Equality and Diversity

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 15th May 2008.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 9:15 am, 15th May 2008

Good morning. The first item of business is a statement by Stewart Maxwell on equality and diversity. The minister will take questions at the end of his statement, so no interventions should be made.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

In November 2007, we accepted an amendment to motion S3M-928 that asked us to make a statement on how our commitments on equality and diversity would be delivered through the Scottish budget. I am pleased to make that statement today.

The Scottish Government's investment and activity are geared around one central purpose: to create a more successful country that offers opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish. That means striving for a fairer and more equal Scotland. Addressing the inequalities in our society is essential if we are to meet the challenges of globalisation and demographic change and to ensure the wellbeing and cohesion of Scotland's communities. The spending review and budget are integral to enabling us to deliver that purpose and driving forward the changes that are needed to ensure equality of opportunity and outcome.

We have no doubts that Scotland will benefit from greater equality and that it is wholly unacceptable that people should be disadvantaged because of their race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, faith or age. Our performance framework contains a suite of outcomes that will improve the lives of people in Scotland. We expect equality to be integrated into the delivery of those outcomes and we have included a specific outcome on tackling the significant inequalities in Scottish society. That means getting to grips with the issues for equality groups and taking action across Government.

As part of developing our understanding of the inequalities in Scotland, I have attended several events and met equality groups. I and my Cabinet colleagues the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning have also met the Equal Opportunities Committee. Those meetings have enabled us to discuss how best to address discrimination and promote equality of opportunity.

Access to education and support for learning are vital to delivering a more successful Scotland and reducing inequality. Improved access to pre-school education benefits both child and parent. We increased the number of hours of pre-school education to 475 in August 2007 and we have announced a further increase to 570 hours from August 2010.

Our abolition of the graduate endowment fee will benefit about 50,000 students—particularly those on lower incomes, such as disabled people and lone parents, most of whom are women. That will encourage participation in learning and reduce debt. Children of asylum seekers will be able to access tuition fee support and we are reviewing provision under the disabled students allowance. From 2008-09, eligible students who require the assistance of a helper will benefit from an increased allowance of up to £20,000.

We have established respectme, the national anti-bullying service, and we have commissioned Learning and Teaching Scotland and LGBT Youth Scotland to produce guidance and training materials for school staff on dealing effectively with homophobic incidents.

It is unfortunate that many barriers to employment still exist for—among others—disabled people, some ethnic minority communities and women. Employment remains a reserved matter, but we are progressing activity to address those issues. We have created Skills Development Scotland, a key part of whose role is to promote and deliver equality of access and opportunity in service delivery and the wider lifelong learning landscape.

Through workforce plus, we are developing a framework and standards to provide better opportunities for those with a disability. We are working with local organisations to address the needs of clients with mental illness and we are working to understand better the labour market challenges that ethnic minority communities face. We are making £9 million available over three years to progress the strategy on English for speakers of other languages.

Poverty and deprivation will be addressed as part of our economic strategy. Anti-poverty work will be an important means of advancing equality. In our consultation on tackling poverty, we have highlighted the gendered nature of poverty and sought views on the implications for other groups.

As part of the local government settlement, we are providing £145 million per annum for a fairer Scotland fund to tackle poverty and to help more people to access and sustain employment opportunities. We expect community planning partnerships to take into account equality issues and to involve communities, including key equality groups, in strategic investment of the fund.

Concern is shared about health inequalities and we have established a ministerial task force to identify what more needs to be done; it will consider poverty and inequality as part of its work. The continuing work to achieve a healthier Scotland is being progressed through the better health, better care programme.

We will provide £97 million over the next three years to abolish prescription charges. That will benefit everyone but will particularly benefit those who suffer from long-term conditions—the previous Government's disability working group highlighted that issue.

Additional funds of £16 million will be provided to modernise and redesign national health service wheelchair and seating services and £64 million will be provided for the prevention, screening and early detection of serious illnesses, which includes a new immunisation programme to protect women against cervical cancer.

Proposed legislative changes will benefit equality groups. We support the hate crime bill proposal that Patrick Harvie MSP has lodged, because we believe that no one should be victimised because of their sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability.

We recently consulted on proposals to reform the law on rape and other sexual offences and we expect to introduce a bill on those matters in 2008.

An investment of £1.5 billion is being made in new and better housing in areas throughout Scotland, including deprived areas. Every new-build house that is funded through the Scottish Government must be built to be usable for people with disabilities or mobility problems and to be adaptable to cope with any further deterioration of a person's abilities.

