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February 2, 2021

If not now, when.

No shortage of ideas for a post-Covid Scotland in the final report from the Social Renewal Advisory Board, convened by Cab Secs, Aileen Campbell and Shirley-Anne Somerville. Lots of ideas for what ‘should’ be done and what ‘needs’ to be done – less so, and perhaps more importantly, about what we have to ‘stop’ doing in order to bring forward this vision of a more just and equitable Scotland. Surely we need to accept where we’ve been getting it wrong and what we need to do less of  in order to set a new course for a better, brighter future. 

Leigh Sparks, Stirling University

The last ten month have been the strangest time; as we all recognise.  Our experiences though have not all been the same.  I am one of the fortunate ones; I can work from home and had a large garden to keep me occupied over the summer.  I’ve missed some freedoms and experiences, but as a consequence have not spent as much money.

Others have been no where as fortunate and many have been very adversely affected by the circumstances they were, and are, in.  Existing inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic and new inequalities have been created.  Women, single parent families, front-line workers, ethnic minorities, refugees and disabled people are amongst those who have often suffered badly.  Disadvantage was already polarised in society and has been reinforced, most obviously, and tragically, in the deaths and the case numbers.

The response in many communities has been phenomenal and volunteering and support networks have stepped in to fill the all too many gaps. Local authorities, third sector and others have provided a rapid local support lifeline (term used advisedly).

This stands in contrast to some of the negative stories of recent weeks.  The rise in gender and child violence in lockdown.  The increase in hate and race crime.  The refusal to recognise the need for financial lifelines (decency) for so many, as in the Universal Credit debate. The penny-pinching approach towards so many things by the UK Government, yet the contrast of that with the companies it has employed (normally without tenders or without looking for local pre-existing expertise), the prices and daily rates it has paid, all seen notably and perhaps most shockingly in those pictures of ‘school meal’ replacements.

All of this points to an insistence that we must – and can – do better in the future.  We need to sweep away much of the ways we think about supporting and helping individuals and communities to live decent lives.  The ways we were doing this before the pandemic (which was not working) should be unacceptable now; we can not return to what was there before, as it was failing people, communities and the country.  We have to treat citizens better and involve them properly in the life of the community and country, and build our local resilience.

What might this mean?

For the last six months or so I have been part of the Social Renewal Advisory Board for the Scottish Government.  This was tasked with looking at the social aspects of renewal for Scotland post-pandemic.  Based around practical expertise and listening extensively to the lived experiences of those most affected by the pandemic, the Board was directed to come up with radical solutions to some of our deep-seated social problems and notably those that enabled so much damage and differential impacts in the pandemic.

The Social Renewal Advisory Board Report is now published.  It is both a view of what needs to be done now, and in the coming years.  It is organised around 20 Calls for Action (see below) which together seek to alter the nature of our deeply differentiated and segregated society.  My involvement was mainly in the communities and place components of these (in the Calls for Action, Communities and Collective Endeavour); listening to and about the lived experiences of so many, showed why we must change our approach nationally, and how communities, places and towns can be important in this.

There will be inevitable reactions to the Report around costs and economics, but if we are at all serious about being a wellbeing and a fairer country, then we must take such steps and alter many of our priorities and actions. We need to make the join up between social and economic renewal (and recall the words of Jacinda Ardern – “Economic growth accompanied by worsening social outcomes is not success … It is failure”).

It simply is not right that if you come from certain places, had certain types of jobs (or no job), had pre-existing conditions, disability or deprivation, or a certain colour of skin, then you were so much more likely to die last and this year.  That you had so little to fall back on, other than the kindness of neighbours or strangers. And that this was the consequence of our actions over years.

We can do better; we must do better, and we must start now. Here are the Calls to Action. The detail is in the Report.

Social Renewal Advisory Board – Calls To Action

Money and Work

  1. Commit to a Minimum Income Guarantee for all as a long-term aim.
  2. Develop an approach to anti-poverty work, including personal debt, that is designed around the needs of the individual.
  3. Work in partnership to develop a new social contract on Fair Work.
  4. Focus Fair Work actions on those most affected by the pandemic.
  5. Extend free early learning, childcare and social care so all parents and carers can access the childcare they need, when they need it.

People, Rights and Advancing Equality

  1. Incorporate the right to an adequate and accessible home in Scots Law.
  2. Make sure there are enough homes that are safe, warm, accessible, affordable, and in places people want to live.
  3. Ensure everyone can access nutritious, culturally appropriate and affordable food.
  4. Set a target to end digital exclusion in the next parliamentary term.
  5. Adopt the principles of Universal Basic Services.
  6. Incorporate key international human rights instruments into Scots Law so as to deliver real change.
  7. Take action to realise the human rights of disabled people.
  8. Build inclusive communication into all national and local government funding requirements.
  9. Strengthen approaches to prevent and address hate crime and public sexual harassment.
  10. Apply the rights and entitlements in this report to all migrants.

Communities and collective endeavour

  1. Further shift the balance of power so individuals and communities have more control over decisions that affect their lives.
  2. Improve service delivery and design by empowering frontline teams and the people and communities they serve.
  3. Build on new ways of working, based on what has worked well during the pandemic, and develop new arrangements for local governance.
  4. Focus everyone and all activities on building more resilient, fairer, healthier and stronger communities and places.

Closing The Gap Between Promise and Practice

  1. Co-design how we assess progress towards renewal, incorporating deeper engagement with those people and communities who have first-hand experience of poverty, inequality and restricted life chances.