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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.

Response to A Human Rights Bill for Scotland: Consultation

About our submission

We have undertaken initial scoping work and engagement with voluntary organisations to inform our position on proposals included within this consultation, including:

  • Hosting an engagement event on the proposals in partnership with the Human Rights Consortium Scotland, and
  • Participating in a Private Actors Roundtable event, hosted by the Scottish Government.

SCVO believes that, given the nature of these proposals and the specific impacts they may have on particular service providers, the majority of questions included in the consultation are better answered by those with the expertise and experience in those areas. This will include a number of organisations from within the voluntary sector, such as the ALLIANCE and Scottish Care, as well as valuable input from the Human Rights Consortium Scotland, informed by the event referenced above. However, despite this, we do wish to raise some concerns in relation to questions 19 to 21.

Summary of response

SCVO supports any move towards further building a human rights culture in Scotland and we would expect that the majority of voluntary organisations within our sector are already doing what they can to embed human rights in their work. However, it is crucial that such positive steps do not come at the expense of further burdens placed upon a sector that is, in many areas, already beyond maximum capacity.

After years of underfunding and upheaval, the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis are the latest chapters in a longer story of instability and unpredictability in voluntary sector resourcing. The cost-of-living crisis has, for many organisations, increased demand for the essential services and support the sector provides while organisations, like households, struggle with rising costs.

It is, therefore, in these circumstances that the Scottish Government is consulting on its proposed Human Rights Bill, which could include additional expectations and duties placed upon those voluntary organisations who are included under the definition of “private actors”. It is vital that full consideration is given to those organisations covered by this definition and who will have duties placed on them as a result, to ensure that additional burden is not placed on organisations already experiencing issues with capacity, and to recognise that, if additional resource is required, this must be met either through capacity building by the Scottish Government, which is likely to require additional funding, or by moving away from the currently unsustainable funding approaches.

Our response

SCVO is pleased to provide written evidence for the A Human Rights Bill for Scotland: Consultation and, as outlined above, has focused our response on questions 19 to 21.

Q19: What is your view on who the duties in the Bill should apply to?

SCVO understands the definition of “private actors” in these proposals to relate to organisations delivering a devolved public service in Scotland, and that this will include some voluntary organisations. It has, however, been made clear to us, particularly through the online event hosted by SCVO in partnership with the Human Rights Consortium Scotland, that the approach taken to the inclusion of voluntary organisations has been vague and has led to some confusion. There appears to be a lack of information in the proposals and consultation documents to make it clear to voluntary organisations that they will, or may, be impacted by these proposals. As an example of this, despite the Scottish Government recognising that the chosen definition of “duty-bearers” will inevitably include a number of voluntary organisations, the term “third sector” only appears twice throughout the entire consultation document, and on both occasions this is in relation to the make-up and reach of the Bill’s Advisory Board rather than the proposals themselves.

The Scottish Government does not collate data centrally on the number or nature of devolved public services provided by voluntary organisations. As a result, it is difficult to ascertain just how much of the voluntary sector in Scotland will be impacted by these proposals, and therefore how many organisations could be considered duty-bearers and what areas they are working in.

However, despite the issues outlined above, we are not opposed to voluntary sector organisations being covered by these proposals if they are delivering devolved public services. As we build a human rights culture in Scotland, it is important that every organisation is doing what it can to adopt a human rights-based approach to all areas of work and we believe that the majority of voluntary organisations are already doing this. That said, clearer definitions are required, together with more information on the number of voluntary organisations who will become duty-bearers. Those organisations, and the sector in which they operate, must be recognised as vital partners in these areas of work.

Q20: What is your view on the proposed initial procedural duty intended to embed rights in decision making?

SCVO has concerns over the proposed initial procedural duty and the impact this may have on voluntary organisations who are considered to be duty-bearers. The current financial and funding landscape for voluntary organisations is not positive, typified by delays in decision-making, late payment of grants, complex application and monitoring processes, and real term cuts due to a lack of inbuilt inflation-based uplifts. The myriad of issues currently plaguing funding for the voluntary sector result in a long list of impacts, including the inability for organisations to plan for the long-term, difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff, and wasting valuable capacity which, instead of being focused on providing vital services, has to be used chasing crucial funding. In fact, some organisations that have spoken to SCVO recently have described this year as the “worst ever” in terms of accessing funding.