We know that transport is a key issue for disabled people, so we continue to support nationwide concessionary fares for people who are over 60, disabled people and young people, with £181.4 million in 2008-09.

We are negotiating with local authorities on their single outcome agreements. Like the Scottish Government, local authorities are bound by the duty to secure best value and the public sector equality duties, which we expect them to reflect in their single outcome agreements.

Across the range of work that we undertake, we expect equality to be integrated and our policies to be equality impact assessed. An increasing number of assessments—21 to date—have now been published. Those include assessments on the right to adapt for private tenants, which benefits disabled occupants in the private rented sector who need work on their house to make it suitable for their accommodation, welfare or employment; on the Graduate Endowment Abolition (Scotland) Bill, which I mentioned; and on the Glasgow Commonwealth Games Bill—that assessment highlighted several issues that will need to be considered in the delivery of the games.

We are fulfilling our responsibility to equality impact assess our policies not only because that is a legal requirement, but because it will help us to realise our outcomes. Assessing the impact on equality groups of our policies will enable us to develop policy that responds to people's different needs and to distribute appropriately the resources that are allocated in the budget.

We are committed to implementing effectively the EQIA process throughout Government, so we are working to improve the evidence base and the equality data that are available; to provide staff with support to undertake impact assessments; and to improve our ability to monitor progress through the business planning tool and certificate of assurance processes.

Mainstreaming equality is one element of the work that the £61 million that is allocated for equality will support. That represents a significant increase in funding. In the context of the tightest settlement since devolution, that is another strong indicator of our commitment.

With that resource, we will tackle issues of race equality, including those for Gypsies/Travellers. I will say more on that following the finalisation of our funding decisions. We will support work to integrate refugees, asylum seekers and new migrants; to promote interfaith activity; and to challenge sectarianism and religious intolerance. We will progress the work in relation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, including support for transgender work, and we will respond to the report of the LGBT hearts and minds agenda group in the summer. We will also advance our work on British Sign Language and linguistic access and on independent living for disabled people. Those matters deserve specific attention and I intend to provide more detail on our proposals before the summer recess.

Our money will also support a range of key organisations that deliver in the equality field, help to challenge negative attitudes—through our one Scotland and domestic abuse campaigns, for example—and support implementation of the public sector equality duties.

Gender issues that are evident in pay, occupational segregation and violence will be part of our programme. In particular, we are dedicating £44.54 million to tackling violence against women. That will provide support for key national organisations, the rape crisis network, helplines and 73 local projects throughout Scotland; fund women's aid groups throughout Scotland to provide crucial support for children and young people who are affected by domestic abuse; contribute to implementation of the national delivery plan; and fund partner support work, which is a key part of effective perpetrator programmes This is an important time for equality work—we have the advent of a new legislative framework, the new Equality and Human Rights Commission and key issues to address. It is an appropriate time for us to shape the next phase of progressing equality in Scotland. We intend to have our new approach ready in 2009, which marks the Parliament's 10th anniversary. We look forward to working with the commission, all our partners, equality stakeholders, communities and—of course—the Parliament.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The minister will now take questions on the issues raised in his statement. We have approximately 20 minutes or so for questions, after which we will move on to the next item of business.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I thank the minister for making his statement available to us this morning. It reflects the broad range of issues that an equality strategy has to address; they are significant matters and I hope that the Equal Opportunities Committee will consider them further so that we can have a further debate on them in the chamber. Assertion and aspiration in relation to equalities is one thing, but delivery can be different, and that is where the budget becomes crucial to the identification of any patterns of inequality, and we must follow the money to see whether the aspirations can be delivered.

The minister will be aware of concerns about the Government's retrograde step in its budget, given the absence of an overarching equalities statement and equality impact assessments in the portfolio spending proposals. Will the minister confirm that the next budget will address those flaws, and can he outline what action is currently being taken to ensure that that happens?

Will the minister explain his understanding of the purpose of an equality impact assessment, given that, for example, the controversial decision has been made to merge the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland with the Public Transport Users Committee but the equality impact assessment is being done only now, with a report to be produced at an as yet unspecified time?

Will the minister outline what action the Scottish Government will take to ensure that single outcome agreements are equality impact assessed before they are agreed? The minister said in his statement that he expects that local authorities will ensure that equalities are addressed in the agreements, but how will he ensure that? What equalities elements, if any, are compulsory parts of single outcome agreements? What action will the Government take if its expectations of single outcome agreements are not realised?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I thank Johann Lamont for her questions.

