Advance Redress Payments

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th April 2019.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a statement by John Swinney on advance redress payments. The Deputy First Minister will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Last October, I made a statement in Parliament in which I committed to providing financial redress for victims and survivors of historical child abuse in care. On behalf of the Scottish Government, I made it clear that we whole-heartedly accept the need to provide acknowledgement and tangible recognition of the harm done to children who were abused in care in Scotland. In doing so, we openly acknowledge that such recognition cannot in any way take away the pain that individuals have suffered.

Since October, we have continued to hear harrowing evidence of the abuse of children in care settings across Scotland. We have listened to the testimonies that have been given to the Scottish child abuse inquiry. Victims and survivors continue to tell us of their experiences of being failed by the establishments and people who had been entrusted with looking after them. We must continue to listen to that testimony, and the Scottish Government will consider with great care the findings and recommendations that will be made in due course by Lady Smith.

Since my statement in October, work has been progressing on designing the statutory redress scheme. The Scottish Government remains committed to introducing a bill that could pass its final stages before the end of this parliamentary session in March 2021. I welcome the views and the encouragement of members in helping us to do all that we can to accelerate that timetable.

My officials are working at pace to establish a statutory scheme as quickly as we can. I am conscious, however, that a significant amount of detailed design is required to ensure that we get the scheme right. We will have a full pre-legislative consultation later this year, in order to hear a wide range of views in that process. We must be confident that we get all the details of such a scheme correct.

We are all too aware that, because of age or health, some survivors might not live long enough to apply to the statutory scheme. Today, I am pleased to confirm the launch of an advance payment scheme for those who were abused as a child in care in Scotland and who have a terminal illness or are aged 70 or over. The scheme is now open for applications, and full details will be published online this afternoon. On Monday morning, a telephone support line will open, which will be dedicated to helping survivors who wish to request an application pack or find out more about the scheme. We realise that the application process itself may be distressing for some survivors, and we will signpost applicants to sources of support should it be required.

The advance payment scheme will be administered within the Scottish Government by specially trained caseworkers, who will support applicants through the process in order that they access the acknowledgment that they rightly deserve.

The advance payment will be an equal payment to all applicants who meet the eligibility criteria. It will be made using the Scottish Government’s common-law powers. The payments will be discretionary and made on an ex gratia basis. The payment level has been set at £10,000. That sum is broadly in line with interim payments made by redress schemes in other parts of the world. The costs of the advance payment scheme are being met in whole by the Scottish Government, and we intend it to remain open for applications until the statutory redress scheme is established.

Given the time-sensitive nature of advance payments, we have kept the application process as straightforward as possible. To be eligible, applicants must either have a terminal illness or be aged 70 or over, and must have been abused while in care in Scotland before December 2004.

We are guided by the terms of reference that the Government has set for the Scottish child abuse inquiry, but that is not the sole influence in relation to eligibility. Given the differing purposes of redress and the inquiry, we have also looked to other sources if those provide a better fit, or have added interpretation to the inquiry’s terms of reference where that is needed.

The systems that we now have in place to regulate different aspects of childcare and to safeguard children from systemic abuse are radically different from the regimes of yesteryear. The Scottish Parliament introduced fundamental regulatory change in that respect by establishing Disclosure Scotland, setting up the Care Inspectorate, requiring the registration of care staff across children’s services and more.

It is the prior, historical failings that have led the Government to establish a scheme of redress. December 2004 marked the public apology that was made by the then First Minister, Jack McConnell and endorsed by the Scottish Parliament as a whole. It also marked the broad mid-point of a period of rapid and significant change in child protection legislation and policy and practice in relation to children in care. We have defined that date of December 2004 as the date prior to which abuse would have to have taken place to demonstrate eligibility.

For the purposes of advance payments, residential pupils at boarding schools will not be eligible if their parents chose that place for their child’s education. We know from criminal cases that abuse took place at some boarding schools and the impacts of that will have been as horrendous as those of abuse elsewhere. However, the advance payment scheme seeks to respond where institutions and bodies had responsibility for the long-term care of children in the place of the parent.

Long-term healthcare eligibility will exclude establishments whose primary purpose was medical or surgical treatment. Patient stays in those hospitals—primarily general or local hospitals—will normally have been short to medium term and, importantly, it will have been possible for parental contact to be maintained, albeit constrained by visiting arrangements. Children who stayed in all other establishments where the function was primarily care and not treatment, and the stays were often long term—indeed sometimes lifelong—will be included.

