Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)
Meeting date: Wednesday, February 9, 2022
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, ScotRail, Coronavirus (Discretionary Compensation for Self-isolation) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Members’ Expenses Scheme, Standing Order Rule Changes, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Commemoration
- Portfolio Question Time
- Coronavirus (Discretionary Compensation for Self-isolation) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Members’ Expenses Scheme
- Standing Order Rule Changes
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Commemoration
Portfolio Question Time
Health and Social Care
Good afternoon. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and the Holyrood campus.
The first item of business is portfolio questions on health and social care. If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or type R in the chat function during the relevant question.
Free Personal Care (Frank’s Law)
To ask the Scottish Government how many people have received free personal care, under Frank’s law, since it came into effect in 2019. (S6O-00724)
Collection of data on the implementation of free personal care for under-65s, in line with other non-Covid-19 data collections, was temporarily postponed due to the redirection of resources to the pandemic response. The Scottish Government restarted the collection of that data in August 2021 and it is scheduled to be published on 10 May this year.
I know that the minister agrees that free personal care, as inspired by Amanda Kopel and Frank’s law, should make a very substantial difference to under-65s across the country, but there is concern, notwithstanding the delay, that its implementation has been slow. I certainly have several constituents who are asking about it. We also know that the response to a freedom of information request to West Lothian health and social care partnership shows that from 2019 to the end of 2021 only four people aged under 65 had applied for and received that free personal care.
Notwithstanding the delay in the publication of the data, which will be forthcoming on 10 May, will the minister consider his position on the issue and will he agree with my colleague Miles Briggs’s proposal to institute a national recovery group in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities?
We are doing a number of things to ensure that we get this right. I join Ms Smith in paying tribute to Amanda Kopel. We need to pay close attention to the statistics that will be published in May to see how things are going across the country, to ensure that we are getting it right for under-65s.
We will continue to do all that we can to ensure that our intentions are implemented and that people get the care that they need and deserve. I am more than happy to continue to engage with Ms Smith, Mr Briggs and others on the issue. We need to get it right for people and I want to ensure that we do so.
Can the minister confirm that Scotland is the only nation in the United Kingdom to deliver free personal care and can he advise as to how many people in Scotland have benefited from that policy since it was first introduced?
Scotland is the only nation in the UK to deliver free personal care. I am very proud of the moves that we have made to ensure that the policy is implemented. According to the most recent statistics available, which are for 2017-18, almost 80,000 people in Scotland benefited from free personal and nursing care over that period. That included more than 30,000 people in care homes and more than 47,000 people living in their own homes.
The number of people who receive free personal care at home has also been increasing. That reflects our policy of supporting people to live at home for as long as possible.
I will not be the only member in the chamber who has had constituents getting in touch about having their care packages cut or about delays in packages being put in place in the first place.
We know that the impact of those delays and cuts can be devastating. Does the minister accept that addressing the workforce shortages in social care is critical to fulfilling Frank’s law and that one way in which those shortages could be addressed is by giving social care staff an immediate pay rise to £12 an hour, going up to £15 an hour?
The Government is well aware of the improvement that is required in relation to the social care workforce. That is why we have announced and funded two pay rises in the past few months.
I recognise that there is more to do on that front. Fair work has to be at the heart of the agenda—and it will be, as part of the national care service. However, we cannot wait until the national care service comes into play. The cabinet secretary and I will continue to work with health and social care partnerships and other bodies to do our level best for the workforce, who have done so much, both before and during the pandemic.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to raise awareness of the potential risks to the health and wellbeing of children posed by button batteries. (S6O-00725)
Button batteries have been involved in truly tragic incidents of childhood injury and death. I was shocked by reports of the harrowing death over Christmas of young Hugh McMahon. My sympathies are with his family who, I understand, have close ties with Clare Adamson’s constituency.
The Scottish Government supports organisations such as the Child Accident Prevention Trust and Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which work tirelessly to publicise threats to children’s health and wellbeing, including button batteries. We are engaging with them and other stakeholders to identify what more can be done on that important matter.
I thank the minister for her answer and her condolences, which I am sure are shared across the Parliament, for my young constituent, who died so tragically.
The cross-party group on accident prevention and safety awareness returns to the issue often. Within the past two years, we have had presentations on the issue, and our concern lies with the availability of fake goods online and in our shops, as well as the fact that few parents are aware of the risks that those goods pose. Will the minister undertake to work with the United Kingdom Government’s new working group, under Paul Scully MP, who is engaged in the trading standards aspect? Will she also work with the CPG on how to raise awareness among parents and carers of that potentially fatal health issue?