Her first point about further debate is helpful and, at some point, I would be happy to go through the business managers to accommodate time for a further debate later this year.

The individual policies that the budget funds will indeed be equality impact assessed. No equality impact assessment had taken place when we came into office—I am aware that the tool was only made available for use by December 2006—and 21 are now in place. I am not saying that that is the end of the matter; much work remains to be done. We need to do more across Government, and the quality of the assessments must be better. However, we have made a significant start to using the equality impact assessment tool.

On the amalgamation of MACS and the Public Transport Users Committee, there is no doubt that MACS had a significant role, but it is important that we do not segregate and that we look forward to mainstreaming areas of the work. Therefore, it was quite right for the Government to amalgamate the two groups and bring MACS into the Public Transport Users Committee so that disabled people become part of the main stream. Representatives of the disabled community will be on that committee.

We are in the process of negotiating single outcome agreements with individual local authorities across the country. I made my expectations for them very clear. Until the agreements are negotiated and published, it would be unreasonable for me to comment on them, other than to say what I have already said about my expectations.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I, too, thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement. As president of the Highland Disabled Ramblers Association, I particularly welcome the £16 million to modernise and redesign NHS wheelchair and seating services in Scotland, which is long overdue. We also welcome the right for disabled tenants in the social rented sector to adapt their homes, and the measures to improve access in new-build houses.

How and where will the £9 million announced for the teaching of English for speakers of other languages be allocated over the next three years?

We are glad that the minister intends to tackle the issues faced by Gypsy Travellers, but will he look again at the Scottish Government's repeated refusal to meet representatives of the Scottish section of the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain? Travelling show people are a distinct and important section of Scotland's community and cultural fabric, and I am hugely disappointed that ministers have refused to meet them to discuss some of the issues that mean that they are discriminated against more in Scotland than in England.

Finally, the percentage of males who suffer from domestic violence has increased by 138 per cent since 1999. Does the Scottish Government recognise that there is a need to address that worrying concern and, without loss of resource to female victims of domestic abuse, ensure equality of care and remedial action?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I thank Jamie McGrigor for his welcome for the increase in funding for the wheelchair services redesign. That will be widely welcomed across the chamber.

The £9 million for teaching English to speakers of other languages is the overall amount. I am not able to say today exactly where all that money will be used—that will be decided in the coming period—but I will be happy to write to Jamie McGrigor with the details once they are available.

I understand Jamie McGrigor's comments about Gypsy Travellers, although I am not aware of the specific issue that he mentioned. The Equal Opportunities Committee has taken up the issues faced by Gypsy Travellers in some detail. We will make a further statement on that within the coming two months. The Equal Opportunities Committee's work will form part of the national statement and it will be used to assess the impact of our work on Gypsy Travellers. It is important that we take cognisance of the particular group that Jamie McGrigor mentioned. If there is a particular issue that is different from the general problems, I am happy to meet Jamie McGrigor if he wants to discuss it with me.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

No, I am afraid not; this is just questions and answers.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I make no apology for the fact that the Government takes a gendered view of domestic abuse. In the overwhelming majority of domestic abuse cases, the victims are women and children, so they form our primary focus. At the same time, and while women and children need specific services, support services for men are widely available. We are taking the correct approach to domestic abuse. It is only right and proper that we concentrate on the fundamental problem, which is male violence against women. That should be our priority.

Photo of Jim Tolson Jim Tolson Liberal Democrat

I, too, thank the minister for his statement and for giving us the opportunity of an advance look at it.

I want to ask about mediation services. Yesterday, the Evening News reported that European migrants in Edinburgh are being unfairly labelled as neighbours from hell because of ignorance and prejudice. The most common complaint was of the laws on houses in multiple occupation being broken by cramming as many people as possible into a confined space, even though that is not always the case. Mediation services across the city are proving to be successful in resolving difficulties and misunderstandings between neighbours. What will the Government do to encourage the development of community mediation services across the country to support the integration of migrant groups into Scottish society, as a recent study showed that many of them intend to settle in Scotland permanently?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I did not see that newspaper report yesterday, but I support mediation work. In that area and across many others, mediation services have an important role to play.

If we are to ensure that the new Scots can integrate when they come to settle here, the Parliament must send out a very strong message that we will not tolerate the abuse of individuals and families who wish to work and live in our communities. It is essential that we send out that clear and strong message.

I am happy to look at the role of mediation services in that area for Jim Tolson, and to discuss with him the issues he sees in the Edinburgh, Fife and Lothian areas.

