of which councils have complete autonomy to allocate—is ensuring that councils have the means to deliver services, despite years of United Kingdom Government austerity and cuts to the Scottish budget?

Colin Beattie is correct to point to the 10 years of continued austerity, which has had an impact on public services and public life. That is why we have endeavoured to treat local government fairly; it is why, when we came into office back in 2007, we endeavoured to take away some of the ring fencing; and it is why local authorities have autonomy with regard to 91 per cent of their funding.

Local authorities are responsible for how they spend their money, and it is absolutely correct for them, as democratically elected bodies in their own right, to have that autonomy. That is why we continue to work with them on the local governance review and why we want to provide further empowerment. Kate Forbes is working on the fiscal empowerment element of the local governance review to see what more work we can do together to rebalance democracy for the people of Scotland.

Poverty (Renfrewshire South)

To ask the Scottish Government how it tackles poverty in the Renfrewshire South constituency. (S5O-04201)

We are investing more than £3.5 billion to deliver 50,000 more affordable homes, including 35,000 for social rent, over the current parliamentary term. We have made available £71.438 million to Renfrewshire Council over that period to provide affordable energy-efficient housing. Since 2015, Renfrewshire has received £28 million of attainment challenge funding in order to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap, including almost £13 million to schools through pupil equity funding. Renfrewshire Council was allocated £1.4 million from the £50 million town centre fund, and it is working with partners on a number of projects that will benefit the Renfrewshire South constituency.

Given all the additionalities that result from investment in housing and improved mental and physical health, does the cabinet secretary agree that the Government’s commitment to housing demonstrates its commitment to a wellbeing economy?

Absolutely. The fundamental point about housing is that it is more than just bricks and mortar. It has a reach and an impact that are beneficial not only for me and my colleague Kevin Stewart, who have explicit responsibility for housing; it has an impact on the health portfolio and on attainment. Children who live in safe and warm homes can do their homework far better than those who feel cold and vulnerable. Housing has an impact across the Government, and that impact will contribute to our wellbeing economy and help us to meet the outcome requirements for our national performance framework.

I will give a figure to illustrate that impact. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that child poverty rates in Scotland differ from those in the rest of the United Kingdom by 6 percentage points. That is because of the investment that we have put into housing to ensure that we reduce people’s household costs. We continue to work hard to deliver equality and fairness for the people of this country, which is why we will continue to support and invest in housing.

Community Land Ownership (Community Councils)

To ask the Scottish Government what engagement the communities secretary has had with community councils regarding community ownership of land through the Scottish land fund. (S5O-04202)

The Scottish Government values the role of community councils, which undertake a wide range of activities for the benefit of their communities. I have not had any direct engagement with community councils regarding community ownership of land through the Scottish land fund.

I will be generous and thank the Scottish Government and Buccleuch Estates Ltd for assisting the Newcastleton & District Community Trust with the successful transfer of land, which will be hugely beneficial to the community. How will the Scottish Government support the community’s wish to buy out Holm hill, which is part of Langholm moor, in order to prioritise the need for more housing to be made available in the community, particularly in light of the devastation that Newcastleton has faced following storm Dennis?

I am glad that the member recognises the value of the regeneration capital grant fund, which is transforming lives and communities across the country. We are proud of what the fund has achieved. We have outlined in a report the impact that the fund has had, and I am glad that it is benefiting Rachael Hamilton’s constituents.

I am happy to engage with Rachael Hamilton on the issues that she has raised. I offer to meet her to further discuss the plans of communities in her constituency to ensure that we support them as best we can to make the applications that require to be made, so that they feel empowered and can benefit from the policies and work that the Government is taking forward.

Social Security and Older People

We move to questions on social security and older people. Questions 6 and 7 are grouped together. Question 1 has not been lodged.

Social Security Policies (Economic Inactivity)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to use its social security policies to address reported high levels of economic inactivity. (S5O-04205)

We are already using the powers that we have to tackle long-standing issues. Our employability service, fair start Scotland, is delivering personalised support to 19,000 people, with 5,000 people already having been supported into jobs.

We are taking forward the disability employment action plan, which aims to at least halve the disability employment gap by 2038. In spring 2020, we will also deliver the job start payment, which aims to support 5,000 young people into work. I point out that Scotland’s unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent is lower than that of the United Kingdom, which is 3.8 per cent.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the latest figures, which show that the level of economic inactivity in Scotland, at 22 per cent, is well above the UK average of 20 per cent. To put that into perspective, that represents more than 750,000 people in Scotland who are not active in the labour market. Given that recent figures have shown that only 4 per cent of those who enter the Scottish Government’s fair start Scotland programme are still in work 26 weeks after starting the programme, is the cabinet secretary satisfied that her Government is doing enough to address economic inactivity in Scotland?