First, I acknowledge the work that Clare Adamson and the cross-party group that she convenes do to highlight the risks of button batteries. The regulation of product safety is reserved to the UK Government and Ms Adamson is correct that the UK minister, Paul Scully, recently proposed a working group to progress safety improvement in that area. That comes after another tragic death last May, which sadly seemed to foreshadow the death of Hugh McMahon. I give an absolute assurance that the Scottish Government will engage with the UK working group. Indeed, our officials have already had positive discussions with their counterparts in Mr Scully’s department around our eagerness to co-operate and help drive forward extensive work to tackle the risks. That eagerness to co-operate naturally extends to working with the cross-party group and any other partners in accident prevention.
National Health Service and Social Care Recruitment (Rural Areas)
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to support NHS and social care recruitment in rural areas. (S6O-00726)
Since 2016, we have supported the Scottish Rural Medicine Collaborative to develop recruitment and retention measures, investing more than £300,000 in 2020-21. To support the recruitment of general practitioners to rural practices, we have allocated £200,000 to fund relocation expenses and £400,000 for golden hellos. With the universities of Dundee and St Andrews, we have established a graduate entry medicine programme that focuses on remote and rural medicine and healthcare improvement. We are also in the scoping stage for the creation of a centre of excellence for rural and remote medicine and social care.
In my constituency, the medical practices in Alford and Torphins—like many others across Scotland—have, unfortunately, been unable to recruit new GPs, so they have handed their contracts back to NHS Grampian.
I note the cabinet secretary’s comments about funding for the Scottish Rural Medicine Collaborative in previous years. Will he commit to increasing funding for its rediscover the joy of general practice programme, which seeks to provide GPs with the opportunity to work in different parts of Scotland? Will he outline any other plans to incentivise uptake in recruitment in rural areas?
Alexander Burnett has raised an exceptionally important point. I will explore an increase in funding, because he is right that the rediscover the joy programme is excellent. We will also look to see what more we can do with incentives. He knows that we have plans in place to increase the numbers of GPs in Scotland. He is absolutely right to say that distribution should equitable, focused not just on the central belt but on our remote, rural and island communities. I will look at his suggestion and come back to him.
What steps is the Scottish Government taking to facilitate continued NHS and social care recruitment from European Union countries?
I thank Foysol Choudhury for an exceptionally important question. That issue is important for the NHS and very important in social care. As he will have done, I have visited care homes in my constituency and, since Brexit, there is a noticeable absence of European workers, who have worked tirelessly in the social care sector to care for others. We are working with the United Kingdom Government on social care recruitment from overseas, including the EU. This morning, we had a good meeting with a number of ministerial colleagues across Government as part of the population task force to look at what more we can do for health and social care in relation to migration. That work is under way. We will do that work in Scotland where we can and work across the UK nations where we need to. There is no doubt that the impact of Brexit is being felt on the ground in the health and social care sector.
We need a bit more urgency from the health secretary. In my constituency, the level of recruitment of health and social care workers is dire. Just this week, there are 36 advertised vacancies in social care and 176 vacancies in the NHS. Is that not the result of poor workforce planning and poor rates of pay in the social care sector?
I do not agree. Since I have been health secretary, there have been two pay uplifts for adult social care workers. We are not waiting for international recruitment; I was simply answering Mr Choudhury’s very good question. In October, when I spoke in the chamber about the £300 million winter package, Mr Rennie will have noted that recruiting more healthcare support workers, including in Fife, was a core component of that. There has been some recruitment in Fife and I am happy to provide him with further detail offline on that. However, I take his point. The number 1 issue that we are dealing with in relation to social care is workforce, workforce, workforce. I promise him that there is no lack of urgency from me, my colleague Kevin Stewart or the Government on the important issue that he has raised.
National Cancer Plan
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the roll-out of its national cancer plan. (S6O-00727)
The national cancer plan is tracked against key milestones and progress is regularly reported on to the national cancer recovery group. Overall, the plan is progressing well, notwithstanding the effects of the pandemic.
On our flagship actions, I can report that Scotland’s first three early cancer diagnostic centres are now live in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, NHS Dumfries and Galloway and NHS Fife. The preliminary data on the centres looks positive. We have 12 single-point-of-contact pilots that are trialling a person-centred approach to supporting patients throughout their cancer journey. The digital prehabilitation resource is in development, and is anticipated to go live with the nutrition and psychological wellbeing frameworks this spring. Lastly, the Scottish cancer network is established and supports our once-for-Scotland approach to cancer services.
Will the cabinet secretary further advise how the detect cancer early programme and the national cancer screening programmes are being adapted to respond to the continuing health inequality gap?
