Meeting date: Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 06 February 2018
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Draft Budget 2018-19 (Equalities and Human Rights Levers), Women’s Right to Vote (Centenary), Decision Time, Cyber-resilience (Young People)
- Time for Reflection
- Business Motion
- Topical Question Time
- Draft Budget 2018-19 (Equalities and Human Rights Levers)
- Women’s Right to Vote (Centenary)
- Decision Time
- Cyber-resilience (Young People)
Draft Budget 2018-19 (Equalities and Human Rights Levers)
The next item is a debate on motion S5M-10214, in the name of Christina McKelvie, on making the most of equalities and human rights levers. I invite all members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons. I call Christina McKelvie to speak to and move the motion on behalf of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee.
A hundred years ago today, the Representation of the People Act 1918 gave some women the vote, provided that they were aged over 30 and that either they, or their husband, met a property qualification. I noticed that, oddly, the people who drafted it could not bring themselves to refer to women in the long title of the 1918 act. It is clear that we were lumped in with the “other purposes connected therewith” in the introductory paragraph.
A hundred years on, the progress that has been made is apparent. I speak as an elected member of the Scottish Parliament and convener of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee. We have a woman First Minister and a second female Prime Minister, and countless women lead businesses and stand up for their rights and the rights of others. I pay tribute to two such women: Emma Ritch of Engender and Angela O’Hagan, a lecturer at Caledonian University, who have helped the committee’s understanding of the impact of public policy on women and made the case for gender budgeting.
However, I cannot help thinking that more could have been achieved in those 100 years. If we fast forward through the next 100 years and look back, what will we have achieved? Will society truly be more equal, not just for women but for other underrepresented groups? We cannot afford to be complacent. I recognise that members will, by now, be a bit budget weary, but I hope that today’s debate will re-energise members by focusing on the fundamental need for equalities and human rights to be the starting point for budget setting and budget scrutiny.
The public discourse about sexual harassment and equal pay serves as a timely reminder that we must keep pushing forward. More can and must be done to make our society fairer and to make it one in which everyone is respected and treated with dignity. Without women standing up and being heard, would addressing gender inequality to enhance economic growth have been at the top of the agenda for the World Economic Forum in Davos recently? I really do not think so.
I want to draw the Parliament’s attention to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s report entitled “Looking Ahead to the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2018-19: Making the Most of Equalities and Human Rights Levers”. By making the most of those tools, we can be more assured that there will be less disconnect between public policy making, resource allocation and stated outcomes. I say a special thank you to all the witnesses who came along to the committee and shared their experiences with us—particularly on the inequality that is faced by the black, Asian and minority ethnic population in Scotland—and those who provided written evidence. I also thank the clerks, the Scottish Parliament information centre and everyone else who helped us to understand some of the technicalities.
I am glad to say that Scotland has been at the forefront of equality budgeting. I couch the rest of my remarks with that in mind.
We are, of course, keen to welcome the Scottish Government’s increased budget for promoting equality. The Government has told us that that £22.7 million will be used, among other things, to resource
“frontline services to tackle violence against women and girls ... to address social isolation and loneliness ... to strengthen community cohesion, and ... to address discrimination and inequality across the protected characteristics.”
The budget is the financial reflection of Scottish Government policy: it displays the Government’s values and priorities. It is therefore important that, rather than being a post hoc exercise, the equality budget statement informs budget setting. I am pleased that the budget process review group recognised that and that the Scottish Government has committed to work with the group to improve the equality assessment of the budget process.
I want to focus on three core areas that featured in our report: the mainstreaming of equalities and its continued importance; the public sector equality duty and its value in gathering data to inform budget setting in times of budgetary challenge; and human rights and what they mean in allocating resources.
As we know, “mainstreaming” has been a buzzword since the 1990s. Some greet the word with a sigh and others say that we already do it. The mainstreaming of equalities is a continuous journey; it is not a destination. I want to reconnect members with what mainstreaming means and why we cannot lose sight of its transformative impact on equality.
Mainstreaming is about better decision making and implementation. It allows for making better policy and reflects the diversity of different groups to effect change. It is about increased awareness of diversity and needs, and creating change in the culture of an organisation and society to be more open to diversity and differences. It is about social inclusion and cohesion. It ensures that all groups and individuals in society are duly served in the provision of public services and care and are represented in society. It is also about prevention, because consideration of discriminated-against groups should take place at the time of decision making, to prevent discrimination from occurring in the first place.
The committee recognises the substantial progress that the Scottish Government has made on mainstreaming and we welcome its commitment to us to further improve mainstreaming within the Scottish Government. It would be helpful if the cabinet secretary shared with us today what outcomes the Scottish Government has set for mainstreaming up to 2021 and how they translate into resource allocation.
I think that we all agree that embracing mainstreaming throughout an organisation can have a transformational effect and can help to inform difficult budget decisions and make them a bit more transparent.
The public sector equality duty, which underpins mainstreaming, has the potential to unlock a rich seam of equalities data to improve decision making. The duty’s purpose is to ensure that public authorities and those that carry out public functions consider how they can positively contribute to a more equal society through advancing equality and good relations in their day-to-day business, to deliver improved outcomes for all. In doing so, public bodies should have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other prohibited conduct; the need to advance equality of opportunity between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and those who do not; and the need to foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not. Those are collectively known as the three needs.
The committee expressed concern in its report that local authorities may not be consistently incorporating equalities into their budget-setting process, and we intend to write to them about that.
We appreciate and warmly welcome the Scottish Government’s willingness to share what it has learned from its work on equalities and budget setting and to learn from other public bodies. We keenly await the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s review of the public sector equality duty, which is expected in the spring. That should help to inform the way forward.
We note from the cabinet secretary’s response to our report that, this year, the Government will conduct a review of the implementation of the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012. It would be helpful if the cabinet secretary could provide further detail on what form the review will take. We would be happy to share the information that we receive about equality and local authorities’ budget-setting processes with the Scottish Government to help to inform the review.