The Scottish Government will always endeavour to do all that we can and will continuously strive to do more. However, I point out to the member that the main groups of people who are economically inactive include the long-term sick, at 28.3 per cent; students, at 24.5 per cent; and people who are looking after the family or home, at 18.8 per cent.

I am more than happy to consider those aspects, as all the members in the chamber should do. However, using the figures that Dean Lockhart presents gives a less than full picture and is unfair to the work that has already been done by fair start Scotland.

Single-sex Exemptions to Equality Act 2010 (Hospital Wards)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of its commitment to uphold the single-sex exemptions under the Equality Act 2010, what its response is to concerns that this could be undermined by allowing male hospital patients who identify as female, including those who have made no physical changes, to be placed in wards that match their gender identity. (S5O-04206)

The Scottish Government expects everyone to be treated with consideration, dignity and respect when accessing and using national health service services. NHS staff will make every effort to ensure that the privacy and dignity of all patients are maintained in Scottish hospitals. The Scottish Government supports the appropriate use of the single-sex exemptions by service providers where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

I welcome that answer, but NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s gender reassignment policy review says, on page 17, that a female patient who is distressed at the presence of a male-bodied trans-identified person in the next bed should be told that that person is female and that her complaint is similar to a white woman complaining about a black patient being in the next bed.

Does the cabinet secretary understand that such statements in official documents cast doubt on assurances that the Government is committed to maintaining women’s privacy and dignity and the single-sex exemptions in the 2010 act, and will she speak to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde about reviewing that policy?

This Government expects all service providers, including health boards, to take account of everyone’s rights when developing policies and to ensure that all rights, including those of women, are protected. Health boards should assess each situation individually and sensitively, using their experience and expertise to determine the appropriate course of action while fulfilling their responsibilities under the 2010 act.

I say once again that this Government supports the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act 2010, which allow for trans people to be excluded when that is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

All service providers are encouraged to know their rights in this area, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a statutory code of practice that assists providers to understand the relevant issues in this area.

What role did the Scottish ministers have in the development of that policy? Given the clear argument that objecting to a male-bodied person in a women-only place is akin to racism, will the cabinet secretary confirm that the Government will, as a matter of urgency, meet that health board to emphasise the rights that are set out in the 2010 act? Further, will she accept that it should not be up to the individual to know what their rights are, as she suggests, but that it is the responsibility of organisations to allow those rights to be enforced?

As I made clear in my second answer to Joan McAlpine, the Government absolutely supports the single-sex exemptions in the 2010 act, and every service provider, including health boards, should take account of the 2010 act and the single-sex exemption that it contains. Again, I stress that statutory codes of practice are available to all service providers, including health boards, and I encourage all health boards and, indeed, all service providers to ensure that they are up-to-date with their knowledge on this matter.

Again, I stress the Government’s support for the use of single-sex exemption is if it is deemed appropriate and where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Does this not come down to the long-standing principle that treating trans women as though they are men or trans men as though they are women is a breach of their human rights? That is why we have a gender recognition act in the first place, and we should seek to improve it.

Patrick Harvie raises an important point. I absolutely appreciate that these are difficult issues to debate and that there are strongly held views in many areas, but I encourage all members—and, as I have done before, all service providers—to be aware of exactly what the obligations and responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 are, so that there can be a dignified and responsible debate on the topic.

Poverty Reduction Targets

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that it meets its poverty reduction targets. (S5O-04207)

Our tackling child poverty delivery plan, which is backed by a £50 million fund, outlines the actions that we are taking. They include committing £16 million to parental employment support, which will help parents to enter and progress in work; almost doubling funded early learning and childcare to 1,140 free hours; and introducing the new Scottish child payment, which will give £10 per week per child to the families who need it most. The first update on our tackling child poverty delivery plan showed that 48 of the 58 actions in the plan are in progress or are being delivered.

Many of the actions have broad support across the political spectrum, and the Scottish child payment will be an important step forward. However, the Scottish Government’s projections of the extent to which it will reduce child poverty are based on an expectation of an 83 per cent take-up. Given that the Scottish Fiscal Commission has revised that figure downwards to 74 per cent, what is the Scottish Government going to do about that anomaly? Does it intend to reject that forecast and take additional measures to increase uptake, or is it going to revise downwards its expectation of how effective the policy will be?

