What does a Fairer Scotland mean?
By Lynn Williams [SCVO].
Last week saw the launch of a public conversation about making Scotland a fairer and more equal nation.
The timing is incredibly right.
The prospect of more children facing real poverty; the rise of in-work hardship and mixed (and hardening) social attitudes towards many of our fellow citizens, present some very real challenges that this planned “conversation” will need to address.
The focus on tackling inequality driven by the First Minister, and now part of the wider policy dialogue, is one which has been warmly welcomed by the third sector. But that commitment must be further shaped by a clear understanding of why key groups such as unpaid carers, disabled people and women consistently experience less good outcomes or are prevented from achieving their own aspirations. More importantly, we need to be very honest about the changes these groups might want to see – better implementation of existing policies such as self-directed support and childcare are as likely to feature as the need to change a fractured benefits system, for example.
It’s likely that the Scottish Government may find itself in some difficult conversations – but the fact that there is an opportunity to have them is incredibly positive. At the same time, the public debate about creating a fairer Scotland presents an opportunity to tackle the pervasively negative attitudes towards people in poverty and on benefits; if senior Ministers have a vision for a more compassionate social security system, this is the opportunity to share that. More widely, the planned public discussion about the future of the NHS, health and care and how we implement new powers which might arise from the Scotland Bill must be linked to the social justice conversation. And we must clearly establish our “starting point”; an honest assessment of the effects of austerity and tax and benefit changes not of our making, will show that “damage limitation” is needed as much as we need to look towards the future.
The referendum last year inspired political engagement on an unprecedented level. The public conversation about creating a fairer Scotland must inspire people from every part – remote or urban. It must be accessible in every possible way. It must also engage local government, key public services as well as communities and people themselves.
The third sector has a critical role to play in this journey. Driven by a desire to tackle inequalities in the heart of our communities, it can bring experience and passion to this conversation. It brings the voice of those who have the most to say, to the table.
It really is time for this conversation. The third sector welcomes the opportunity to ask hard questions about the economy, the shape and direction of public services, and about the values and actions that might lead to us achieving greater equality. Those who are most isolated from the policy sphere must take centre stage. That alone makes this public conversation very necessary.