I will briefly discuss human rights and its integration into the budget-setting process, which is an issue of particular importance given that the United Kingdom is a signatory to a number of United Nations treaties. The committee has put its efforts into exploring that development and raising awareness about the concept, which is important to the progressive realisation of human rights and ensuring that there is no rollback of rights in times of budgetary constraint. There is a state obligation for no regression. Regression would mean that immediate action would have to be taken. Budgetary decisions as they relate to human rights must be monitored. To show my commitment, I will attend a human rights budgeting master-class tomorrow morning. I would be happy to share my new knowledge with any member who is interested in learning more.
We heard from Judith Robertson, the chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, why using the PANEL principles is important for getting budget decisions right. For those who are not au fait with the principles, they are participation, accountability, non-discrimination, empowerment and legality. Judith Robertson underlined their importance to us when she said:
“if we get the approach right in relation to the people who are most vulnerable, everybody will benefit.”—[Official Report, Equalities and Human Rights Committee, 16 November 2017; c 9.]
We want to see the Scottish Government lead the way and adopt a national direction on human rights-based budgeting. Implementing a national framework for human rights-based budgeting would keep Scotland leading in this field. Today, I hope that members will agree that incorporating equalities and human rights and meeting people’s needs make good business and societal sense.
That the Parliament notes the findings and recommendations in the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s 7th Report, 2017, (Session 5), Looking Ahead to the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2018-19: Making the Most of Equalities and Human Rights Levers (SP Paper 246).
I call Angela Constance.14:32
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. How long do I have?
Ensuring that the budget tackles inequality in Scotland is a key priority for the Scottish Government, and I am pleased to discuss our achievements and areas for further improvement.
I extend my thanks to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee for its recent report “Looking Ahead to the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2018-19: Making the Most of Equalities and Human Rights Levers”. I have discussed the report at committee and responded in writing to it.
For the past nine years, the Scottish Government has undertaken equality analysis and assessment and, crucially, published that alongside the draft budget in the equality budget statement. Few countries in the world, if any, assess across the full range of protected characteristics as Scotland does, and I warmly welcome the constructive cross-party scrutiny of the statement.
As in previous years, the Scottish Government has been supported in the equality budget process by the equality budget advisory group. I thank its members not only for their insight and expertise, but for the challenge that they bring. I also thank the Parliament’s budget process review group for its very careful consideration of the budgetary processes and for its support to continued equality analysis of the budget.
As acknowledged by the budget process review group, the Scottish Government has made significant advances in equality assessment. I will mention some recent improvements, not least in response to the committee convener’s opening remarks.
We already provide measurement of outcomes through the national performance framework, with key indicators being published alongside the draft budget. A review of the national outcomes and national indicators is currently under way, and a fundamental aim of the review is to ensure that tackling inequality underpins the revised framework. We aim to break down as many of the national indicators as possible by the protected equality characteristics and by inequalities, in relation to deprivation and place.
We have started to publish analysis of how budgetary decisions impact on people across the income spectrum and across protected characteristics. Our recent income tax discussion paper presented distributional analysis associated with example income tax changes. On draft budget day, we updated that analysis, publishing a paper on the impact of the income tax proposals in the draft budget. The analysis is provided for different income groups and is extended to assess the impact of income tax policy in relation to age, gender and disability.
The analysis showed, for example, that 44 per cent of women pay tax and that 79 per cent of those female income tax payers will pay less income tax in 2018-19 than they paid in 2017-18. Of course, we must look at the issue in the round. That finding reflects, in part, a lower-waged economy for women and the greater prevalence among women of part-time work, which enables them to meet caring responsibilities. We must always scratch beneath the surface of the headline statistics and consider what they mean in the real world and in people’s—women’s, in this context—day-to-day lives
Last year, the Scottish Government published our “Equality Outcomes and Mainstreaming Report 2017”. Working with stakeholders, we set out a new suite of equality outcomes for 2017 to 2021. The outcomes build on a wide range of policies that have been developed and implemented over the past few years to drive forward equality, including the fairer Scotland action plan, the race equality framework, the race equality action plan, a fairer Scotland for disabled people, the equally safe strategy for the prevention of violence against women and girls, and the fair work framework.
The Scottish Government has shown its commitment to demonstrating leadership on human rights. The recently established First Minister’s advisory group on human rights has been asked to make recommendations to ensure that Scotland continues to lead by example in human rights. As part of that work, we will welcome advice from the group on how to further demonstrate budgetary commitment to human rights.
There has been a lot of action, but we are not complacent. There is always space to develop further and articulate our equality assessment of the budget, and we are committed to work with the equality and budget advisory group to seek improvements—indeed, that work has already started. Meetings with officials took place before Christmas, and just yesterday my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution met members to discuss the budget process review group’s recommendations, which he has accepted. I will follow that up when I meet the group later this month. When discussions have progressed, I will provide the Equalities and Human Rights Committee with details about our plans on that and many other matters, as I committed to do.14:38
In the pursuit of equality across all Government portfolios, from justice to health to education, the draft budget has been accompanied by an equality budget statement for the past nine years. Last year, the budget process review group published an independent report in which it called for the equality dimension of the budget to be given even greater priority, so I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the recommendations in the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s report and to hear from the Scottish Government about what actions it will take to further shape its equality approach to the budget.
Scotland has much to celebrate when it comes to equality. I need only look at last year’s collaborative work by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee and the Education and Skills Committee on prejudice-based bullying to see the impact that putting equality at the forefront of policy ambition can have. For all the positives, however, I hope that the Scottish Government will adopt some of the recommendations in the committee’s report when it comes to the budget-setting process.