That is an exceptionally important question. I think that Stephanie Callaghan might have been at the debate that Jackie Baillie secured for world cancer day last week. It was an important debate, and a number of colleagues raised the issue of the cancer care gap and health inequalities. Although there is still work to do, diagnosis of lung cancer is one demonstration of how we are tackling the inequality. Our £44 million detect cancer early programme aims to increase the proportion of bowel, breast and lung cancers that are diagnosed at stage 1, while reducing health inequalities. Through that work, the proportion of lung cancers that are diagnosed at the earliest stage has increased by 45 per cent, and by 53 per cent in the most deprived areas of Scotland.
There is more work to do across the various cancer types, but reducing the inequality gap is key to the recovery of our cancer services.
I wonder whether I could push the cabinet secretary slightly further on that point. There is a shocking 20 percentage point gap in bowel cancer screening between the people in the most deprived areas and those in the least deprived areas. It is, indeed, a matter of great shame that the most deprived in our communities remain at greatest threat due to late cancer diagnosis. We already know that, since the start of the pandemic, almost 30,000 of our fellow Scots have died from cancer. I want to press the cabinet secretary on the issue. What urgent action is the Government taking to encourage the uptake of screening across all cancers in our most deprived communities?
I agree with Jackie Baillie’s characterisation that that is unacceptable. She was right to raise that issue in her members’ business debate on world cancer day, and she is right to raise it again today.
Over 2021-22 and 2022-23, we have allocated £2 million to continue our cancer inequalities screening programme, to tackle inequalities and encourage those who are eligible to take up their invite to the cancer screening programme. That is in addition to the £5 million that we have invested over the previous five years. Following feedback, we will no longer ask for bids for individual projects, which are often small in scale. Instead, we have developed a blend of national-based approaches, which are complemented by local investment.
There is more to do, and we are investing in closing the inequalities gap—the cancer care gap—that Jackie Baillie and Stephanie Callaghan have spoken about. My number 1 priority is recovering our cancer services. Reducing the inequality gap is a key component of that.
Mercedes Villalba is joining us remotely.
Breast Cancer Services (NHS Tayside)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what steps it is taking to improve the provision of services for NHS Tayside breast cancer patients. (S6O-00728)
Scottish Government officials are working closely with the human resources director and chief executive of NHS Tayside to support the board to take forward a rebuild plan for the recruitment of oncology consultants and specialist nursing and other support staff to deliver a local service. That will include options around international recruitment and training schemes, marketing strategies and campaigns, trainee placements and re-examining locum capacity. It is our priority to ensure that there is a locally delivered service for breast cancer patients in NHS Tayside.
Today, NHS Tayside revealed that unfilled vacancies mean that the health board will be left with no breast cancer oncology specialists. There seems to be a nationwide skills shortage. The minister mentioned looking at all options, including international recruitment and training. Will he outline what is being done to develop a long-term plan for training and recruitment for such specialists domestically?
Ms Villalba raises a very important point. NHS Tayside has undertaken a number of recruitment rounds but has not been able to fill those posts. The situation is not unique to NHS Tayside; the member is right to suggest that the issue is broader than that. As I mentioned in my opening answer, we are looking at what we can do to ensure that we can recruit domestically and internationally, what we can do in and around trainee placements and what we can do around locum capacity. Ultimately, I am asking my officials and others externally to give assistance in relation to what we can do to fill the gaps in the oncology workforce that we have not just in Tayside but across Scotland.
Although I have mentioned that there are issues across Scotland, they are, of course, most acutely felt in NHS Tayside. I say without equivocation that the situation in NHS Tayside’s breast cancer service is simply not satisfactory and is therefore a priority for us to try to resolve.
Chronic Pain Clinic Waiting Times
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will meet its chronic pain clinic waiting time target during the current reporting quarter, 1 January to 31 March. (S6O-00729)
Public Health Scotland publishes waiting times for pain services from the data that is provided by health boards. In line with the reporting schedule, data for the quarter ending 31 March 2022 will be published in June. Although I cannot predict those figures, health boards have continued to make progress in restarting pain services during the pandemic. Waiting time figures for the quarter ending September 2021 show that almost 90 per cent of people who were referred to pain services were seen within the 18-week target. That is an improvement on the previous quarter, in which almost 80 per cent of people were seen within the target.
In 2019, before the pandemic, some 3,000 patients were seen in a Scottish pain clinic each quarter. In quarter 3 of 2021, that number was around 1,900. The Government announced its £240,000 chronic pain winter support fund to enhance support for people with chronic pain, but we have yet to see a detailed plan on where the money will be spent and which patients will benefit. How much of that money has actually gone to health boards and other partners? Specifically what will the money be used for? How many additional patients, compared with quarter 3 of 2021, do you anticipate will be seen in pain clinics in quarters 1 and 2 of 2022 as a result of that initiative?