Mediation services are an important part of our work in this area, because it is clear that if we can make people understand the problems that people who come to Scotland face, many of the tensions will be diffused. It is more positive to use mediation than it is to tackle problems that arise once a situation has become inflamed. We should deal with such situations early on and ensure that local communities are fully aware of the incoming communities that will live among them. I pay tribute to the work on migrants, immigrants and asylum seekers that has been done in parts of Glasgow over the past few years, which is an example of best practice. Many of the fears that were expressed by some parts of the community have now been dealt with.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

We come to back-bench questions, for which only 10 minutes are available, so I insist on one question per member.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for the copy of his statement, which I have just received. It contains many positive points and a great understanding of the areas in which more work must be done. I request that the statement be passed on to the Equal Opportunities Committee, so that we can consider it in more detail.

I know that the minister will agree with me—

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

—when I say that the Parliament must reflect the diversity of the people of Scotland. We know that women and ethnic minorities are not represented in certain groups.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

Will that anomaly be addressed as part of the impact assessment process that the minister has just announced, which is most welcome, to ensure that such groups are represented in certain public bodies?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I will be more than happy to pass on a copy of the statement to the Equal Opportunities Committee, although as most of its members are in the chamber, they probably already have it. However, it is right and proper that the committee should examine the statement, if it so wishes, and I am sure that we will have further engagement on the matter.

As I said in my statement and my first response, it is important that we increase the number of equality impact assessments that we carry out on policy issues. It is a new tool, which came in only in December 2006. Although we have managed to publish 21 equality impact assessments, I do not think that that is enough—we must go much further. I and my colleagues are clear that equality impact assessments must be used across the range of Government work. The public sector must adapt to the new way of working and must use equality impact assessment tools in policy so that we get the best outcomes from our budget spend and ensure that, rather than unintentionally having a negative impact, our policies have a positive impact.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I thank the minister for his statement. I particularly welcome the funding for tackling violence against women. I agree that the statement ought to be passed on to the Equal Opportunities Committee for scrutiny, as it raises many questions.

One of those questions is about the consequential £34 million funding for the national health service, local government and other agencies to assist disabled children and families. Is the minister aware that in a report on services for disabled children, Tom Clarke MP said:

"If government is not persuaded to ring-fence additional resources for disabled children ... Ministers must be able to convince parents and professionals that alternative mechanisms exist to ensure that the resources reach the children who need them"?

What does the Government intend to do specifically for disabled children and their families?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I thank Elaine Smith for the welcome that she gave to our funding for action on violence against women. I was keen to ensure that we funded work in that crucial area properly, and I pay tribute to the work of the previous Administration, on which we hope to build.

A number of streams of work are being progressed on disabled children and their families, in many cases by local authorities. The £34 million to which the member refers is, of course, part of the local government settlement. That money is still there; it has not been lost. It is within the ambit of local authorities to spend that money as they see fit. It is clear that they must be able to use it in ways that are appropriate to local circumstances.

I gently point out to Elaine Smith that Barnett consequentials have always been dealt with in such a manner. The previous Administration never wrote a blank cheque in the sense that it never said that it would always spend the money in the same way that the United Kingdom Government did. The money was always allocated to the budget of the Scottish Executive, which decided on the best way to spend it. This Government is doing likewise. It is clear that we are committed to working with local authorities to ensure that disabled children receive proper support. Any attempt to paint the situation as a lack of commitment on our part would be unfortunate. Nothing could be further from the truth—we fully support the work that local government is doing. The Scottish Government funds a number of projects to help disabled children and their families.

Photo of Bill Wilson Bill Wilson Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for his statement and welcome the commitment to ensure that every new-build house that is funded by the Government will be accessible. I hope that he will consider requiring all private developments to include a percentage of accessible housing.

Has the Scottish Government been consulted on the UK Government's proposals to make significant alterations to the disability living allowance and the attendance allowance?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

The straight answer to that is no. The consultation document for the UK

Government's review of social care in England that was launched earlier this week acknowledged that any changes to UK-wide benefits could have implications for devolved social care systems. However, it does not include any specific proposals, and there has been no consultation with Scottish ministers.