To make the most of equalities and human rights levers, we need to have mainstreaming and accountability, and there needs to be an improvement in the informed use of data. During its evidence sessions, the committee heard from Dr Angela O’Hagan of Glasgow Caledonian University’s women in Scotland’s economy research centre, who said that although Scotland has been a pioneer over the years, progress has been hindered by the disconnect that exists between positive discourse and its implementation in spending departments. It was frequently stated that equality mainstreaming was not yet routine across the portfolios and that spending should be planned and proactive. It was felt that the equality budget statement should include systematic consideration of known long-term issues, so that we might work ahead of them rather than in reaction to them.
I will give an example that was highlighted in evidence. If we are aware that there are around 15,000 wheelchair users in Scotland and that ethnic minorities are four times more likely to be in overcrowded housing, it makes business sense to resolve such issues in the context of the wider Government ambition to build 50,000 affordable homes. Paramount in that, of course, is the need to work within budget realities while being transparent about how equalities funding is allocated—at least in part—within departments.
Does Annie Wells agree that those affordable homes should be wheelchair accessible?
Yes, I agree that we should look at what we need to do, because we know that adapting homes is dearer than making them ready for purpose.
Only by being transparent about funding allocation can we have full budget scrutiny. Furthermore, in any attempt to fully mainstream equalities in the budget process, there needs to be a concerted effort to move the onus away from the equality unit solely and to make it the responsibility of Government department leaders, to ensure that equality-based policies are working. As an example of that, Chris Oswald of the Equality and Human Rights Commission highlighted to the committee the 2014 apprenticeship scheme, which was felt to have missed a great opportunity to recruit people with disabilities and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Underpinning that more strategic approach is the continual need to improve the data that is available so that priority areas can be routinely highlighted, which was a long-standing issue for the former Equal Opportunities Committee. It is absolutely crucial that Scotland creates a robust database, according to protected characteristics, for the purposes of analysis, scrutiny and ensuring that resources are targeted most effectively. That way, we can use data to our advantage and improve the pathway from evidence to policy and spend. Of course, the equality evidence strategy already exists but, as the committee’s report suggests, it would be helpful, over time, to hear more about how gaps will be prioritised and what specific projects will be set up.
I want to finish by thanking the committee’s clerks, the SPICe staff and all those associated with the committee, and everyone who gave evidence to inform the report. As the report tells us, it is vital that, in putting equality at the forefront of the budget, we take a business-like approach to implementing equality frameworks across Government departments so that that priority can become part and parcel of everyday decision making. To do so, we need to identify priority areas with the help of improved data in relation to protected characteristics, to target resources strategically and to make honest assessments of what is and what is not having an impact. Only by doing that can we achieve a fairer Scotland.14:44
It gives me pleasure to open, on behalf of Scottish Labour, the debate on this important committee report on making the most of equalities and human rights levers. I put on record my thanks to the committee’s staff, members of the Scottish Parliament and all who were involved in developing such an important body of work.
In summary, the report seeks to advance the work that has been done in relation to equalities in the budget, to make more progress and to give much greater priority to a human rights-based approach to budgeting. That approach is correct for a number of reasons. As well as being the right and the fair thing to do, establishing equalities and human rights as part of our budget process will benefit the community and not just the process in the longer run. If we look at the number of stakeholders and budget holders who are involved in the process, we can see that if we ensure that an equalities and human rights-based approach is taken, we will have a much more joined-up budget process. That will ensure that we deliver a fairer approach, and it will save the Government money in the longer run.
How does the member think that central Government can play a role in ensuring that local authorities also implement equality policies?
Ultimately, the responsibility for local authority budgets rests with local authorities. I accept the point that has been made that local authorities need to step up and do more, but central Government has a leadership role to play. It needs to ensure that it takes more responsibility for local authority budget processes and embeds equalities and human rights approaches in them.
It is important for there to be a good element of transparency in the processes, and the collection of data is critical in that regard. To be able to properly understand the impact of the decisions that we make and whether they give the right priority to equalities and human rights, we must not only collect data but publish it, and make it available in a form that is understandable to everyone who is involved in the budget process, not just the accountants who draw up the budget.
The committee draws attention to a couple of interesting areas. More can be done on procurement and capital investment. The Government spends billions of pounds of its budget each year in that area. The processes can be simplified, and more can be done to ensure that there is an equalities and human rights approach in that area.
Another area of interest that the committee draws attention to is that of ring fencing. There is always a tension in local authorities with regard to what money should be ring fenced. There is a natural move at local authority level to have more flexibility, and therefore to resist ring fencing. However, if we want to be serious about introducing more equalities approaches, we need to look more seriously at ring fencing.
All that needs to be taken in the overall context of the budget. The current budget comes on the back of £1.5 billion of cuts to local councils. The Scottish women’s budget group tells us that the majority of users and providers are women. I do not believe that the budget serves equalities, human rights and women to the best of its ability. If we really want to tackle austerity and redistribute power and wealth, we need to do much more with the Parliament’s available powers.
The committee’s report makes some important contributions on the process, but we also need to deal with the overall politics and allocations of the budget if we are serious about making the most of the levers that are available to us on equalities and human rights.14:49
As a member of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, I thank everyone who gave evidence to the committee as part of our budget scrutiny on how we are doing in Scotland with regard to equalities and human rights. I thank the clerks, SPICe and my fellow committee members for all their hard work in producing the report. Like the convener, I welcome the increase in inequality funding in the budget.
The committee touched on several aspects of the budget and discussed several portfolios, including education, health, housing, planning, justice and local government. We can be in no doubt about the importance of working with organisations and individuals who have experience in the field, such as the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, the Scottish Women’s Convention, Engender, BEMIS, the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the equality and budget advisory group and the WISE research centre, which all gave evidence.
Human rights is a new remit for the committee and it is the first time that a single Scottish Parliament committee has had that remit, but as well as being the remit of our committee, human rights should form the basis of every policy across every portfolio and should underpin every decision that we make.
There is no starker example of that than the budget. Some concern was expressed by witnesses that, although equalities and human rights are considered in some aspects of our budget process, they do not underpin the process to a large enough extent. We are doing well in some areas and could improve in others, and there was a view that equalities can sometimes be looked at in a retrospective manner rather than being at the forefront of decision making.