Services are working extremely hard to tackle that issue, and there have been real impacts throughout the pandemic on people who are suffering chronic pain. I understand just how incredibly difficult it is to continue to suffer chronic pain. We are supporting health boards to take action to make every effort possible to remobilise pain management services as quickly and safely as possible.
Owing to continued and expected pressures on pain services in the winter, it is a challenge to expect performance to improve over the next reporting period. In recognition of that challenge, we launched the chronic pain winter support fund, which has provided almost £240,000 of funding to a range of national and local projects that are intended to provide additional capacity and to support people with chronic pain across Scotland in the coming months.
The chronic pain services in NHS Lanarkshire have effectively been closed down for anyone who needs pain relief injections. I again draw the Government’s attention to my constituent Liz Barrie, whose pain relief injection is overdue by three years. Liz, a former nurse and courageous advocate for chronic pain patients, fears that her mental health is being destroyed, and she is losing hope. Another constituent, disabled war veteran Matt Walton, has been waiting in agony for treatment since 2019. Will the minister work with me urgently to support Liz and Matt? Can she confirm that any patient who needs a vital pain relief injection will be offered a referral to another health board if their own board cannot cope with demand?
First, let me reiterate that I absolutely appreciate how difficult it is to live with chronic pain, particularly during the pandemic. That is why we are taking action to support patients and ensure that health boards are making effort to remobilise pain clinics.
We specifically highlighted the remobilisation of pain services as a priority in our first national health service remobilisation plan in the summer of 2020. We further underpinned that specific and clear instruction to health boards with our recovery framework for pain management in September 2020. We provided advice for people with chronic pain during the pandemic, which highlighted relevant information on the matter of injections to assist them in their discussions with their clinicians and health board.
During the pandemic, we also explored whether alternative arrangements for specialist treatments such as injections could be implemented locally. Based on clinical advice and guidance from professional bodies, it was concluded that that would not be clinically safe in all circumstances.
We will continue to work with boards to restart the full range of services as they continue to emerge from the latest wave of the virus. As ever, I am more than happy to work with Monica Lennon to improve the situation for the constituents who she has mentioned.
Maternity and Neonatal Care
To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to review and assess the pilots conducted as part of the strategy The best start: five-year plan for maternity and neonatal care. (S6O-00730)
We have established early adopters to lead the way and test a range of best start recommendations, including continuity of carer, the new model of neonatal intensive care and the national bereavement care pathways. The early adopters continue to develop, capture and review their practical experience of implementing recommendations, which has already informed the development of guidance and standards to share with the wider maternity and neonatal community. That will support planning as we prepare to remobilise implementation. The Scottish Government intends to evaluate best start, and it is working with Public Health Scotland to develop the approach.
I recently met a large group of midwives from NHS Lothian, including some with best start pilot experience. They have concerns about the pilot’s measurement of continuity of care, the integrity of the results, the risk to post-natal continuity in the model and, importantly, the recruitment and retention of midwives. Will the minister take a close look at the issues arising from the pilots and be prepared to meet midwives and, indeed, mothers who have been involved, in order to ascertain the best way forward for continuity of maternity care, including the aim of reducing C-sections?
The best start continuity of carer model provides relationship-based care and is a key feature of high-quality midwifery care. The early adopter boards, including NHS Lothian, were chosen to test implementation and capture the learning from that. Prior to the pandemic, the best start programme board, along with the Royal College of Midwives, undertook a deep dive into the implementation of the continuity of carer recommendations and the impact on the workforce. The findings were shared with the early adopter boards and have been fed into the next phase of implementation. That next phase will include the publication of an evaluation framework, which was developed by the early adopters, to support boards and measure continuity.
I look forward to meeting midwives and mothers to hear about their experiences of best start and to plan and continue that engagement as we remobilise the programme in the coming months. I am more than happy to meet Fiona Hyslop’s constituents.
National Health Service Recovery Plan
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the NHS recovery plan. (S6O-00731)
As we stated in our NHS recovery plan, we have committed to reporting progress against commitments in the plan on an annual basis. The plan was published at the end of August last year, and we therefore aim to provide the first annual update this summer.
What does it tell us about the Scottish National Party Government’s recovery plan that a recent survey by the Royal College of Nursing Scotland reveals that six in 10 nurses are considering quitting their jobs?
We have a good record on NHS staffing. In fact, we have record numbers of staff in Scotland, and we also have the best-paid staff. In relation to nurses and qualified midwives, we have had a decade of consecutive growth. In Scotland, we have 95 general practitioners per 100,000 people, whereas, in England, where Craig Hoy’s party is in charge, the figure is 78 per 100,000. We have a really good track record in Scotland, which is probably why his party has ripped off our NHS recovery plan.
