Scottish Women's Budget Group responding to the Resource Spending Review
Last month’s resource spending review presented a stark picture for Scotland’s budget over the coming years. We welcome the fact that health, social care and social security have been prioritised as these are all areas that can have an impact on gender inequality. Measures such as the Scottish Child Payment and changes to Carers Allowance will help address women’s poverty.
However, it would be wrong to assume that this prioritisation will address the problems related to the chronic underinvestment in social care or the impact of the cost of living crisis for those on universal credit and legacy benefits which prior to the crisis was already leading to an increase in women’s and children’s poverty. This resource spending review took place at a time of future uncertainty and required bold action from Government to challenge the rising tide of poverty people are facing as costs keep rising.
Equality and Fairer Scotland Statement
Published alongside the Resource Spending Review was the Equality and Fairer Scotland Statement. The publication of this document is an important statement of intent showing a commitment to equality analysis within the Budget process. Throughout the process of developing the RSR and in each budget cycle equality impact analysis is a vital element to support decision making and help the RSR achieve in its key priority areas. Capacity and support must be provided at an early stage within all government budget processes to ensure that there is transparent analysis of equality impacts throughout.
The statement provided a welcome commitment to fully publishing EQIAs with the next draft budget, we look forward to seeing this detail. As well as committing to work with equality groups and through the Equality Advisory Budget Group to further develop transparency and support scrutiny of budget documentation.
Disappointingly it did not publish any EQIAs that were undertaken as part of the RSR process and there is a lack of transparency over inputs provided to this process despite references to analysis taking place.
The statement took a new format to previous Equality and Fairer Scotland Budget Statements by focusing on 9 Opportunity/Challenge areas. This makes it hard to compare with recent EFSBS that had differing risk areas as a focus. We would urge the Government to focus on one model and take time to develop this. Greater work is needed to link to National Outcomes set out in the National Performance Framework as an important indicator to how Scotland’s spending relates to what we value as a nation.
Important commitments are made in the RSR to social security provision. Women are more likely to rely on social security and these provisions are important for Scotland to set out its own path in delivery of social security.
Commitments on the Scottish Child Payment, Carers Allowance Supplement and Disability payments are all vital to supporting people on low incomes. These rates will need to continue to be monitored over the course of the spending review and at mid-year points as inflation already surpasses the 6% rise in social security payments delivered in Scotland set at the start of 2022/23 financial year.
Local Government Spending
It is concerning to see the flat investment in Local Government. Again, an area that has struggled for sufficient funds in recent years. Public services run by local authority’s impact women and men differently. In turn investment in the services can serve to tackle or entrench inequalities. The RSR detailed a flat rate of spending to local authorities, meaning a real term cut of 7% by 2026, this alongside the ringfencing of much of local government budget means there will be little room for manoeuvre on local priorities.
Within the tight financial envelope that exists for spending in Scotland options to raise revenue fairly must be further explored. Including power for local authorities to raise revenue from new sources and reform of local taxation to build fairness into the system. Mechanisms to raise revenue must be explored from the point of view of how they can also work to tackle inequalities.
Without the necessary/appropriate resources local government will not be able to meet its functions to deliver equality locally.
Public Sector Pay
The RSR makes important recommitments to the need to deliver fairwork to those in the public sector. This a crucial commitment and delivering this for the lowest paid workers must be made a priority of Government.
Reducing the size of the public sector workforce is outlined alongside commitments on increasing teacher numbers and investment in care. More clarity is needed on this along with a commitment to protect frontline staff, many areas such as care need significantly greater investment in staff numbers.
The majority of public sector staff are women so changes to the sector are inherently gendered, particularly if cuts are made to frontline provision. Clear equality impact analysis of decisions made on public sector pay and staffing levels are necessary to understand the gendered impact of cuts to the public sector size as well any improvements brought about through delivery of Fairwork principles.
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