Dr Angela O’Hagan of the WISE research centre believes that equalities and human rights budgeting should “activate mainstreaming” so that spending allocations and revenue decisions are integrated. She emphasised that committees, when scrutinising, and policy makers, when formulating proposals, need to ask
“whether a policy or legal intervention will advance equality and realisation of rights.”—[Official Report, Equalities and Human Rights Committee, 16 November 2017; c 5.]
In their joint submission to us, Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector, the Scottish Council on Deafness, Voluntary Action Scotland and Volunteer Glasgow said that an
“explicit statement and a distinct methodology on human rights must underpin the process and evidence gathered to monitor impact in the short, medium and longer term.”
Chris Oswald of EHRC stated that human rights analysis was “largely absent” from the budget. He said:
“There is a Government framework around disabled people’s rights and independent living, but it is entirely predicated on the delivery by local authority, health and other agencies, which are rightly independent of Government. However, there is no checking.”—[Official Report, Equalities and Human Rights Committee, 16 November 2017; c 10.]
Local authority budgeting, in particular, has to focus more on equalities and human rights. The removal of concessionary bus fares, reductions in grants to the third sector, the closure of play parks and reductions in budgets for vulnerable adults are just a few of the proposals from some local authorities that are questionable in those terms.
One of the key recommendations that the committee makes is:
“The Scottish Government’s leadership in this key area of activity would prove to be an exemplar for other public authorities facing difficult budget decisions. We believe adopting a national direction on human rights-based budgeting would demonstrate meeting people’s needs makes good business sense. In an environment where there are financial constraints, a human rights framework can provide objective guidance which will assist balanced decision making on the use of resources and importantly limit the extent and duration of any retrogression.”
We have to take equalities and human rights into account when we make all our decisions in this chamber, and I welcome the remarks that the cabinet secretary made in her opening statement. I note the commitment in the programme for government to establish an expert advisory group to make recommendations on how Scotland can lead by example on human rights, including economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. I look forward to our committee working with the Scottish Government and other committees on the issue, and to the convener’s feedback from her workshop tomorrow. I commend the report to the chamber.14:54
I am pleased to take part in today’s debate on the findings and recommendations of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee in its report, which was published ahead of the draft budget in December. Like others, I thank the members of the committee for their efforts in putting together the report. I am not a member of the committee, but I applaud the work that it has done so far.
Today, I will focus on the report’s comments on local authorities. As the report suggests, given the autonomous nature of local authorities, it can sometimes be difficult to ensure that national policy priorities are implemented at a local level. The report gives a number of examples in which the aims of certain pieces of legislation, such as the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, have not been fully realised because local authorities have, in many cases, decided not to fund the policies fully.
Although I recognise that that problem might frustrate some people, I am glad that the report does not insist on ring fencing as the solution to it in all cases, but rather suggests that the merits of such an approach be assessed case by case. There is a difficult balance to be struck between ensuring that the Scottish Government’s equalities agenda is delivered locally and prioritising the independence of local authorities to determine how they spend their budgets. Although some local authorities may put less emphasis on equalities in the absence of ring fencing, others may come up with new and innovative ways of addressing issues. Therefore, it is important that we try not to be too rigid or restrictive when we allocate funds to our local councils.
The report also highlights the fact that the Equality Act 2010 puts a single equality duty on the public sector. It requires all public bodies to give due consideration to the needs of individuals with protected characteristics in their organisations and in any services that they deliver. However, there are some concerns as to whether the duty is being met. The Equality and Human Rights Commission said that, in the public sector,
“budgetary issues are rarely examined in detail through the lens of the duties”,
and the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations said that, as the Scottish Government’s budget is used to fund a variety of public bodies,
“It is virtually impossible to measure”
“on the PSED”.
That is not necessarily a justification for greater ministerial oversight or direction of local authority spending in and of itself. There are different ways of tackling the problem.
Rebecca Marek from the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights made the valid point that the lack of use of equalities evidence to set spending priorities is much more severe at a local authority level. Although some authorities take the duty seriously, Ms Marek is right to suggest that others should evaluate all the evidence on equalities that is available to them when setting and spending their budgets and considering how to ensure that services are provided. On that basis, the committee is absolutely correct to see the public sector equality duty as an enabling mechanism rather than a tick-box exercise. I also commend the committee’s plans to write to local authorities to ask them how they consider equalities information when determining their spending priorities.
It is important that politicians be mindful of equalities and human rights during the budget-setting process and that they give due consideration to the impact that their decisions might have on minority groups in particular. That applies when budgets are set at a local level, but is equally relevant for us in Holyrood. We should lead by example in the Scottish Parliament and encourage local authorities to do the same.14:58
As a member of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I thank my fellow committee members, the committee clerks and all the witnesses who gave evidence to the committee.
The budget process is the Government’s single most important act each parliamentary year. It should be fully transparent. It should be possible to trace the process from its inputs through to its outputs—its real impact on people’s lives—because that is the only way that we can measure the effectiveness of the drivers that the Government should be using to tackle inequality.
Taking a human rights approach is key to making the budget process fairer. We should do more to ensure that human rights are at the heart of our political debate. I would like them to be at the forefront of all politicians’ minds when they devise budgets and formulate legislation. If we wish to have a society that is caring, diverse, inclusive of all and more equal, we must prioritise human rights during the scrutiny of our budget.
A critical driver in tackling inequality is the embedding of equality impact assessments in all the work that is done by national and local government. Despite the United Kingdom being a signatory to a range of United Nations human rights treaties, consideration of human rights issues is not at the forefront of the Scottish budget process.
The following example was highlighted by Chris Oswald of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. He told the committee that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which the UK is a signatory, outlines a commitment to independent living for all persons with disabilities. However, that commitment to independent living for disabled people is not reflected in the Scottish Government’s housing and transport budget allocations and policies, despite those being two key areas where there are significant barriers to disabled people’s active inclusion and participation in Scottish society.
