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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

SCVO Briefing – Creating a Fairer Scotland


In January 2016, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published the most comprehensive review to date of Scotland’s equality and human rights progress. Is Scotland Fairer? sets out key equality and human rights challenges in Scotland, and measures progress over the last five years. Many of our members welcome the gradual progress made on human rights in some areas, but recognise that many people and communities continue to be left behind, or suffer discrimination and disadvantage. Following the report, and as our sector covers a range of matters, we highlight a few of those in this briefing that can be a focus for improvement. As can be seen from our members’ contributions during the Smith Commission process, many in our sector believe that the devolution of new powers to the Scottish Parliament offers the chance to take policy in a new, innovative and progressive direction, and we look forward to working with all in Scotland to make that happen.

Human Rights-Based Approach

SCVO has concerns that there remains a human rights deficit in Scotland – as outlined in the Is Scotland Fairer? report – and that many people are unable to fulfil their basic human rights. With the devolution of a range of new powers to the Scottish Parliament, we believe there exists an opportunity to adopt a ‘rights-based’ approach to policy making; meaning more innovative delivery of services and improved outcomes. The PANEL principles are one way of breaking down what a human rights based approach means in practice. PANEL stands for Participation, Accountability, Non-Discrimination, Empowerment and Legality. The devolution of welfare powers and commitment to a Scottish Social Security Act represents an opportunity to do things differently, by adopting person-centred, human rights-based approaches to policy making, based upon the principles of dignity and compassion. Many in the Third Sector believe that by fully committing to self-directed approaches we can achieve these aims by empowering people to make decisions about their support.

Self-Directed Approaches

SCVO and many of our members believe that people deserve access to support that is tailored to their particular needs to allow them to fully participate in society. We believe the best way to achieve this is to offer personal and flexible services that put people in charge of their own support – enabling them to influence the design and delivery of the services they use. It is our view that this concept can be expanded beyond social care services into areas such as employment support, health, and welfare. For example, Enable Scotland argue that it may be worth exploring a personal budget approach within employability services - allocating individuals a budget to choose the kind of support which will help them to secure employment or contribute to society.

Health Inequality

In Scotland, life expectancy and good health continues to differ greatly between affluent and deprived areas. Life expectancy for boys born in the 10% least deprived areas in 2011-13 was put at 82.4 years, compared to just 69.9 years for those born in the 10% most deprived areas. Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in Scotland. It causes 90% of lung cancers, increases the risk of suffering heart attacks and strokes. Whilst smoking rates decreased in England and Wales, there was no significant reduction in Scotland. As such, SCVO supports efforts to reduce smoking rates, including the introduction of plain packaging, and notes the view held by ASH Scotland that smoking is both a cause and effect of health inequalities. Alcohol consumption remains considerably higher in Scotland than other countries of the UK and is the root cause of many health and societal problems - including liver disease, heart disease, strokes, cancer, unemployment, homelessness, domestic abuse and divorce. Alcohol-related hospital stays in Scotland were eight times higher for people living in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived. SCVO highlights the views of Alcohol Focus Scotland with regards to alcohol minimum pricing and advertising. We also commend the work of Addaction Scotland in terms of identifying and supporting those at risk of alcohol abuse. Costs to NHS Scotland of treating conditions of people who are overweight and obese may be as much as £600 million per year and economic costs has been estimated as highly as £4.6 billion per year. In terms of reducing poverty and improving diet, SCVO welcomes the introduction of free school meals for children in P1-P3, but notes calls from the Child Poverty Action Group to make a legislative commitment to protecting universal free school meals and to set out a timetable to extend universal free school meals to all children in P4-P7.

Food Poverty and Nutrition

SCVO and many of our members are greatly concerned by the growing demand for food bank support in Scotland. This has been driven by a combination of factors, including austerity measures, welfare cuts, the imposition of harsh sanctions on those already in a vulnerable position and an increase in food prices. Food is exerting greater pressure on household budgets since 2007 when food prices started to rise in real terms. Averaged over all households, 11.1% of spend went on food in 2014. For households in the lowest 20% of the income scale 16.4% of household spend went on household food. In terms of food nutrition, households in the lowest 20% of the income scale eat 20% less fruit and veg than the population average. Households in this category are also more likely to consume higher levels of sugars than more affluent households. Diabetes Scotland welcome the implementation of the UK Government ‘sugar tax’ and we look both look forward to contributing to discussions on how Scotland’s share of revenue generated should be spent. Third Sector organisations are at the forefront of tackling food poverty and poor nutrition – and not only through the running of food banks. For example, Kitchen Canny aims to support families to better manage rising food costs, eat healthier, reduce waste and maximise their incomes. Food Train is a grocery shopping, befriending and household support service for older people - assisting and enabling them to eat well and live independently for as long as they are able. SCVO supports the expansion of community growing spaces to tackle food poverty whilst simultaneously making better use of community assets and providing support for wellbeing and early intervention strategies in partnership with NHS Scotland and other agencies.

