The Social Renewal Advisory Board has said creating a minimum income guarantee and helping those most affected by Covid-19 will result in a fairer Scotland
Tackling poverty and inequality can be central to Scotland’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, a panel of experts has recommended.
The Social Renewal Advisory Board has published 20 Calls to Action to help create a fairer country, with recommendations around the themes of money and work; people, rights and advancing equality; and communities and collective Endeavour.
The group – containing a variety of voluntary sector representatives – has been established to drive progress towards a fairer, more equal Scotland in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
A new report, If not now, when?, has been published by the board and will be considered by the Scottish Government.
Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said: “This ambitious report is a challenge to be bold as we recover from Covid-19. It recognises the strong response to the pandemic which has taken place across Scotland thanks to the collective efforts of local and national government, communities, organisations and individuals. The actions recommended build on work to tackle poverty and reduce inequality, taking a human-rights based approach.”
The report calls for the Scottish Government to commit to working towards a Minimum Income Guarantee for all; offer skills, training and qualifications programmes targeted to those most affected by the pandemic; commit to a new Affordable Housing Programme, delivering 53,000 affordable homes, including 37,100 homes for social rent; set a target to end digital exclusion in the next parliamentary term; work with local government and other partners to give more say to people and communities over the decisions which affect their lives; and strengthen approaches to address and prevent hate crime and public sexual harassment.
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) chief executive Anna Fowlie, who sat on the board, said the voluntary sector can play a key role in creating a better Scotland.
She said: "The advisory board's report offers hope that Scotland's recovery from the pandemic can lead to a fair and equal society if there is the determination to make it happen. The wellbeing of current and future generations must be at the forefront of our national planning, and there is no time to lose in progressing Scotland's renewal. That’s why I was pleased to be a member of the advisory board.
"The collective response of the voluntary sector to the pandemic has been exceptional. The importance of the sector to the very fabric of Scottish society has been recognised in the development of this report, both through the involvement of a range of voluntary organisations throughout the process and the prominence of our sector in the report’s recommendations.
"SCVO particularly welcome the focus on building on what worked well during the pandemic and resisting the pull to revert to how things were before it. I welcome the collective commitment to empower people and communities to actively participate in decision-making. The voluntary sector's significance to Scotland's social and economic fabric has shone throughout this crisis, where in the past it’s been undervalued. Delivering a secure and sustainable future for the sector is rightly part of this call.
"If acted on, the changes this report calls for will make a long-overdue difference to people's lives, from the families who are digitally excluded to those furthest from the labour market. We all have a role to play in what must be a collective effort, and SCVO will be doing whatever we can to contribute and challenging others to do their bit over the coming months and years, because if not now, when?"
Sally Thomas, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) chief executive and joint chair of the report’s editorial sub-group, said: “While there is no doubt the pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges, it has also re-energised work to tackle the inequalities that persist and stand in the way of Scotland becoming the inclusive, fair and progressive country we all want.”
Fellow joint chair and chief executive of homeless charity Crisis Jon Sparkes said: “If accepted and implemented, the calls to action in this report will transform Scotland, building on firm foundations of social justice by continuing to tackle poverty and inequality, ensuring basic rights are realised and working towards fairer, healthier and empowered communities. We must seize this opportunity because if not now, when?”
Citizens Advice Scotland welcomed proposals around writing off debt and fair work. Chief executive Derek Mitchell said: “The pandemic has certainly made things worse for many people, but the Citizens Advice network in Scotland saw huge problems with personal debt and people’s ability to deal with squeezed incomes and soaring living costs before Covid-19. Going back to normal simply won’t be good enough after this – we need real action on incomes.
“That’s why we’re pleased to see some of our key recommendations in the report, particularly around personal debt. Write-off schemes for people who have built up unsustainable levels of debt would be the right thing to do. There’s no social or economic sense in chasing people for money they simply will never be able to pay back."
The Social Renewal Advisory Board was established in June 2020 as a short-term group to discuss how to deliver a fairer society while Scotland recovers from the effects of the virus.
The board met 11 times between June 2020 and January 2021 to develop ideas for change, helped by nine policy groups and a wide range of public engagement, including community listening events across 31 local authority areas, four discussions with Poverty Truth Commissions, a set of focus groups with equality organisations, and over 100 responses from organisations to a call for evidence and ideas.