A human rights approach should be fundamental to everything that we do. If we get the process of adopting a human rights approach to the budget correct, we will protect the most vulnerable people in our society, and doing that will benefit us all.
The importance of a more equal society must not be underestimated. A more equal society is happier and more trusting. The European countries that are ranked as the happiest in the world happiness survey are consistently those that have the lowest levels of inequality. For example, Denmark has been ranked as the world’s happiest country for three of the past five years. I appreciate that no country provides a perfect example of the implementation of human rights or the adoption of a human rights approach, but Denmark provides an illuminating example of the benefits of a more equal society. Denmark is one of the most egalitarian and trusting societies in the world, and the level of its population’s trust in its Government, politicians and fellow citizens ranks among the highest in the world.
I reiterate my support for the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s call for discussions on human rights in the Scottish Government’s budget to be expedited. Adopting an approach to the Scottish budget that is based on human rights and equality is vital, because that would go some way towards reducing inequality in Scotland by protecting our most vulnerable citizens and, in doing so, helping to a create a more equal, happier and more trusting Scotland.15:02
I thank the committee for bringing the debate to the chamber. I suggested to the Minister for Parliamentary Business that, as part of the budget scrutiny process, there ought to be some time in the chamber—Government time—to debate the equalities aspects, particularly the gender analysis aspects, of the budget. However, having a committee debate instead of a Government debate is helpful and probably a better approach. Such a debate in Government time, with motions and amendments and votes at decision time, would inevitably lead to the yes it is, no it isn’t arguments around the budget, when what is needed is some reflection on where we have got to and why we made the progress that we did.
Angela Constance spoke about the approach that has been taken to the equalities impact assessments of the budget and why that has been so good. However, we should also reflect on why that progress has not continued. We need to be honest about that. Today, I am relying a great deal on the evidence given to the committee by Dr Angela O’Hagan. Although she acknowledged a great deal that is positive, in her written submission she suggested that the draft budget, like budgets before it, lacks gender competence. In that one phrase, we need to recognise that there are serious criticisms of the process that we have.
Why has that happened? Why did we make progress in the good use of equality impact assessments but then did not go further and start to construct budgets with equalities and human rights as guiding principles rather than assessments after the fact? I think that that has something to do with the sharply constrained timescale that we now have for the budget process.
I have looked back at a previous year, back in my first session as an MSP. The then Finance Committee had its approach paper on the budget process in mid-June, with an expectation that the Executive—as the Government was then called—would publish a draft budget in mid-September. By November, all the parliamentary committees had had time to look at the draft budget—the numbers, not just the broad brush strokes—to report to the Finance Committee and to feed back to the Government. The Government then responded to all of that. Months of proper, in-depth budget scrutiny was normal.
If we compare that with what—for different and understandable reasons—we have had this year and last year, we can see that the draft budgets were published in December, followed by a very tight timescale for scrutinising Government proposals.
Long-term budget scrutiny allows for the development of new ideas, such as how to do equality impact assessments better. If we were still taking our time over budget scrutiny, we would have been led on to the arguments that Angela O’Hagan and others make so convincingly: equalities and human rights need to be at the starting point of the budget process as the Government develops its budget, rather than the assessment of equalities impacts just getting better after the budget has been produced.
To be fair, I put some of those points to the cabinet secretary during our constrained budget scrutiny process in committee this year, and he agreed that we need to get a lot better at this. I hope that Mr Mackay will close for the Government in the debate, when I hope that he will be able to say specifically what it is that will be done differently in future.
Will the member give way?
I will certainly give way to the Finance and Constitution Committee convener.
Mr Crawford, your microphone is not on. You do not have your card in.
Sorry, Presiding Officer—I just did a Harvie, as Mr Harvie said about somebody else last week.
Despite all the points that Mr Harvie just made, does he agree that, whether in relation to the mid-term financial strategy or other mechanisms employed as part of the budget process, the significant amount of work that the budget process review group has been undertaking will considerably help the budget process?
I certainly share the hope that it will. There is a great deal of work to be done to turn that objective into a reality. I think that we all share that view.
I will make a couple of brief comments on some of the specifics that we have heard. There is a great deal of emphasis on capital expenditure as a stimulus for the economy and as something that will create jobs. However, we know from the evidence that investment in social infrastructure such as care services not only generates more employment but ensures a more positive gender impact and social class impact when it comes to the question of who gets the benefit of the economic activity that is generated.
As the Scottish women’s budget group has said, when we talk about economic activity and inactivity, we persist in referring to women as “economically inactive” and in not recognising the economic relevance of work that is not part of the paid, employed labour market.
I hope that, in those areas, we can not only do better at assessing the equalities, gender and human rights impact of budgets once we have set them but take those principles into the formation of the budget. It is the Government that needs to take up that opportunity. If Parliament can allow more time in future for the scrutiny process, we will be in a stronger position to place that expectation on the Government to take what we have done well in the past, but not rest on our laurels in taking new ideas forward.15:09
I thank the clerks, SPICe and everyone who gave evidence to the committee, as well as my fellow committee members, for their hard work in drafting the report “Looking Ahead to the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2018-19: Making the Most of Equalities and Human Rights Levers”. I am proud to be a member of the committee in one of the world’s leading countries with regard to progress on human rights commitments, and I welcome the Scottish Government’s response to the report’s findings.
Provisions for equality should be at the heart of all Government policies and decision-making mechanisms, which should take into account the demands of all groups in our society. Government budgets are crucial for financing human rights and equality measures, because they set the stage for future policy developments and potential progress.