Against this backdrop of uncertainty and anxiety, it is perhaps inevitable that further duties and expectations placed on some voluntary organisations are going to cause concern. It is, of course, vital that proposals to embed human rights in decision-making come with some sort of initial procedural duty to ensure that this is actually delivered. However, it is also vital that the Scottish Government considers the additional burden that this may place upon voluntary organisations who are already at full capacity.

Such organisations may require added resource to achieve the expectations that will result from this Bill, and this must be taken into account. If the Scottish Government were to adopt SCVO’s calls for Fair Funding as part of its own commitment to Fairer Funding by 2026, this would create a funding landscape that was better able to provide security and certainty for voluntary organisations, freeing up capacity and space to focus on the services they provide, and enabling them to deliver expectations such as embedding human rights in decision-making.

To support Scotland’s vital voluntary sector to adapt to current and future societal and economic challenges, address years of poor funding practices, and ensure that voluntary organisations have the capacity and resources to play their part in creating a human rights culture in Scotland, Fair Funding that incorporates the following is urgently needed:

  • Longer-term funding of three years or more
  • Flexible, unrestricted core funding, which enables organisations to provide security, plan effectively, and fulfil good governance requirements
  • Sustainable funding that includes inflation-based uplifts and full costs, including core operating costs
  • Funding that accommodates paying staff at least the Real Living Wage
  • Accessible, streamlined, proportionate, and consistent approaches to applications and reporting, timely process and payments, and partnership between the grant-maker and grant-holder.

It is paramount that consideration is given to the fundamental point that further expectations or duties cannot be placed on voluntary organisations who are already facing difficult, often complex, issues and barriers that already result in reduced capacity. Given the current circumstances faced by voluntary organisations, no expectations should be placed upon voluntary organisations to use their resources to meet a basic minimum standard without recognition that those resources may be practically non-existent at it is.

Q21: What is your view on the proposed duty to comply?

Building on our answer to the previous question, the proposed duty to comply has the potential to result in similar issues and concerns as outlined above. A compliance duty that may be, for example, included in contractual agreements for funding cannot be introduced without consideration being given to the current circumstances that the voluntary sector finds itself in. If duty-bearers do not have the capacity to meet expectations thrust upon them without regard to that lack of capacity, any duty to comply will be essentially unworkable. It is vital that all duties included in these proposals fully recognise that the voluntary sector does not have free and available resources to target at additional contractual requirements. Instead, the situation is very much the opposite, where many organisations are experiencing burnout of staff and volunteers, as well as eating into reserves, because they barely have the resources required to carry out their work day-to-day.

At the Private Actors Roundtable event at the end of September, the Scottish Government’s presentation included the following line in relation the Scottish Government’s approach to resources:

“Targeting resources so we can better tackle poverty, inequality, and uphold human dignity in every day life.”

It is crucial that this approach is extended in good faith to voluntary organisations who may have a duty to comply as a result of these proposals. If the expectation is to be placed upon those organisations that they target their already limited resources to better tackle poverty, inequality, and uphold human dignity in everyday life, then any additional burden placed on voluntary sector duty-bearers must be covered by additional resourcing by the Scottish Government.

About SCVO

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national membership organisation for the voluntary sector. SCVO represents the sector at a national level and provides advice and services to voluntary organisations. We champion the role of voluntary organisations in building a flourishing society and support them to do work that has a positive impact. Along with our community of 3,500+ members and supporters, we want to see a thriving voluntary sector at the heart of a successful, fair and inclusive Scotland.

About Scotland's voluntary sector

The voluntary sector in all its diversity is a powerful force for positive change and a significant part of our economy. From grassroots volunteer-run community groups like village halls and playgroups to major providers of public services in social care and housing, the voluntary sector is present in every aspect of our society and is the glue that holds communities together, with over 46,500 voluntary organisations and 1.2million volunteers.

Together these organisations employ over 135,000 paid staff. A quarter of charities employ staff, and the average income of these charities is around £900k. However, three-quarters of charities are run entirely by volunteers and have an annual turnover of less than £100k. Many deliver vital services and work with some of Scotland’s most marginalised communities. SCVO’s State of the Sector statistics for 2022 are available online.


Jason Henderson
Policy & Public Affairs Officer

Last modified on 16 April 2024