Survivors asked us to develop an application process that was as straightforward as possible for survivors, while making the scheme robust and credible. That is what we have designed and are delivering today. Applicants will not be required to submit evidence of having been abused, but will require documentary evidence that shows that they were in care. Terminal illness will need to be certified by a registered healthcare professional, through a process that we believe is as sensitive as possible to the circumstances of the applicant.

We know that some eligible applicants will not yet have the written documentation that they need to support their application. Our caseworkers will be on hand to help and advise applicants and to refer them to organisations that can help them to obtain a supporting document. Recognising the impact that applying for and receiving an advance payment may have on survivors, we will also make applicants aware of organisations that offer emotional and other types of support.

There are no reliable estimates of how many survivors may be eligible for advance payments. We will prioritise applications from those who are terminally ill. We will keep our arrangements under review so that our processes and procedures adjust in the face of experience, reflecting feedback from applicants.

I take this opportunity to thank the interaction review group for continuing to work closely with us towards today’s launch. Its input into the design of the advance payment scheme and the application materials has been invaluable. We will work in a sensitive way, taking into account the trauma that applicants will have experienced. I express my gratitude to all those survivors and organisations who have given us their advice and suggestions. I also thank colleagues who have designed and delivered redress schemes in other parts of the United Kingdom and across the world, and who are giving so generously of their time to help us to understand what lessons can be learned.

Our next key step is to develop proposals for the statutory redress scheme. No decisions have yet been taken. In developing our proposals, we will take into consideration the views that were expressed in the survivor consultation last year, the responses that will come from the more detailed pre-legislative consultation later this year and our experience of delivering advance payments.

The advance payment scheme is a significant milestone in our endeavours to do what we can to address the wrongs of the past. I hope that it will provide some degree of recognition and acknowledgement for survivors who have waited the longest for acknowledgment and redress, and for those who have a terminal illness.

I reassure other survivors of historical abuse in care that our commitment to design the statutory scheme with a strong survivor voice is unrelenting, and I commit to updating Parliament on a regular basis on the progress that we make.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Deputy Presiding Officer? I mean Deputy First Minister. I am demoting you.

We will now take questions on the issues that were raised in the statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary for prior sight of his statement and strongly commend the Scottish Government for the manner in which it has undertaken what must be very challenging and sensitive work. I also put on record the Conservative Party’s thanks to not only the Scottish Government but all the people who have been involved. I strongly welcome the advance payment scheme, which will be helpful in allaying some of the concerns of those whom we heard from during the early stages.

I will ask just one question. The cabinet secretary mentioned the measures that are being undertaken to ensure that specialist caseworkers are on hand to deal with the concerns. Has the Scottish Government made provision for expanding their role and perhaps increasing their numbers, should that prove necessary?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I thank Liz Smith for her generous remarks in relation to the announcements that I have made today. These are very difficult issues and they require the engagement of individuals who have suffered horrendously. I am very grateful to them for their input; they have helped us enormously in reaching the point that we have reached today.

I am acutely aware of the fact that even the process of applying for the assistance will be traumatic for the individuals involved. That is why we have taken care to train the individuals who will provide the advice and support—which will be available from Monday—to ensure that individuals are supported in making an application. Although the arrangements around the process are being kept to the minimum level that they can be, there will nonetheless be some challenges for individuals around the availability of documentation and other points of information. Therefore, the support will be there, and I will monitor regularly whether it is adequate in relation to the demands that are placed upon it.

I also reiterate the point that other sources of support are available, principally through the future pathways activity and other interventions. We will signpost individuals to those organisations if they are not already in touch with them.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

I, too, thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement.

The cabinet secretary knows that we have encouraged him to act quickly to create an advance payment scheme for survivors who are elderly or terminally ill. We welcome the opening of such a scheme and the fact that it is open as the announcement is being made.

We also welcome assurances that the procedures are designed to be straightforward, sensitive and quick. However, as the cabinet secretary acknowledged, there are contradictions between the remits of the scheme and of the child abuse inquiry, so I would like further clarity on a couple of points.

First, the inquiry works to a cut-off date of 2014. Will Mr Swinney explain why he did not simply make the more consistent choice of 2014 for the scheme’s cut-off date, instead of choosing a date 10 years earlier?

Secondly, with regard to the exclusion of those who were abused in boarding schools, is that the same as or different from the reach of the inquiry, and, if it is different, why is that the case?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I appreciate Mr Gray’s willingness to support the approach that we are taking. It is important that we try to make progress on this issue across the political spectrum.