We are certainly not revising downwards what we want to see from the Scottish child payment. The Scottish Fiscal Commission is working on the information that it has at the moment. As we go forward, we will work with it to demonstrate to it what we are doing on benefit take-up, on publicity and in our work with stakeholders to increase that. I appreciate the work that the Scottish Fiscal Commission has done to create its forecast and I look forward to my officials working with it to demonstrate that we can do so much more than that as we move forward with this groundbreaking achievement.

The best start grant helps the Government to meet the poverty reduction target. What formula will the cabinet secretary use for future uprating of that grant? Will she report on the cumulative effect of any freeze in future upratings?

The best start grant is one measure to support children in this area, but, as I mentioned in my first answer to Patrick Harvie, the Scottish child payment, which will come into force this year, will play an even larger part. If the best start grant had been increased by inflation, it would have gone up by about £10. Instead, the Scottish Government is introducing the Scottish child payment, which will see £520 going to a family if they are eligible.

We will, of course, take decisions on the uprating of the best start grant in each annual budget process. I note that, in its discussions with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work during the current process, Scottish Labour did not make a recommendation that money be spent in that manner.

Rent Arrears (Impact of Universal Credit)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of universal credit on rent arrears in the South Scotland region. (S5O-04208)

I am deeply concerned about the impact of universal credit in Scotland, not just on rent arrears but given the wider anxiety and hardship that it is undoubtedly causing. On 7 January, the Scottish Government published its second follow-up to the 2019 annual report on welfare reform, which assesses the impact of United Kingdom Government policy on housing. Although there is no region-specific data, the report makes it clear that, since universal credit was introduced, in 2013, rent arrears in Scotland have steadily increased.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities found that, between March 2016 and March 2018, rent arrears in full service areas in Scotland rose by an average of 26 per cent.

The UK Government must start to listen to the evidence, fix the problems with universal credit and make it a benefit that works for people, not against them.

Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership has told me that 75 per cent of tenants on universal credit have rent arrears, and the council has reported that the number of crisis grant applications has risen by 26 per cent in the past year.

It is a year since the cabinet secretary committed to an evaluation of Scottish choices, including the option of landlords receiving direct payments by default. Will the cabinet secretary listen to the many voices that are asking the Government to use its powers to ensure that payments are made to landlords as the default, to tackle the growing problem of arrears?

I recognise that there are calls for payments to made directly to landlords, but I stress to Colin Smyth that our policy about that being a choice for the individual was come to after consultation with people with lived experience of universal credit and of the benefits system. They asked to have a choice on the issue. I will, of course, listen very carefully to the landlord organisations, in particular, and to representatives who are looking to make the change, but I will also listen very carefully to the individuals who have asked for that flexibility to remain the same.

Because business has moved on to the general question, I can call Mr Paterson to ask his supplementary question although he is not a South Scotland member.

Will the cabinet secretary outline what impact Scottish choices has had on mitigating the impact of that policy? Does she agree that, without full control over welfare, the Scottish Government and this Parliament are unfortunately limited in what they can do to support people who are on universal credit?

We are using our limited powers to try to make the delivery of universal credit better suited to the needs of the people who claim it, including by giving people the choice to have their housing costs paid directly to their landlord or to receive their payments twice monthly. The changes that we can make are very small, however, and they do not take away the fundamental flaws of universal credit—only the full devolution of social security powers would achieve that.

Older People’s Independence

To ask the Scottish Government how it helps older people to maintain their independence. (S5O-04209)

Work that supports older people’s independence happens across the Scottish Government. We are supporting older people’s services as part of the further £100 million transfer to local authorities in 2020-21 for investment in health and social care and mental health, which brings the total support for integration to £811 million in 2020-21.

In taking an intersectional approach to older people, we have developed regulations to give disabled people the right to make adaptations to common areas, we have issued guidance for local authorities to support delivery of more wheelchair-accessible housing, and we have funded amazing organisations that support independent living. We also continue to invest £210 million per year in the national concessionary fares scheme for older and disabled people.

In 2017, the Scottish Government published a research paper called “Older People and Employment in Scotland”, which included three recommendations on ways in which the Scottish Government could help older people in work: to launch a publicity campaign, to lead events and workshops, and to review and promote opportunities for lifelong learning. Can the minister outline how the Government has implemented each of those recommendations?