The Scottish Government has worked hard to take an active role in integrating an equalities discourse into our legislation and in ensuring its appropriate implementation. That is a crucial aspect of a democratic society, and it must be applied at all levels of Government. Our goals remain clear. We want to raise awareness of equalities issues that are relevant to Government budgets on issues such as gender, race, sexual orientation, mental and physical disability, age, education, work, living standards, health, justice and participation in civil society. We also seek to increase Government accountability by raising the importance of the impact of budgets on equality, and we want to improve budget allocations to foster equality.
Despite our progress over the past few decades, we must make improvements to the implementation and accountability of Government budgets and their impact on equality. Our capacity for changing our relationship with equality is not necessarily restricted to the Government’s wallet but involves wider societal change. Although we must continue to work with other stakeholders, we must also recognise that the Scottish Government plays a leading role in promoting a more equal future. I have high hopes that the findings of the report that is being discussed today will open the door to the changes that are needed to promote equality.
One of the main challenges that we—not just the committee but the Government—face is in ensuring that the hours of evidence that we take are translated into meaningful and practical policy. The report emphasises that obstacle, highlighting national performance indicators for monitoring and evaluating evidence as a means for overcoming some of the challenges that we face.
The evaluation of evidence is essential for assessing progress and understanding where our challenges lie in achieving equality. However, as the report clarifies, quantifying evidence that is ultimately qualitative is, in itself, a huge challenge. We must foster partnerships with other relevant stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations and human rights groups to ensure that the emotional evidence that is given at our committee meetings is not only taken seriously but translated into meaningful legislation. I appreciate the Scottish Government’s commitment to helping us to achieve that.
Over the past year, we have heard evidence from a range of equality and human rights groups such as the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations and the Scottish Women’s Convention, to name just a few. It was clear from those evidence sessions that there is great room for progress. We need to create political infrastructure in order to establish the capacity and power for budget-setting standards.
We need to monitor the impact of progress by including a wider range of stakeholders as well as by improving accountability and scrutiny. We must set an example for other public institutions that face similar challenges and actively engage in our political and economic civil society to develop policy from an equality perspective. We must also pay attention to international human rights law and ensure that Scottish standards are in line with those of the international community.
In conclusion, I thank the Equalities and Human Rights Committee again for its engagement in assessing the potential improvements to the Scottish budget. Although I praise the progress that we have made, I also look forward to future improvements. We cannot afford to miss any opportunities to tackle inequality and must start with the Scottish Government’s budget to ensure that adequate funding is allocated to political opportunities to help those who are impacted by inequality.
We have to support inclusive economic growth, community empowerment and civil society participation in order to hear the voices of those who are marginalised. We must recognise that integrating equality into our Government budget is a multi-faceted process that requires a holistic approach, and, as our report did, we need to continue to put equality at the forefront of the budget-setting process.15:13
There is universal agreement that more needs to be done to equality proof the budget. We have been talking about that for years, ever since the Parliament first sat, but we appear to be no further forward. Mary Fee pointed out that the happiest countries are those that promote human rights and equalities and that, therefore, we all gain by having an equal society. We need to start creating that equal society through the budget.
Human rights is a theme that has run through the debate this afternoon but, with declining resources, the services that help to deliver human rights are the services that are being cut. People with disabilities need assistance to access the things that we all take for granted and enjoy, but the charges for services are increasing faster than inflation due to cuts in council budgets. That raises issues for people’s dignity.
Elaine Smith’s intervention about the fact that new homes should all be accessible helps us to see how we can build equality into our everyday work and planning.
Women are, for the most part, service users and service providers, and they have caring responsibilities. As Patrick Harvie pointed out, we may need to place a greater value on that unpaid work and, indeed, interrogate the value of it. As charges increase, services are being cut, and that is having an impact on women as well.
The women who provide services are often in low-paid jobs. For example, two thirds of the local government workforce is made up of women, and they are the ones who have experienced redundancies and long-term pay freezes, which have had a big impact on their income.
We previously heard reports that disabled people are the new council tax payers because, due to their dependence on services, they are now paying more. Therefore, the cuts to council budgets are detrimental to equalities and create a much more unequal society. We need to address that.
We also need to address race inequality. There is a race equality framework, and an action plan was published at the end of last year. However, it is not clear what the outcomes of that action plan will be and how they will be measured. What will success look like for that action plan?
We talk about developing tools to assess all of those things, but we have been talking about that for a long time and those tools are desperately required now. Angela Constance talked about inequalities analysis and the issue of deprivation with regard to place. I have been exercised about that issue for a long time, because the indicators that we use to identify deprivation often ignore rural deprivation. For example, car ownership is seen as a measure of wealth even though it is a necessity in rural areas.
James Kelly talked about the need for procurement to provide services that promote equality, but it should also be used to ensure that jobs are available for those with protected characteristics, who also tend to be those who have less access to the workforce. If we use procurement for that purpose, we could go a long way towards our aims.
Mary Fee said that we need to track inputs through to outputs. That is important, because mainstreaming equalities through the budget process is desirable but needs to be measurable, and we need the tools to interrogate it. No real progress has been made on that, and we need action now.15:18
I welcome the opportunity to speak in today’s debate. I thank my colleagues on the Equalities and Human Rights Committee for helping to put the report together, and I thank everyone who gave evidence to us. I am grateful for the opening words of our convener, Christina McKelvie. In the short time that I have today, I will reflect on some of the specific findings of the report and summarise some of the points that I have taken away from today’s brief debate.
James Kelly mentioned that capital investment projects can be used by the Government to tackle inequality. In my view, that is a two-pronged situation. The first issue involves ensuring that those who are involved in the delivery and build of such projects are themselves from a diverse range of backgrounds and that the projects allow for inclusive recruitment in workplaces. The second issue is centred on those who benefit from the projects and on ensuring that improving equality is at the heart of such major public investment.
At present, there is not enough joined-up thinking about how we can target our investment programmes to mitigate specific factors relating to inequality. Whether that involves making affordable housing available or ensuring that housing is accessible, as has been mentioned, the evidence that the committee took points to a conversation around how capital infrastructure projects can benefit society but not necessarily contribute to the equalities agenda.