I have been contacted by a constituent whose son is nearly three and has complex needs. My constituent has been informed by NHS Lanarkshire that her son might have to wait for up to four years for an autism assessment. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that is unacceptable as we recover from the pandemic? What action can the Government take to support the health board to reduce waiting times?
I say from the outset that that is not an acceptable wait. I do not know the details of the individual circumstances. I ask Ms Mackay to pass the details on to us, if she has consent to do so, and we will be happy to investigate them further.
The waiting list for orthopaedic surgery in Scotland has risen from 21,000 in March 2020 to 37,000 in January 2022. A patient who was added to the waiting list for hip replacement in January 2022 will wait between 18 months and three years for surgery, depending on the health board. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that is an unacceptable time to wait for treatment and that it is wrong that waiting times are determined by a postcode lottery? What urgent action will the Scottish Government take to address that?
The impact of the pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated some of those waits. I am not suggesting that there were no challenges before the pandemic, but it would be incorrect and inaccurate not to recognise the real shock that the pandemic has caused. I know that Ms Duncan-Glancy will have looked at the NHS recovery plan, which goes into detail on our aim to increase capacity for elective procedures by 10 per cent in the period that the plan covers. Key to that will be the £400 million that we will invest in the creation of a network of national treatment centres, which will help us to get through some of the elective procedures so that people will not have to wait for the length of time that Ms Duncan-Glancy references.
That concludes questions on health and social care. I will allow a brief pause before we move on to the next set of portfolio questions, to allow the front bench teams to change seats safely.
Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
The next portfolio is social justice, housing and local government. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter the letter R in the chat function during the relevant question.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on homelessness rates in Scotland. (S6O-00732)
Tackling and ending homelessness remains a critical priority for the Government, which is why we are investing £100 million between 2018 and 2026 to implement our ending homelessness together action plan, in partnership with local government.
The latest homelessness rates, which were published in June 2021, showed that, in 2020-21, the average rate of homeless households per 1,000 members of the population was 6.1. However, we know that the impact of the pandemic meant that the 2020-21 reporting year was unusual, which makes year-on-year comparisons of homelessness rates quite difficult.
Recently, I supported the Homeless Veterans Project to rehome a veteran named Andy. Veterans account for about a quarter of all rough sleepers. Like Andy, many veterans begin by living in unsustainable accommodation or temporary housing before ending up on the streets. Will the Scottish Government support veterans into safe and stable housing as quickly as possible by working with local authorities to nominate armed forces lead officers within housing and homelessness services?
Pam Gosal raises an important point. It is important that veterans are supported, and I know that local authorities are doing a lot of good work to do that. The rapid rehousing transition plans are critical in ensuring that people are moved into settled accommodation with the correct support. A number of veterans, but not all, require additional support, for all the reasons that we fully understand.
That approach is the best way to solve homelessness, and it will remain the Scottish Government’s focus. If there is more that we can do by working with local authority partners, I am happy to investigate Pam Gosal’s suggestions.
Although it is clear that the latest statistics show that there is still a lot of work to be done, does the cabinet secretary agree that the latest data also makes it clear that councils and front-line organisations have put in a remarkable amount of work and have minimised the immense damage that the pandemic could have caused to rough sleepers and those who are at risk of rough sleeping?
Throughout the pandemic, local authorities and front-line organisations have worked tirelessly to ensure that rough sleepers and those who are at risk of rough sleeping can access accommodation and support. That includes the replacement of night shelters in Glasgow and Edinburgh with self-contained rapid rehousing welcome centres. I had the opportunity to visit the Glasgow centre a few weeks ago.
Councils and third sector organisations share our commitment to ensuring that everyone has a safe place to stay, and I thank them for the work that they have undertaken. The Scottish Government remains committed to working in partnership with them to end rough sleeping.
Will the cabinet secretary say why the homelessness prevention and strategy group, which she chairs, has met only once since the election, given the rate of homelessness? Does she feel that the group is getting the Government support that it needs to implement the next phase of the ending homelessness together action plan?
The homelessness prevention and strategy group has a really important role to play, and it is getting on with its work between meetings. Coming together to check the progress of the work is the aim of the meetings.
Over the past few months, I have engaged with numerous key stakeholders who are working on that agenda in the housing sector, so there is no lack of meetings. However, the most important points are the action from those meetings and our ensuring that progress is made to deliver the strategy to eradicate homelessness.
Patience on the issue is running out. In 2012, the Government promised to eradicate homelessness within months; 10 years later, 7,500 children were found to be in temporary accommodation. When will the Government meet its promise to those children?
It is clear from the feedback from stakeholders that we have the right plan in our homelessness strategy. It is not just me saying that—I am sure that they would tell Willie Rennie so if he wanted to contact them.