Photo of Marlyn Glen Marlyn Glen Labour

Will the minister ensure that Skills Development Scotland makes timely use of equality impact assessments before, rather than after, the fact? In particular, will they be used to examine the modern apprenticeship scheme? Can the minister comment on the significant decline in the number of women who participate in that programme and the continued gender patterns of occupational segregation that are evident in it?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

As I hope I have made clear, we intend to continue our work with equality impact assessments. In response to an earlier question on equality impact assessments, as well as saying that we have published 21 of them thus far, I should perhaps have mentioned that a huge amount of work is being done in this area across Government. The fact that an equality impact assessment has not been published on a particular policy does not mean that such work is not going on. I am encouraging people across Government to ensure that that work results in the development and publication of equality impact assessments in skills development, among other areas. Such work should be done across the range of Government policies.

In addition, I have made clear my concern about occupational segregation. Any decline in the take-up of skills development opportunities by women is a challenge that we must face up to. I hope that the whole Parliament will ensure that we do as much as we can within our powers to ensure that occupational segregation is dealt with. We must tackle it head on, as it is one of the biggest problems that women face. It is a long-standing problem that we must do everything possible to address.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I welcome much of what the minister said in his statement. Equality and diversity is a broad topic and the Liberal Democrats would welcome a debate on it.

The minister might be aware of this week's announcement by the Fostering Network that, next year alone, 450 new foster carers are needed to meet demand. When will the Scottish Government introduce changes to the fostering regulations to allow same-sex couples to foster, which would assist with the quest to provide loving and stable homes for many of our most disadvantaged children and young people? Is the minister aware of the problem whereby many councils are reluctant to let people adopt children if they have not first had a chance to act as foster parents?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

That is a sensitive issue for many people. The best thing that I can do is offer to meet the member to discuss it in detail. As Margaret Smith will know, my views on the matter are clear. The most important consideration is that children should be in a home where there is a loving and stable relationship. That is the central point. As the issue affects a number of Government ministers in different areas, it would be best if Margaret Smith and I met to discuss it in detail. I would be happy to do that.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

If the forthcoming statement on Gypsy Travellers that the minister mentioned brings with it sufficient resources for services and facilities for that group, it might receive a broad welcome. Will the statement also cover some of the legislative proposals that representatives of that community have called for? Will the minister agree to meet the Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition before decisions are made about the next legislative programme?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I am more than happy to meet the groups and individuals to whom the member referred, if Mr Harvie thinks that that would be helpful, and I am sure that a meeting can be arranged as soon as possible.

As I said, the national statement will be made in the not-too-distant future. It would be inappropriate for me to talk about the detail in the statement at this stage, because the statement is not ready—if it had been it would have been issued. We will consider all aspects, including the work of the Equal Opportunities Committee and, in particular, input from the Gypsy Traveller community and local authorities and other partners who work in the area.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

I am convener of the cross-party group on disability and people regularly express to me concerns about the lack of consultation before changes are made to Government policy or practice. Is the minister aware that during the past few months I have asked a number of parliamentary questions in respect of those concerns, the answers to which have not satisfied disability groups in particular? Will he at last say what consultation took place with national organisations that represent disabled people and ethnic minorities on the closure of the fair for all disability and fair for all race projects before—not after—the establishment of the equalities and planning directorate in NHS Health Scotland?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

Michael McMahon answered his own question when he said that he has received answers from ministers to his parliamentary questions. I do not think that I can add anything to the answers that he has received.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I appreciate that the minister has made an overarching statement, but I am sure that he would acknowledge that the part that covered race equality was rather limited. What support is the Government giving to Black and Ethnic Minority Infrastructure in Scotland as part of the one Scotland, many cultures campaign, which I hope will continue? Will the Government review the funding support to BEMIS, to ensure that we maximise the potential to make an impact that the organisation has demonstrated?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

My statement was indeed overarching and I tried to cover a wide range of areas. I am aware and supportive of BEMIS's work and I have met members of the organisation on a number of occasions. The important point is that I will not comment on individual funding allocations during this item of business. I am sure that Margaret Curran understands the reasons for that. If she wants to raise a specific issue with me, I will be more than happy to discuss it with her.

The Government acknowledges the work of many groups that work in race equality. It is important that the Government should carry on with the one Scotland, many cultures campaign and build on the previous Executive's work, which was groundbreaking in many ways. We are keen to ensure that that work continues.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The minister completely avoided answering my question, which I asked because my parliamentary questions have not been answered. I specifically asked the minister to say what consultation had taken place with disability and ethnic minority groups prior to the establishment of the equalities and planning directorate in NHS Health Scotland. The minister refuses to answer that question. Can you advise me on how I can get the minister to answer the questions that I ask rather than the questions that he would like me to ask?

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

As the member is aware, I am not responsible for the content of answers. The member has a point, but I am afraid that it is not a point of order.