We heard a lot of evidence over the course of our budget considerations, and Dr Angela O’Hagan provided some excellent contributions. She gave the example of a Government initiative—the Scottish national investment bank—that I think proves the point. The national investment bank could have provided an excellent opportunity, as an instrument for investment by default, but the consultation on it contained no reference to how the institution could be mandated to address issues of equality. It is easy to see how such an institution could undertake such a task, so it was a surprise that that reference was not there. As a result, the committee said:
“there is no systematic approach to address equalities through capital investment programmes, initiatives or procurement. We believe the Scottish Government needs to tackle this matter urgently”.
I hope that the cabinet secretary will address that matter in his summing up.
To put that in context, I will give some examples. We received comments on how, for example, city deals could go some way to improving equality through specific projects that could be involved in city deal funding. On large-scale infrastructure projects, such as builds of motorways, rail tracks and housing developments, what measures are in place to ensure that the workforce is as diverse as the end user? That includes the workforce of contractors that use public money.
We have heard much on the issue of mainstreaming, which comes up frequently when we talk about public policy. Later in this session of Parliament, we will discuss the Islands (Scotland) Bill, the purpose of which is to look at how public bodies and agencies may or may not negatively affect islanders when they make policy decisions or policy changes. I would say that there already is a requirement on Government bodies and public bodies to do the same with regard to equalities.
As we all know, when individual committees of this Parliament review legislation or the budget, there is often an equalities and human rights section in the papers. Yet how much attention and time is really given to that subject if, on the face of it, the bill does not seem to directly influence or affect the equality agenda? For that reason, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee has agreed to write to all the conveners of parliamentary committees, reminding them of the evidence tools that are available to them. I welcome that move.
We made some very specific asks of the Government in the report. I do not have time to go into them in detail, but I will mention them in the hope that they will be addressed. We asked for a consultation panel that would represent all protected characteristics, from which the equality and budget advisory group could seek advice on specific issues. We asked for an update on the timescales for the independent review of the race equality framework. Also—this is linked to my previous comments on capital investment—we asked the Scottish Government to provide more clarification on the use of procurement as a way of addressing equality. What guidance is out there to ensure that tenders and contracts improve equality? Improving equality should be at the heart of every portfolio in Government, even if it is not obvious how that can be done.
These debates are often filled with buzzwords such as mainstreaming, ring fencing, data gathering and example setting. Those terms are all valid, but it is important to say that every public body—whether elected or not—should embed improving equality at the heart of its policy decision making.
I thank members for their input this afternoon and hope that the committee’s thorough and detailed report gives the Government renewed focus on the wider equality agenda and the important role that the Government has in delivering it through everyday policy.
I call Derek Mackay. You have around five minutes, please, cabinet secretary.15:23
Thank you, Presiding Officer. A great deal of content has been discussed in this afternoon’s debate. I have agreed with most of it, although not in its entirety, particularly in respect of some of the quantum issues; but in respect of the process and the principles that we should follow, I agree absolutely.
I do not agree with Rhoda Grant’s point that we are no further forward than when devolution first started. All members, I think, can reflect on the great progress that we have made on the equality agenda, including on how we approach the budget. There is a great deal of international recognition of many of the policy interventions that we have made.
Christina McKelvie very helpfully took us through some of that progress on this significant and auspicious day. She referenced budget fatigue, which Patrick Harvie wants more of—quite rightly—as we extend the transparent approach that we have taken. Bruce Crawford was right to point to the budget process review group recommendations, as accepted, with regard to how we address some aspects of the issue going forward.
I have benefited personally from the work of the equality and budget advisory group, as has the Government corporately and collectively, in looking at matters of process and language as well as policy content and impact. Angela Constance touched on a number of the recommendations that the group made. Annie Wells is right: our approach should involve not just the finance, equalities or communities sections of the Government, but the whole of Government.
A number of members mentioned data, but the use of data should also be proportionate. I remember the bad old days of a lot of administration and resource being spent on unnecessary evaluation and monitoring. We should be proportionate and use data intelligently to inform our decisions. That is essential because we do not have the critical mass of data that would allow us to understand some of the issues. I absolutely believe in that forensic approach.
Last year, I held an event in the Parliament about big data, which a lot of representatives from local government attended. The minister mentioned the bad old days, but much has changed in terms of technology and how we can analyse and use data. What more is the Government doing to ensure that it is using technology to properly analyse data in order to improve outcomes?
It is a good question. Wearing my digital public services and digital transformation hat, I could go on at great length about being more creative in the use of data, about projects such as CivTech and about the use of data as evidence to inform how we design systems. It is about being more creative, rather than just coming up with a specification for a project that we think we might require. There is much in that. We need data to drive both our decisions and our understanding of their impacts.
Gail Ross was right to mention local authority budgeting, and Alexander Stewart focused briefly on community empowerment, which is important as well. Mary Fee mentioned the prioritisation of resources, and Patrick Harvie reflected on where we are with scrutiny.
When we talk about resources or even just the 2018-19 budget, we need to consider how we approach income tax, and we had a deep and meaningful look at what the tax policy will mean for individuals and groups in society. When it comes to spending, I will use infrastructure as an example, as Jamie Greene mentioned it. There is massive infrastructure spending on housing, which we know tackles inequality. That is about not just the completion of houses, but how they are constructed and—
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?
I do not have time, as I have just five minutes and I would like to cover a little more ground.
Another aspect is childcare, which is about the appropriate upskilling and training of staff as well as the physical improvements that are required for the policy of improved childcare to be delivered.
The budget is the financial expression of the Government’s and the Parliament’s priorities, which is why it is so important. It follows on from the programme for government, which expresses the vision for the country and the priorities of the Government and Parliament.
A couple of members touched on the great opportunity that we have at present in respect of the national performance framework, which is being reviewed. The Government’s purpose, the outcomes that we believe are important and the measurements by which our success will be judged are all up for review. That work is being delivered on a cross-party basis and with key stakeholders. There is a wonderful opportunity to look at that afresh and to ensure that we are tackling inequality.
