Our Social Policy Coordinator, Lynn Williams, blogs on the recent Programme for Government.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that in amongst the Brexit high drama of the last few weeks that government activity had all but ceased.

The Scottish Government wanted to challenge that perception and certainly made a good effort as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recently launched her Programme for Government in the Parliament.

Given previous activity and announcements on climate change and the First Minister’s strong focus on care experienced children and young people, it’s not surprising that both issues featured heavily in her speech.  There was also a strong focus on poverty, on mental health (and the NHS), education and the fledgling Scottish social security system.

On climate change and the “climate emergency”, funding announcements focused on aviation, bus infrastructure (and increasing bus usage, £500m) alongside support for people who want to access Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (£17m). However, these vehicles will still remain out of reach for many due to their cost.  For disabled people in particular, who are more reliant on cars and e.g. the Motability scheme, it’s not clear how they access such vehicles or how they can be supported more effectively with purchase and running costs.

The First Minister also made announcements in relation to the rail network and aviation (particularly in relation to the Highlands/Islands) with funding and action to move toward net zero emissions.   There were commitments to support renewable heating projects and to ensure that new homes from 2024 use renewable or low carbon heat.

The new Social Security system is stepping up activity as it takes control over benefits such as PIP and DLA. The Scottish Government announced last week that it would bring forward the start date of payments for the new Scottish Child Payment. The first wave of this new benefit will see eligible families with children under 6 receiving an additional £10 per week. The Scottish Campaign on Welfare reform is working behind the scenes on this alongside charities such as CPAG and the Poverty Alliance. Contact Neil (neil.cowan@povertyalliance.org) if you would like to input.

In addition to the new Child Payment, the First Minister also announced the introduction of other benefits over the coming year including Job Start Payments – money to help young people with the costs of moving into work; the Young Carers Grant, Disability Assistance for Children and Young People (replacing DLA and PIP) and from today, the Funeral Support Grant.  My colleague, Suzie Scott from Everyone’s Children, will be blogging about the Programme for Government as it relates to children and young people.

On health and social care, the First Minister reiterated the Government’s commitment to Frank’s Law, which extends Free Personal Care to under 65’s. However, there is a building critique of how this is being implemented with some people apparently paying more for care than they did prior to the extension of Free Personal Care.  There is also evidence that money allocated to HSCPs for the policy has not all been allocated for that purpose meaning that less people will benefit than the 10,000 estimated by the Scottish Government.

The NHS retained a high political focus in the First Minster’s speech.  Social care is mentioned and linked to other announcements eg drugs policy but beyond previous commitments on the Living Wage and Free Personal Care, there was no acknowledgement of the challenges within the social care system highlighted by the sector in the City and beyond.  The challenges faced by disabled people and carers as they try to access social care were described in detail by charities today in a session with the Scottish Parliament Equalities Committee and issues around eligibility and the impact of care charging were a key feature of discussions with MSP Committee members.  Such issues also featured strongly in our response to the Equality Committee inquiry into the third sector, funding and human rights.

That said, the continued focus on mental health and on seeking to improve access to support for key groups such as children and mums is welcomed by many.   Here, the third sector has a critical role to play through local and community groups.  More of our members and others talk increasingly about having to respond to individuals and families in crisis. Whilst the reasons for this are not always in the gift of the Scottish Government, other factors are.  The poor or disjointed implementation of key legislation or policies is one such factor, mentioned frequently by charities in the City.

The introduction of a women’s health plan has been widely welcomed but will need to tackle e.g. the cost of accessing sports facilities and the ongoing challenges faced by women affected by cuts to other services which, in turn, impact negatively on their own health and wellbeing.

Lastly, the third sector is mentioned 27 times in the Programme for Government document – linked often to developing or updating national strategies and in taking forward new policies eg. Housing and homelessness.  These developments often favour national or larger charities.   We need a closer read through to local level and to the community organisations who are often at the heart of communities of place and interest – working with people left behind or isolated.

All in all, there is a lot to commend this Programme for Government – there are elements which are ambitious.  Yet it is often not nuanced enough nor does it truly acknowledge that in some areas e.g. disability, poverty, caring, housing, the experience of families, communities and charities is that progress has stalled or we are pedaling backwards.  What happens to the additional monies coming to Scotland as a result of the recent UK Government spending review is a question hanging in the air for our communities and for those in Glasgow struggling to move forward.