The Social Justice and Fairness Commission was established by Nicola Sturgeon to consider options for independence, but also action that could be delivered now, to make Scotland a better place to live for us all. As we look to rebuild from the current crisis created by the pandemic, our work has a vital role to play in harnessing the very best ideas being discussed and distilling them into workable, coherent proposals. Some of these we could take forward now, while others would require independence.
As we recover and rebuild we must not return to the way things were. We can use many of the changes we have already embraced to create a fairer nation where everyone is recognised and rewarded for the contribution they make.
As the Commission’s Convener and Vice Convener we want to set out how, as we come to terms with living with the presence of this virus, we can all play our part in building a better Scotland with wellbeing at its heart, and how the work of the Commission can help us with that process.
The current situation has shone a stark light on the failings of our society – not the least the fact that the ‘safety net’ that many imagined was there, simply did not exist.
The safety net did not simply wither away over time, it has been deliberately dismantled because of the political ideology of successive UK Governments. While most are quite rightly putting party politics aside at this time to focus on saving lives, we should not forget that the impact of lockdown is political. And that if we want to build something better than we have right now, then that will require a big shift in political thinking and decisions, as well as the actions of every one of us.
Progress is always constrained by what is considered achievable and desirable. One of the most important lessons we must learn from the current situation is that we can make changes – big changes – when we need to. One of those changes must reflect the need to properly recognise and reward those undertaking work essential to our society and wellbeing.
Our ambition, as we recover from the pandemic, is constrained only by what we collectively consider is achievable and desirable. Our new normal must deliver a better way of living for everyone, one that also protects our environment, as our fortunes are bound to the health of our planet.
The Social Justice and Fairness Commission has been grappling with a number of fundamental questions that have been brought into even sharper focus by the current pandemic. One of those is the question of how to provide a safety net through a secure income for all. We have been considering a Universal Basic Income, as a means to provide that safety net, as well as a mechanism that values unpaid work such as caring or volunteering in the community.
The current situation is understandably fuelling demands for a Universal Basic Income. The bigger questions to resolve going forward are how this could be delivered, and at what level. But just as importantly, how a Universal Basic Income (UBI) would sit within a wider system of state support. What use is UBI if the cost of living, including essential services, are so high that they negate any benefit? UBI is a starting point, which must be considered alongside how we provide universal services such childcare, education, healthcare, housing, social care and public transport.
The question we need to ask ourselves is ‘what is essential to our wellbeing’, and it is the role of every single one of us to deliver it. Governments are the conduit for this collective will – there to govern on our behalf, according to our priorities.
In 1942, the Beveridge Report was considered revolutionary. It laid the foundation for the creation of the Welfare State and the NHS, and a reimagining of the social contract between the citizen and the state. We need that kind of ambition now, and a reset of the relationship between governments and the people they are there to serve.
Just before the pandemic hit Scotland, the Social Justice and Fairness Commission was about to launch the next phase in our consultation process and undertake a series of National Assemblies to discuss the three key areas we were focusing on – health and wellbeing, providing a secure income for all and providing homes and communities for all. Clearly, like much of life, this was put on hold.
However, we feel the time is right to open out that discussion. We are therefore making our consultation website live. Responses can be submitted by individuals or people can use the toolkit to hold online group discussions. We’ll also be reaching out through social media, to bring the discussion into homes across Scotland.
As a Commission, we have always wanted our work to be open and inclusive, and for consultation to inform our work every step of the way. In light of current circumstances, we want to reach out in a slightly different way. So we will be publishing discussion papers based on options we are considering. There are some fantastic thought-provoking pieces being published right now, and we want to harness the very best of those discussions to inform our work.
Our remit as a Commission is to produce a route map to the real prize of independence – a new social contract between our government and our citizens. A social contact that will build an inclusive, rights-based society – where everyone is cared for and supported from baby box to grave, in which everyone can fully participate and be given the opportunities they need to flourish.
As we begin the road to recovery from this pandemic, and securing a brighter future for Scotland, our focus must be on building something better than our old normal. Please join our discussion about how to make that happen.
Shona Robison MSP & Neil Gray MP