Across a range of policy areas, we have shown that we have an inclusive agenda to tackle inequality. I agree with Mary Fee that, according to all the evidence, the happiest societies are not necessarily the richest, but those that have tackled inequality most effectively. What we are trying to do on pay policy around a pay uplift that is more progressive, just as tax is more progressive, is the right kind of intervention.
Fundamentally, we have been able to make a range of interventions in respect of human rights. We have made progress, but I think that we can do more. Today’s debate has been very helpful in providing focus and I, as finance secretary, working with the communities secretary, will be more than happy to take forward the suggestions that have been raised and to report back on further progress.
I call on Alex Cole-Hamilton to wind up the debate on behalf of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee.15:29
I echo the cabinet secretary’s remarks about the consensual nature of the debate. The Parliament does best when we cross party lines and recognise the shared ambition on the equalities and human rights agenda.
I thank the members of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee for all their hard work, all the witnesses who came before us and our clerks, SPICe team and other officials for their never-failing support.
The focus of the report is how the outcomes for people who are protected under the Equality Act 2010 can be improved as well as how human rights can be integrated into the budget decision-making process. I hope that today’s debate has shown our committee’s dedication to pursuing opportunities for improvement and building on the significant progress that has been made since devolution.
Over the past decade, the equalities issue has rightly moved closer to the centre of discussions about public expenditure. We know that the principles of equality, social inclusion and human rights are acknowledged as important Scottish Government goals, which is welcome. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement, which the cabinet secretary acknowledged in her response to our report. Although the political will certainly exists, we are still a considerable distance from equalities being uppermost in decision making and driving the budget process. We also have some way to travel before we can fully measure how different sections of society are impacted by specific policies.
Last year’s report from the budget process review group, the commitment of the Scottish Government and the expert advice of the equality budget advisory group demonstrate the willingness to develop a budget process that links with the national performance framework so that there are measurable outcomes. Performance budgeting is key to tracking real and measurable results. We recognise that that can be challenging, but I think that we all agree that it is a worthwhile endeavour.
The debate has been great. The committee convener, Christina McKelvie, reminded us of the importance of today’s date—an auspicious day on which to hold the debate—and of the fact that, even 100 years after the partial extension of suffrage to some women for the first time, we still have many frontiers to reach in respect of the equalities agenda. She took us through the three core themes that the report touches on.
Christine McKelvie’s remarks were met with a comprehensive response from the cabinet secretary—as comprehensive as her written response to the report. I am grateful to her for her co-operation with our inquiry and for the time that she has spent on addressing the points that the committee raised. It is important to stress, however, that just because we have the mechanisms, strategies and apparatus in our decision-making processes to make equalities real, that does not mean that that is happening. Such measures are only as good as their application—we must always be conscious of that as we apply each of the duties that we have set out.
Gail Ross gave an excellent analysis of the distance that we still have to travel to reach a full human rights-based approach to both policy and expenditure. That theme was picked up by David Torrance and Mary Fee, who referenced in her speech the evidence of Chris Oswald about the lip-service that we sometimes pay to things such as the independent living rights in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Patrick Harvie reminded us of a time when Parliament could adequately scrutinise each budget line from at least six months out, giving us the chance to close the stable door before the equalities horse had bolted. Rhoda Grant also referred to the fact that, although much progress has been made, we have slipped backwards in certain areas.
I will make some further observations in relation to the committee’s deliberations. The gap between stated policies and their satisfactory translation into funded measures has long been recognised—the disconnect between policy making and resource allocation is a feature. If we are to address discrimination and inequality across society, there needs to be a joined-up approach by central Government and local government to the delivery of national equalities priorities while, of course, acknowledging that local authorities remain autonomous bodies.
We received evidence that national policy does not always translate into local action. Alexander Stewart reminded us of part 1 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, which is on children’s rights and which imposed duties on local authorities to implement policy under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, as no budget line was attached, the number of children’s rights officers has halved, despite the intent of the 2014 act. James Kelly addressed that and raised the possibility of ring fencing targeted at the equalities agenda.
In evidence to the committee, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission provided another example, stating that money had previously been set aside for Gypsy Traveller site development but that, because of the concordat with local authorities and the loosening of ring fencing, such aims were now not achievable without the full consent and buy-in of local authorities, which meant that equalities in that area was suffering. [Interruption.]
Excuse me, but can we have a wee bit of hush, please, while Mr Cole-Hamilton finishes on behalf of the committee? Thank you.
I am grateful to you, Presiding Officer. I am almost there.
We would like to see greater co-operation between the Scottish Government and local government in that area.
Annie Wells highlighted the lack of adequate data on protected characteristics, which makes it impossible to ensure that there is a direct line of sight between the columns of the ledgers of Government expenditure and the groups that they target. In our report, we acknowledge that and the significant amount of work that is being undertaken by the Scottish Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to improve the equality evidence base. Witnesses such as Danny Boyle from BEMIS debated whether action should be focused on dealing with long-term, known systemic issues or on filling identified evidence gaps through funded initiatives—there will always be competing priorities. Jamie Greene referenced Angela O’Hagan, who gave the committee an amazing treatise on that.
Many countries have followed Scotland’s approach to equalities, which Derek Mackay was right to reference. A central plank of that approach has been the equality budget statement that accompanies the draft budget. The committee recognises the significant work that has gone into preparing that statement and I record its thanks for that.
Today’s debate has brought a focus to how the process should reflect the principles of equalities, social inclusion and human rights. We welcome the Government’s commitment to making Scotland a more equal place in which to live, as we welcomed the contributions of the strategy bodies, stakeholders and individuals who have worked tirelessly to shape progress on that.
Equalities and human rights have to be the core business of budget making to achieve a fairer society. I commend the findings in the report of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee to the Parliament.