Gender Equality

As Engender point out, woman continue to live with gender inequality daily, in ways that range from explicit discrimination and breaches of human rights, to the undermining portrayals of women in the media and public domain. Occupational segregation remains stark. Modern Apprentices continue to be gender segregated where women accounted for only 2% of engineers in training in 2012 and 93% of hairdressers. Women are more likely to work in the public sector (67% local government and 81% NHS), but only a third of chief executive officers are women. On average, women in Scotland earn £175.30 per week less than men. Political Representation remains disappointingly low. Only 35% of MSPs, 17% of MEPs, 25% of councillors and 15% of council leaders are women. Violence against women remains significantly high. In 2014-15 there were 59,882 incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police in Scotland. Women are far more likely to be victims than men, with incidents involving a female victim and a male perpetrator representing approximately 80% of reported incidents. Women are also much more likely to be victims of rape, sexual assault, stalking and harassment. SCVO notes with interest research highlighted in the Scottish Government ‘Equally Safe’ strategy which shows that societies in which women’s participation is valued, and where there are fewer economic, social or political differences in power between men and women, there are lower levels of violence. We also draw attention to the joint paper published by Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, and Engender with regards to tackling violence against women. SCVO believes there are many practical solutions to these inequalities – as put forth in the Engender Manifesto 2016.

Suicide and Homicide Prevention

There were significant differences in the suicide rate between the different countries of the UK. In 2013, the suicide rate was lowest in England (10.7 per 100,000 inhabitants), and higher in Scotland (16.6 per 100,000). The suicide rate in Scotland decreased from 19.1 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008 to 16.6 in 2013. SAMH have highlighted that there were 795 deaths by suicide in 2013. This means that two people will die by suicide every day in Scotland. SAMH have called for any forthcoming mental health strategy to be underpinned by the ‘Ask Once, Get Help Fast’ principles. SCVO notes with interest that all parties in the Scottish Parliament aspire to achieve equal consideration for mental and physical health. Homicide offences per million inhabitants for those aged 16 and over have decreased by a greater degree in Scotland than in England/Wales. Comparatively, Scotland already had a lower homicide rate than Scotland. Children aged under one year old were most likely to be the victim of homicide and the majority of these homicides are committed by a parent or step-parent or by another family member, friend or acquaintance. Whilst we recognise this is a contentious issue, SCVO notes the view of Children in Scotland who support the Named Person provision within the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, arguing that they “…believe that a co-ordinated system of assessment and accountability will help embed prevention through early detection.”


When it comes to employment the key areas for the third sector are fair work; the living wage, and creating an effective, personalised, coherent, Scottish alternative to the Work Programme. In our submission to the Fairer Scotland employability consultation we argued that we need to put people at the heart of employability support - emphasising the need to prioritise self-directed support, as this allows assistance to be tailored while building up people’s confidence and skills. We also noted the importance of not developing employability support in isolation, ensuring that there are good links with those services and devolved policy areas which affect employability. While paid employment remains one of the best ways in which people can take control over their lives; solely focusing on getting people into jobs is a mistake. SCVO believes that we need to value all forms of contribution, not just jobs, and to tailor support to each citizen’s capabilities - including their role as parents/carers, volunteers, learners or activists. The primary goal of employability support should not simply be how we can get people into paid work – any kind of paid work – as soon as possible. We would like to see:
  • Continuation of the Fair Work Forum and job creation focused on ‘good’ work.
  • Encouragement of, and commitment to, payment of the living wage.
  • Exploration and appreciation of the differing contributions people make and looking beyond just valuing people’s paid employment.


It is the view of SCVO and our members that, whilst progress has been made in some key areas, there remain too many people for whom Scotland is not a fair place to live. We consider that the devolution of new powers provides an opportunity to redress this situation and to pioneer new human rights-based approaches to policy making. By drawing on the expertise of third sector organisations and by giving individuals more control over how they engage with services, we can improve outcomes for individuals and the institutions tasked with assisting them. Where significant financial or societal barriers prevent individuals or groups from achieving their full potential or fulfilling their basic human rights, there must be intervention to remove these. However, it is vital that solutions should be ‘grounded in people’s lives’, and shaped and informed by those who benefit from support systems. In essence: things should be done together, not done to. SCVO and our members believe that many key indicators of fairness are intrinsically linked. To use a single example, employment is clearly linked to poverty, health and educational outcomes. In view of this, we urge decision makers to consider the wider causes of inequity and consider cross cutting policies to tackle a variety of interlinked societal ills. We welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and look forward to working with all MSPs and our members to ensure Scotland becomes a fairer nation.
Last modified on 11 February 2021