The member will be aware that eradicating homelessness is not an easy thing to do. The issue is complex, which is why we now have the rapid rehousing transition plans and housing first programme, which recognises that the issue is about not just bricks and mortar, but the wraparound services to deal with addiction, mental ill health and the other supports that people need.
We will get on with the delivery of the plan. We are making progress, and we will continue to work with our stakeholders and partners to keep doing so.
To ask the Scottish Government what support it is giving to local authorities to help tackle homelessness. (S6O-00733)
In 2022-23, £8 million of our £10 million ending homelessness together fund will go to local authorities to support rapid rehousing transition plans, which help move people as quickly as possible into settled accommodation. We will also provide local authorities with resource of £23.5 million for homelessness prevention and response measures.
Through the housing options hubs, we are supporting all local authorities to share learning and good practice, and we are engaging with a number of local authorities to address key issues such as aiding their compliance with the unsuitable accommodation order.
Does the cabinet secretary share my optimism that the example that Finland has set in its successful housing first programme has proved that, with its co-ordinated approach, Scotland is on the right track to prevent homelessness across the country?
The Scottish Government is fully committed to supporting local authorities across the country to develop a housing first programme as part of their rapid rehousing transition plans, in which a key component is the prevention of homelessness.
We are aware that 27 local authorities have developed, or are in the process of developing, their housing first programme. More than 1,000 housing first tenancies have started across Scotland to date, and the Scottish Government is working with partners on a suite of tools to support the continued scaling up of housing first, because we know that that works.
Last year, Glasgow City Council was able to recover £8.8 million from the health mobilisation plan arrangement through its integration joint board, while Edinburgh was unable to recover the equivalent cost of £9.3 million. I have raised the issue with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, but I have not heard a response to date. First, should that financial anomaly be addressed? Secondly, does the Scottish Government intend to extend the tenant grant fund beyond March of this year?
On the tenant grant fund, we will consider a range of measures to support the recovery from the pandemic in order to ensure that we sustain tenancies, avoid homelessness, and address the cost of living pressures that impact on families.
I will look into the issue around the health mobilisation plans and ensure that a response comes from either my office or that of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy or the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care.
Last week, new figures were published that showed that Glasgow has seen a rise in homelessness of 27 per cent. Glasgow City Council is increasingly failing to close homelessness cases and people continue to go without basic necessities, such as warmth, shelter and a place to sleep. What is the Government doing to support Glasgow City Council to reduce homelessness, and does the cabinet secretary agree that cutting local authority budgets will damage those efforts?
We do not want to see any increase in homelessness. I am sure that the member will be aware that Glasgow is the largest dispersal area in Scotland for asylum seekers, and some of those issues are impacting on the statistics. I would be happy to write to Pam Duncan-Glancy with a bit more information on that.
We work with all local authorities to make sure that their plans for addressing homelessness are the right plans. The welcome centre that I mentioned earlier is a really good centre that provides high quality advice and assistance to people. It is trying to get people into settled accommodation as quickly as possible, and to reduce the use of temporary accommodation. There is always a lot to do, but that centre has worked hard, along with stakeholders and the third sector, to dramatically reduce the levels of rough sleeping. We cannot be complacent, however, and I am happy to write to Pam Duncan-Glancy with more specifics on what Glasgow is doing to tackle homelessness.
Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator
To ask the Scottish Government when ministers last met with officials from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. (S6O-00734)
I met the interim chair and the chief executive of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator on 19 August 2021. I meet the OSCR chair and chief executive at least once a year, and my officials meet OSCR staff regularly.
Most of Scotland’s 25,000 charities are honest and do incredible work. However, during the past two years, 105 have been subject to regulatory action. OSCR has published details of only five of those cases. In the interests of public confidence and transparency, will the minister urge the watchdog to show its teeth by routinely naming and shaming Scotland’s charity rogues?
The first thing to say is that OSCR is an independent regulator and registrar for, as the member said, more than 25,000 charities in Scotland, and it reports directly to the Scottish Parliament, not the Scottish Government. Such issues could be pursued through that route.
OSCR does a good job at overseeing and monitoring the charitable sector, but if I can give the member any more helpful information, I will write to him.
Vimes Boots Index
To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on calls by the anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe for policy makers to take a more comprehensive view of tracking the full cost of poverty, as highlighted by the Vimes boots index. (S6O-00735)
The Scottish Government commends Jack Monroe for bringing this issue to the attention of the public and agrees that one inflation rate does not fit all.
Although the Vimes boots index does not yet exist, it is proposed that it should be designed to reflect the experience of inflation of those on the lowest incomes. I therefore welcome the work that the Office for National Statistics is doing to develop and enhance consumer price indices to help us to measure the impact on lower-income households, and to increase the range of products that are used to calculate inflation. The initiative complements the Government’s existing work to monitor progress in reducing poverty and income inequality.
