Will the Fairer Scotland Action Plan make a difference?

Yesterday I went through any of the reasonably positive aspects of the Fairer Scotland Action Plan. I now want to be a little more critical. The basic weapon of policy analysis in social policy is to ask: is the policy going to tackle the problem it seeks to tackle? We then move onto a whole host of wider questions that can be mind-boggling.


A basic way to answer this question is to consider how much money is being thrown at the problem. Big problems require a lot of money to be spent – later on in semester I will shout at you about how an estimated 40 per cent of children under-five in Scotland experience income poverty in their household. This is an enormous problem, that requires a lot of resources and focus to tackle.


How does the Fairer Scotland Action Plan look when we consider it from this matter-of-fact angle? Generally, as a whole, it does suggest a concerted effort to tackle poverty and exclusion. However we can look at individual actions and be a bit more critical.


Action number 2 in the Plan is to deliver “£100,000 new funding so that, across Scotland, people with experience of living in poverty can speak out, tackle stigma and push for change to public services”. Now, this is generally a good thing. Glasgow Caledonian University have done really useful research on the unrealistic portrayals of poverty in the media; challenging the stigma of poverty is a key focus of many charities, such as The Poverty Alliance. We do need to challenge the stigma so people are no longer blamed, and are helped and supported.


So what’s the problem with action number 2. Well, in the grand scheme of things, £100,000 is not very much money at all. It’s one of those numbers that sounds a lot, but from an organisation with a budget of £30 billion, it’s a drop in the ocean. I would question, firstly, if it is enough, but also whether the spending could have been allocated better. Is it £100,000 just for the sake of having a number in the Action Plan? Could the Scottish Government have changed priorities elsewhere so, for example, grants to local authorities had to be support work to tackle stigma as well as deliver services? Could this approach have made more of an impact?


The second area of criticism is a bit more political, and could be considered nit-picking, but it matters if we are going to analyse policy in its own terms. This is the fact we have to ask, what is new in the Action Plan? Governments like re-announcing things that they are already doing to make it sound like they’re doing things. One criticism of the Action Plan might be that it is just packaging up policies that the Scottish Government had announced some time ago. This is particularly the case with:


7 – “We will do more to help people to have a say in their local areas” and;


9 – “We will reform public services to deliver the highest quality service to users, with dignity and respect at their core”


As you’ll learn about on Thursday, the Scottish Government have been “reforming public services” since 2007. It’s a bit of a raison d’être of governments across the globe. And number 7 is the Community Empowerment Act that was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2015. It’s a good thing that these changes are being directly linked to tackling poverty, inequality and exclusion, but they were anyway. Delivering social justice has been a key thrust behind the community empowerment proposals from when discussions began. This is offering nothing new in policy terms.


So they are some matter-of-fact ways to critically analyse Scottish social policy. Tomorrow we will consider a more ideological approach to criticism.

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