We selected 2004 for the cut-off date because of its significance in respect of the statement that was made at that time by the then First Minister, Mr McConnell, and because the scheme is specifically targeted at older individuals and those with a terminal illness. We believe that the cut-off date is appropriate to ensure that all individuals who fall into that category can apply if the circumstances are relevant to them.

I have indicated that, in relation to the statutory redress scheme, no decisions have been taken on eligibility. The issues that Mr Gray raises are of a different character and are more relevant to that scheme, which we will consult on later this year.

On boarding schools, I am making a distinction based on whether the decision to place a young person in a boarding school was taken with parental engagement or involvement, or with no parental engagement or involvement. If, for example, a parental decision was not involved and a child was placed in a boarding school by an organisation, which expected the boarding school to operate in loco parentis, the nature of the relationship between the child and the institution will have been different from the relationship that will have existed if a parental decision was involved. That is the distinction that I am making to try to ensure that we properly focus the scheme on the cases that require and merit the intervention that is suggested in the details of the scheme that I am putting forward.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There are 10 members who wish to ask questions, so I want short questions, please.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

Like colleagues, I put on record the Greens’ thanks to the Government and to the survivors’ organisations that have delivered this progress.

Many of those who will be eligible for the advance payment scheme will not be online or involved in survivors’ organisations and many will never previously have disclosed their abuse. How will the Scottish Government ensure that awareness of the scheme is as wide as possible to ensure that people know that they can apply?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Mr Greer raises a serious point. We are using a variety of means to communicate details of the scheme. In fact, I have come to Parliament to make a statement on the matter to try to ensure that as much awareness of the scheme as possible is raised through the significance of a parliamentary statement and parliamentary scrutiny.

Into the bargain, we have been working closely with survivors’ groups to ensure that the widest possible awareness is activated through those networks.

Separately, through a wide variety of Government communication channels, we will promote awareness of the scheme, and we will look to ensure that as many individuals as we can possibly identify can apply for it.

Considering a general marketing campaign for an issue of this type is a challenging question, because of the sensitive nature of the issues involved, but I want to ensure that we maximise the reach of the scheme and the number of individuals involved.

I appreciate that this might well be the first time that individuals consider taking steps in this area, which is why we have put in place the briefing and support arrangements. We want to make sure that, if individuals take that courageous decision, they will be well supported by us in the process.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

The Government is doing the right thing, and I thank the Deputy First Minister for his statement to Parliament and for the steps that he has outlined, which we hope will directly benefit the people concerned.

How long a period does the Deputy First Minister expect there to be between the making of an application and receipt of the first payment? Will the Government seek to claw back moneys that are paid to victims from those who might be found to have been responsible, or will the Government pick up the entire tab?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Mr Scott for his welcoming of today’s announcements.

On the first question, I hope that we will be able to make a payment within a month of an individual making an application. That is the timeline that we expect to operate to, and we will monitor whether we fulfil that very carefully.

On the second question, the Government will meet in full the costs of the scheme. I took that decision to ensure that we could act with urgency. In my statement in October, I made it clear that I thought that it was necessary to discuss with the organisations that ran the institutions that were involved in the abuse the strong case that existed for them to make contributions to the statutory scheme, and I intend to pursue those discussions as part of our preparations.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

As the deputy convener of the cross-party group on adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and a previous director of the Moira Anderson Foundation, I would like to put on record my thanks to the Deputy First Minister. I welcome his statement and his on-going commitment in this area.

How has the Scottish Government engaged with the responsible care providers and religious organisations following the publication of the review group’s recommendations?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Much of that dialogue will await the formulation of the statutory redress scheme. As part of that process, we will consider the point that Mr MacGregor asked about, along with the points that I made to Mr Scott.

I have been focused, and I asked my officials to be focused, on ensuring that we made the swiftest progress in making our announcement. We had to await the passage of the Budget (Scotland) Act 2019 to create the financial authority for us to be able to make such payments. The Government secured that shortly before the Easter recess, and I have sought to make the announcement at the earliest opportunity after the recess. We will pursue the issue that Mr MacGregor raised as we develop the statutory scheme.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

I, too, welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement. In his statement, he said:

“we will ... make applicants aware of organisations that offer emotional and other types of support.”

Given the traumatic experiences of survivors, will the cabinet secretary commit to ensuring not only that support will be offered at the initial point of contact, but that caseworkers will check in with survivors at a later date to ensure that they have received the support that they need?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

A number of the organisations that operate under the umbrella of what I would call the future pathways approach have on-going relationships with survivors of childhood abuse. From listening to the experiences of the people who provide that support, I am conscious of the need for sustained engagement and dialogue when support is provided. Mr Corry makes an important point. That relationship must be sustained so that individuals can have access to advice and support when they need it. In this area of activity, it is difficult to predict the moments at which individuals will require support. I assure Mr Corry that the support that is provided will be sustained.