Liam Kerr will know that Jamie Hepburn is leading on the fairer work principles. That work takes account of issues that relate to the older workforce.

For my part, I am taking cognisance of the fact that, in nine short months, in 2021, our population will have more over-75s than it has now. We also have more people in the workforce who are aged over 50. I am taking a keen interest in that, especially in respect of the challenges that older people face in the workforce. Some of my work with the women’s convention is to do with the menopause, and with disabled people in the workplace and the fairer Scotland work. My work to review the public sector equality duty is also taking real cognisance of older people in the workplace.

Specifically on the advertising campaign, I will get information from Jamie Hepburn for Liam Kerr, who can rest assured that we are working closely together to make sure that our older workforce is in flexible workplaces that support them if they are carers, or if they face challenges with their health or have long-term conditions. All those factors have been taken into account in developing our strategy for older people in the workplace

“A Fairer Scotland for Older People: A Framework for Action”

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what progress it is making in implementing the proposals in its paper, “A Fairer Scotland for Older People: A Framework for Action”. (S5O-04210)

The Scottish Government is working with the older people’s strategic action forum to develop our first annual report on monitoring of the progress of “A Fairer Scotland for Older People: A Framework for Action”. The annual report will be published in April 2020, so it is coming very soon. It will report on the progress of all 56 actions that were contained in the framework, as well as identifying next steps.

Just last week I met the action forum, which is providing real expertise in terms of formulating our annual report. The work that it has done, and which its organisations are doing to realise actions, is extensive and exciting, so members should look out for the report when it is published next month.

You are making Mr Whittle smile.

You know how difficult that is, Presiding Officer.

Does the minister agree that ensuring access to activity in later life enables not only longer life but better-quality life, by tackling issues including poor physical and mental health and loneliness? If so, what is the Scottish Government doing to make such opportunities available for all?

I absolutely agree. That ties in to what we are doing on fairer work and on ensuring that people are retained longer in the workplace. Brian Whittle is absolutely on the money on how to tackle the challenges. For many old people, social isolation and loneliness are among the biggest problems that they face. In our work on the social isolation and loneliness strategy, we are working with older people and the action forum and we are applying their learning and experience to how we work with other organisations to deliver services that prevent social isolation and loneliness, while tackling it when people are experiencing it.

Just this morning, I was at Generations Working Together’s conference, at which I spent time with young people and older people who are working together to bridge the generation gap, to remove negative stereotyping, and to deal with the ageism that exists in our society that might prevent people from taking part in local organisations or events that are available to them.

Brian Whittle is on the money with what he says, and we are on the ball with it. He should look out for the report when it is published: he will see the progress that we have made.

Carers Allowance (Older People)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to reports of an increase in the number of people who are entitled to carers allowance not claiming it. (S5O-04211)

We set out a range of actions to increase the number of people claiming all our benefits in our benefit take-up strategy, which was published in October last year. Last week, I announced funding of £600,000 to support work on take-up of Scottish social security benefits among hard-to-reach groups, single parents and people with particular barriers such as mental or physical disabilities.

That builds on our work to increase uptake of carers allowance and the young carers grant through, for example, regular promotion of the carers allowance supplement and material on the Young Scot website to encourage younger carers to claim the support to which they are entitled. We have also introduced a duty on local authorities to provide advice to carers on income maximisation, which covers carers allowance.

Work is being done, and that is welcome. However, will the cabinet secretary take note of the fact that the Government’s own statistics to last August show that overall numbers of people who have underlying entitlement are down, and that thousands fewer people have entitlement only? In response to the Oxfam report on the multibillion-pound effort that unpaid carers contribute to society, the First Minister recently said that she would like support for them to be increased and extended, financially and otherwise. Ahead of carers week 2020, will the cabinet secretary bring forward the planned consultation on wider changes to carers allowance, which was not due to begin until next year?

As Sarah Boyack correctly said, we are due to consult on carers allowance in 2021. That goes along with our framework and timeframe for social security benefits as we move forward on devolution of them. Currently, work is focused particularly on disability assistance. However, we continue to meet stakeholder organisations and carers directly to discuss with them what they would like as we move forward with devolution of carers allowance. That will, I am sure, be something to which we will give serious consideration.

I remind Ms Boyack and others that they should be in the chamber from the beginning of the portfolio question time in which they hope to ask a question. Do not come in in the middle of it.