The Vimes boots index sets out the socioeconomic unfairness faced by people who are on low incomes and in poverty. Living hand to mouth means buying cheaper products that do not last as long as more expensive, well made products. It is relatively more costly to be on a low income, and those who earn the least bear the biggest brunt of austerity. Will the minister commit to ensuring that we look holistically at the true cost of being on a low income in Scotland and outline how that can be done?
As Karen Adam says, lower-income households spend a greater proportion of their income on essentials such as food and fuel, and they are disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis. That is why we favour a cash-based approach to tackling poverty, so that low-income households can spend money where it makes the most sense for their household. More accurate measurement of consumer costs, as proposed by the Vimes boots index, and as being taken forward by the ONS, is a welcome step that will help us to better understand and address the impact on lower-income households.
Hardship and Debt Support (Cost of Living)
To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting households that are facing hardship and debt as a result of the rising cost of living. (S6O-00736)
We are providing immediate support for households during the cost of living crisis, especially those on low incomes. Our £10 million fuel insecurity fund, which forms part of our overall £41 million winter support package, is helping people to deal with rising heating costs.
This year, we have provided £25 million to local authorities to tackle financial insecurity, alongside £7.4 million of investment in free debt advice. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy will set out further details on mitigating the cost-of-living crisis tomorrow.
We have a Westminster Government that has not only put a cap on benefits, cut universal credit and put up national insurance, but locked people into years of rising energy bills and concern about how they will heat their homes. When David Cameron told his Government to “cut the green crap”, it pulled the rug away from alternatives to gas. That decision has added £2.5 billion to our home energy bills.
Does the minister agree that green energy is the key to reducing our reliance on gas and cutting bills, and that we can build a greener Scotland only if we are given the full powers over energy policy?
It is indeed the case that, up to this juncture, the United Kingdom Government has failed to deal effectively with the cost-of-living crisis, which is very serious for communities and families across Scotland and the UK, and for all our constituents. We urge it to use its powers—of course, it has wide-ranging financial powers that the Scottish Government does not have—to the greatest extent to do more for people in communities across Scotland and the UK.
The greater provision of renewable energy—which, while relevant to all of us, falls under another portfolio—has had a significant positive impact on the reliability of supply here in Scotland. As we continue to develop that capacity, that will be of benefit to not just the environment, but job creation and wider public good here in Scotland. I agree that we need to maximise the opportunities for renewable energy.
Research has shown that households that have prepayment meters often face additional challenges with fuel poverty. Has the Scottish Government spoken to energy companies about the replacement of prepayment meters? What support schemes are being developed, given that we know that that has an impact?
The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, Michael Matheson, has engaged extensively with the energy sector on a regular basis, especially in recent weeks, when the cost of living crisis and increased energy costs have been particularly pertinent.
The Scottish Government has been engaging with the energy sector and supporting consumers, especially those on low incomes, not just in recent weeks, but for some time. For example, we have provided £65 million of direct financial support to around 500,000 households through our £130 pandemic support payment, which was paid by the end of October 2021. In addition, we are committed to doubling the Scottish child payment from April onwards; we have invested in bridging payments; we continue to invest in the Scottish welfare fund; and we have provided our £40 million winter support fund, among many other initiatives.
We will continue to do all that we can. Mr Briggs raises an important point, which the Government will continue to consider with a view to helping families as much as possible at this time.
I will take another supplementary, this time from Evelyn Tweed, who joins us remotely.
While the Scottish Government has introduced game-changing policies such as the Scottish child payment, that progress is being undermined by a cost of living crisis that is being ignored by the Tories at Westminster. Does the minister agree that, while the Scottish National Party Government is using all the powers that are available to it to support hard-pressed households, it is the UK Government that holds the key powers to make a difference?
As I have emphasised, so far, the UK Government has, unfortunately, failed to fully get to grips with the cost of living crisis and has not used the many powers that are reserved to it to support people in need. We continue to urge it to do so.
We, in the Scottish Government, will continue to use all the powers that are available to us to help hard-pressed households. For example, as was published earlier this week, we have supported 530,000 households with a £130 pandemic payment. In addition, we have our £41 million winter support package, which is helping people struggling with costs. We also have a range of benefits, including our five family benefits, one of which is the Scottish child payment, which we will double in April.
Homelessness (Lifting of Eviction Ban)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it anticipates that the lifting of the eviction ban, in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, will result in increased homelessness. (S6O-00737)
The rental eviction ban was a temporary public health measure that ended on 9 August 2021, when the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Regulations were revoked. That reflected advances made against the pandemic.
