If you follow the Twitter feed for the module, you would have learnt that last week the Scottish Government launched its “Fairer Scotland Action Plan” (PDF). Civil servants spent nine months travelling the country listening to people, running workshops, and also allowed comments through a website. The Action Plan is based on this. It consists of 50 Actions that the Scottish Government say they will do between now and
This is rather handy for me – the Scottish Government have launched a major social policy initiative the week before I am teaching social policy in a devolved context. So I’m going to a few posts, building on the basic knowledge of “Brucie’s Devolution Play Your Cards Right”, and the critical overview in the lecture on Thursday, to discuss the strategy.
First of all, I’m going to censor my inner-cynic and focus on all the positive things in the document that really do suggest innovation in social policy. So, I’ll discuss 11 of their actions in brief commentaries.
5 – “We will take action to tackle the poverty premium” – the poverty premium refers to the fact people experiencing poverty often end up paying more for basic goods and services: food, energy bills etc. Although a lot of these policy areas are reserved to Westminster (or currently the EU) there is stuff the Scottish Government can do. They mention helping low income energy customers change their tariffs. This is a very small measure that could make a substantial difference maximising people’s household incomes.
14 – “We will deliver more warm and affordable homes in this parliament” – as discussed in the previous post, housing is completely devolved to the Scottish Parliament. That they are delivering more affordable housing, and that the vast majority of this will be proper affordable rent, is extremely positive and in marked contrast to housing policy in England. The Housing Minister in England got in bother yesterday for suggesting rich grandparents could help solve the housing crisis.
17-19 – are proposals for using the new welfare powers that the Scottish Government is getting under the Scotland Act (2016) and they are all very sensible proposals.
26 – A Child Poverty Bill – I’ll cover this later in semester when I do my infamous lecture on poverty, but basically, the UK Government have made a massively criticised mess of tackling child poverty. Firstly, child poverty has grown massively since 2010. Secondly, although they did not scrap the previous Labour government’s Child Poverty Act, with its targets for eradicating poverty, they did change how to measure child poverty. That the Scottish Government is proposing its own act is a Good Thing.
29 – “By 2020, entitlement to free early learning and childcare (ELC) will almost double for all 3 and 4 year olds, as well as those 2 year olds that stand to benefit most, to 1140 hours per year (from current levels of 600 hours per year)” – this is very good news indeed. As you’ll learn from a podcast later in semester I recorded with Prof. Kirstein Rummery, expansion of free childcare is a key way to allow women to return to work and increase their working hours, tackling gender-related poverty.
32 – An extra teacher in nursery schools in deprived areas is again, a very good idea. There is strong evidence that nurseries with trained teachers deliver better educational outcomes for children, so targeting this support to areas in need will benefit some people experiencing poverty. However, as I will discuss later in semester, the majority of people experiencing poverty do not live in deprived neighbourhoods.
39 – “We will introduce a Job Grant for young people aged 16- 24 who have been out of work for six months or more” – this is an interesting one – you get £250 or £100 if you’re young and you’ve been out of work. This could be useful in helping these people access specific resources to get back into work. However, I would hope that it is evaluated. It could make no difference whatsoever, and therefore be a deadweight loss in terms of expenditure. It could also have a disincentive effect – if you had been unemployed and were going to receive this in a week’s time and were offered a job, there would have to be strong conditions attached, otherwise you might be tempted to sit tight and not take the job since you were going to get some money anyway. This is also a good one to apply the “is it fair?” question to.
40 – “We will ensure that support for housing costs is not taken away from young people aged 18-21” – as far as I’m concerned this is the best thing about this. The UK Government are slashing housing support for young people, when all the evidence shows it is young people who are most at risk of poverty. The main change is that the UK Government made it so people under 35 can only claim the “single room allowance” of Housing Benefit – that is only enough money to pay the rent for a room in a shared flat. It has been suggested that this will make young people ‘impossible to house’. Reversing these changes will do a lot to help tackle youth homelessness.
44 – “We will improve employment services for disabled people” – under the enhanced devolution delivered through the Scotland Act (2016) the Scottish Government will be creating a Scottish Employment Service; sort of a Scottish job centre. As you’ll learn about in a podcast with Dianne Theakstone later in semester, disabled people are much more likely to be out of work, and therefore experiencing poverty. Anything that can help to get disabled people into work is extremely positive.
There’s a lot more in the 50 Actions that is positive, but these are main highlights. They show that with political ambition, the Scottish Government can attempt to achieve a lot within their limited powers. The question now is whether they will make the big changes hoped. In my next two posts I will take a critical look at this.