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If not now, when? - Social Renewal Advisory Board report: January 2021

The Social Renewal Advisory Board was set up by Scottish Ministers to make proposals that can renew Scotland once we start to emerge from the pandemic. The final report “If not now, when?”, sets a course towards this future.


The Social Renewal Advisory Board was set up by Scottish Ministers to make proposals that can renew Scotland once we start to emerge from the pandemic. At the time of writing, the pandemic is very much still with us, and evolving in deeply concerning ways, but we should not wait for this crisis to be over to begin to learn its lessons. Indeed, many of the challenges facing public health have been exacerbated by the structural inequalities this report is seeking to address. We must begin to plan and to act now.

The Board met 11 times between June 2020 and January 2021 to develop its ideas. In that time, through a collaborative approach, we've been helped by nine policy groups and a wide range of public engagement activity, including community listening events across 31 local authority areas, four discussions with Poverty Truth Commissions, a set of 'focus groups' (Deep Dive events) with equality groups, and over 100 responses from organisations to a call for evidence and ideas.

We'd like to say a big thank you to everyone who took part – we hope you see your thoughts and ideas reflected in this report.

We have focused our thinking on three key principles:

  • Money and Work – We believe that everyone should have a basic level of income from employment and social security.
  • People, Rights and Advancing Equality – We believe that everyone should see their rights realised and have access to a range of basic rights, goods and services.
  • Communities and Collective Endeavour – We believe that we need to work together to deliver a fairer society and we need to give more power to people and communities and empower frontline teams.

Our work has been shaped by how people and communities, government, organisations and businesses have responded to the pandemic. We've heard countless stories of people going above and beyond to protect those in need; volunteers young and old rallying to help feed families and deliver essential medicines; and organisations of all kinds working in partnership as never before to save lives and protect communities.

The need to advance equality and fulfil human rights has been at the heart of all our work. The pandemic has widened the inequalities that were already harming the lives of too many of our citizens. We are not through this pandemic yet, and its consequences will be felt for decades if we do not narrow inequalities.

Scotland has, since devolution, changed in many ways as a country for the better. We know that wholesale change is still needed but in some areas at least, our approach is building on strong foundations. In the rest of this summary, we have described in simple terms what needs to change based on the evidence we have collected. We have called these ideas 'Calls to Action', because that is what they are – they reflect the urgent need for change. You can find more information about each of them in the main report.

The 20 Calls to Action, if implemented in full, have the power to transform Scotland, focusing on the people mostaffected who have experienced the worst impacts. Many of them focus on changes to the systems that affect all our lives. Most of them ask the Scottish Government and/or Local Government to step up and do more. We recognise that, as a devolved administration, the Scottish Government does not hold all the levers of power and its budget is already under strain from the pressures of the Covid-19 response. Local Government has responsibility for 65% of the National Performance Framework, but faces its own financial challenges. Others – employers, NHS and the wider public sector, third sector organisations – need to do more too, but they are each facing significant demands of their own.

However, not all of this is about money – much of it is about having the right approaches, cultures and values, as well as sharing power more directly.

None of this is easy and we know that some of the response will need to be step-by-step or longer-term. But with tough times come tough choices. The pandemic has shown us just how much change needs to happen and that now is the moment for change. Because if not now, when?

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