Photo of Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

How will survivors who come forward who are elderly or who are suffering from ill health be supported through the application process?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

We have recruited specific caseworkers to support individuals. One of the examples that I cited to Liz Smith is that there will be a modest need for some documentary information, and it might not be easy for individuals to obtain that. It is therefore important that individuals are properly supported.

There are organisations that can help to provide that information, but they might not ordinarily be within the knowledge of the individuals who require it. We will ensure that there is active and focused support for individuals, particularly where there is greater vulnerability—the scheme is aimed at those who are more vulnerable—so that they can be properly supported through the process.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I note and welcome the acknowledgement in the cabinet secretary’s statement that the application process might be distressing for survivors and that it will ensure that people are directed towards sources of support.

Will the cabinet secretary agree that the very fact of today’s discussion and the broader conversation about the process might encourage others to disclose abuse? How does the cabinet secretary propose to ensure that groups that lie outside the future pathways process but have a long and important record of supporting and campaigning for survivors of abuse are given sufficient resources to meet the evident increase in need for their services?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I made a point about the nature of the relationships between the forms of support that are put in place for individuals, and it is important that we work with those organisations to sustain their activities. I am therefore conscious of Johann Lamont’s point.

It is impossible for us to predict the reaction to my announcement in terms of the applications that will be made and what it will trigger in individuals. It might mean that more individuals go to the inquiry that has been established, and I encourage anybody who has had this experience and wishes to raise their concerns with the inquiry to do exactly that. The strength of the inquiry is based on the testimony of the individuals who have the courage to offer it, and I encourage them to do that.

I also encourage individuals to come forward and make applications to the scheme if they are eligible. We certainly want to make sure that we support organisations to provide the advice upon which survivors depend for their sustenance and support at a critical time.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

How will the payments of advance financial redress be issued to survivors? Will the payments have any effect on pension credit or means-tested benefits?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

My objective is to ensure that a payment that is received under the scheme has no effect on any other financial provision that an individual receives. We have had that assurance from the Department for Work and Pensions, although it applies for one year only. That is set out in the information that is available to members of the public who apply.

We are in advanced discussions with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to ensure that the payments are discounted for tax purposes. I have no reason to believe that there will be an issue there, but I did not want to delay my announcement while I waited on the completion of the discussions. My objective is to ensure that the payments in no way affect or undermine any other financial support that is available to individuals. The payment arrangements for the sums of money involved will be discussed directly between the civil servants who are administering the scheme and the individual applicants.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Could the final three members be particularly brief? It is a sensitive subject, but I want to get you all in.

Photo of Alison Harris Alison Harris Conservative

The cabinet secretary has made it clear that the Scottish Government considered advice from various parties before announcing the advance payment scheme, including from other countries. Is the cabinet secretary prepared to say which counties provided that helpful advice and how the total figure of £10,000 per head was arrived at?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

We received advice from the Republic of Ireland, and some of the provinces of Australia and Canada.

The figure of £10,000 was fairly consistent but at the higher end of the comparative schemes that were available in other jurisdictions. The figure of £10,000 is higher than the interim payments that have been made in the Republic of Ireland, Western Australia, Queensland and Nova Scotia. We looked at a number of other jurisdictions that have taken forward such an approach and tried to set the figure at a level that we believe to be consistent and reasonable in that context. I accept that we can never arrive at a precise conclusion, but we looked across jurisdictions to make the best judgment that we could.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary confirm that additional resources are in place to provide advance financial redress to all applicants, should there be a greater number of applications than is expected?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The Government made provision in the budget for a total of £10 million to be available for the advance payment scheme in this financial year. Obviously, the total required will depend on the number of applications that come forward. We will continue to monitor that, and, if there is a requirement for us to put additional resources into the advance payment scheme during this financial year, I am committed to doing that.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

In his statement, the cabinet secretary said that there would be full pre-legislative consultation on the statutory scheme. Can he say anything about how he will encourage survivors to take part in that?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

We have benefited enormously, over the past few years, from the participation of survivors in the interaction review process. I cannot adequately express my admiration for the individuals who have made that contribution; they have had to deal with the horror of their experience and they deployed that for the benefit of others in our society. We will continue in that spirit. The dialogue with that group has enhanced our policy making and I intend to make sure that the interaction action plan review group is central to how we engage with survivors in the design of the statutory scheme.