Since then, data from the first-tier tribunal has not shown any significant increases in repossession action compared to pre-pandemic levels. Existing measures such as the private landlord pre-action protocols, tribunal discretion and the £10 million tenant grant fund are helping to sustain tenancies and prevent homelessness. Where evictions are unavoidable, we have strong homelessness legislation in place to support people.
New figures from the Scottish Government show that homelessness among private renters soared by more than one third between 2020 and 2021, which I suspect was due in part to the lifting of the eviction ban. We warned the Government that that was likely to be a consequence. The Government is set to close the tenant grant fund scheme for struggling tenants at the end of March, despite the escalating cost-of-living crisis. Will the cabinet secretary say whether there are plans to extend the scheme and whether there are specific proposals to tackle the drastic rise in homelessness in the private rented sector?
As Jackie Baillie will be aware, the action taken at the time in the form of the eviction ban was based around the public health guidance at that time. Once that changed, we could not impose a measure that was based on public health guidance, because it would not have been sustainable. I think that it would not have been sustainable in the courts either.
So, what can we do? As I mentioned in my earlier response to Miles Briggs, we will look at what further measures can be taken. The tenant grant fund is helping people in the here and now, and local authorities are working hard to ensure that those in both the private and the social rented sectors who are struggling with arrears and who are at risk of homelessness are being helped through that. We also have discretionary housing payments of £80 million, which are also helping people who need support with housing costs.
As a Government, we are looking at what more we can do around the cost-of-living crisis. Kate Forbes will make further announcements about support for families tomorrow. We will continue to look at what more we can do across portfolios to support people through the coming weeks and months, because we know the pressures that families will be under.
Willie Coffey has a brief supplementary question. He joins us remotely.
The emergency measures on evictions were clearly effective during the height of the pandemic. However, does the cabinet secretary agree that the longer-term structural changes that are currently under way in the prevention of homelessness—[Inaudible.]—to ensure a fair—[Inaudible.]—system—[Inaudible.]—Scotland?
I am afraid that Mr Coffey’s sound was not great. Did the cabinet secretary get enough of it?
I got the gist.
We have the here and now, in which we have to support families, particularly with the cost-of-living pressures. However, we also need to make the changes that need to be made over the medium and long terms. Our goal is to make sure that everyone has access to a safe, warm, affordable, high-quality and energy-efficient home that meets their needs. Taking further steps to improve accessibility, affordability and standards across the rented sector, and preventing homelessness from happening in the first place, will help us to achieve that vision. The new proposals that are out for consultation build on the strong housing rights that already exist in Scotland and include proposed new duties on landlords and public bodies and the implementation of a national system of rent controls.
Children in Temporary Accommodation
To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to ensure that children living in temporary accommodation have access to permanent homes. (S6O-00738)
Although it can provide an important safety net, temporary accommodation must be of good quality, and time spent there should be as short as possible, especially for families with children.
The number of households in temporary accommodation is too high, despite the efforts of councils, charities and other partners. The Scottish Government is supporting local authorities with £53.5 million between 2018 and 2024 to implement their rapid rehousing transition plans and housing first approaches. Those measures support councils to reduce the overall need for temporary accommodation as well as the length of time that is spent in temporary accommodation.
I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
We have a housing crisis, with Zoopla reporting on its site today that the average rent in Edinburgh has risen to £974 a month. Only 14 per cent of Edinburgh’s homes are available for social rent, compared to the national average of 23 per cent, and Scottish Government grant funding for homes covers only a fraction of the build costs. Will the Scottish Government commit to investing in Edinburgh, to bring the number of social rented homes here closer to the national average?
I am well aware of the particular issues in Edinburgh, in both the rented sector and the owner-occupied sector. The housing situation here is not necessarily replicated in other parts of Scotland. We recognise the situation, and I have had a number of discussions with local leaders about it.
Our support for City of Edinburgh Council over the past 15 years or so has amounted to more than £0.5 billion in grant support from this Government, which has contributed to the delivery of more than 13,000 affordable homes. City of Edinburgh Council will receive a further £233.8 million in funding for good-quality, affordable housing across the capital over this parliamentary session, which is an increase of £32.4 million, or 16 per cent, on the previous five years.
We are also supporting Edinburgh’s response to homelessness, with £3.3 million for prevention. We have given it more than £871,000 for rapid rehousing, as well as funding of £563,000 under the winter plan for social protection. We have also supported its delivery of a rapid rehousing welcome centre in Edinburgh.
I know that there is more to do in Edinburgh, and we are supporting City of Edinburgh Council, along with other local authorities. If there are innovative measures that City of Edinburgh wants us to consider, we will be happy to do that.
Question 8 was not lodged.
That concludes portfolio questions on social justice, housing and local government. There will be a short pause to allow the front-bench teams to change safely before the next item of business.