Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister
Address to SCVO Annual Gathering, Wednesday 19 February 2014
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here for the SCVO’s tenth annual gathering.
The third sector has 45,000 organisations in Scotland, 130,000 employees, and more than a million volunteers – all of you are absolutely central to the wellbeing of communities across the country. I hope that the new website, “getinvolved”- which has just been launched- will enable even more people to benefit from your services, and encourage even more volunteers to help out.
This government hugely values the work you do – often in partnership with central or local government – in alleviating poverty, helping to reform public services, creating employment opportunities, and setting up successful social enterprises. And it is that theme of partnership that will percolate throughout this speech today.
Your achievements are also receiving international recognition. John Swinney spoke last week at the Ferd Conference on social enterprise in Norway. Here in Scotland, we often see countries such as Norway as providing an example we can learn from, especially in creating a fairer society – so it’s striking that in Norway, they hugely admire the strength of social enterprises and the third sector here in Scotland.
The overwhelming message I want to get across this morning is that the Scottish government shares – not just a partnership – but a common cause with the third sector. To give just one example, our focus on prevention – shifting public service investment so we support people before major problems arise – would be impossible without your work.
So we want to include you in our decision-making; to involve you in providing and reforming public services; and to work with you in building a fairer and more prosperous country. And we want it to be understood that we will prosper because we will become a fairer society.
That’s why we provide you with support and encouragement to an extent which isn’t replicated elsewhere across the UK.
That’s not simply about funding. You’ve seen over the last year how the Scottish Government has worked with you to express our shared concerns about the UK Government’s Lobbying Bill – we don’t want the bill to reduce or limit the contribution you make to policy-making here in Scotland, or indeed the essential role that you play in holding politicians – all politicians – to account.
And in emphasising our common cause this morning, I’ll also argue a fundamental point, that the Scottish government and third sector would work together even more effectively after independence.
Contrast between debate on welfare at Westminster and in Scotland
Let me start by reflecting on the debate on welfare, equality and social justice in Scotland – how different it is from the debate at Westminster. In Scotland the Parliament – and this is the parliament as a whole, rather than any one party – has pursued a largely progressive approach to promoting social justice over the last 15 years. We’ve built partnerships with civic Scotland, including the third sector, as part of that.
As a contrast, just think about some of the language that gets used in the debate emanating from Westminster –people are labelled as “strivers” or “skivers”; “shirkers” or “workers”. But society isn’t divided between skivers and strivers – one group who pay in and another who take out. Everyone contributes to society, in different ways and at different times; and everyone needs public support, in different ways and at different times.
I reflect on that because it’s one of the reasons I’ve been so determined to ensure that some services are universally available – including tuition fees, prescriptions, care for the elderly, and most recently the coming introduction of school meals, for children in primaries 1-3.
Universalism –the social wage as I call it – recognises that everyone in society deserves and benefits from public support and shared security. It creates a sense of common endeavour, of cohesiveness. And that cohesiveness makes it easier to justify additional help for the most vulnerable, and harder to remove vital safety-nets.
Just before Christmas I visited the food bank in Gilmerton, in south east Edinburgh. It is operated by the Trussel Trust, who got me packing boxes along with the volunteers there, and they were all doing a fantastic job.
Any thinking person who visits a foodbank finds themselves in two minds. On the one hand, admiration for the volunteers who commit their time to express solidarity with those in need. And on the other hand, concern and anger that in 21st century Scotland we need the growth in foodbanks at all.
The Trust told me that in 2011 they operated one foodbank in Scotland. They now have 43. It has been estimated that almost 50,000 people in Scotland have used them in the last nine months.
The rise in foodbanks is part of a pattern. Academic analysis has found that in terms of disparities in earnings, the UK has become the fourth most unequal nation in the developed world.
By next year, the UK Government’s welfare cuts will reduce household incomes in Scotland by a total of almost £2 billion a year. We are now in the extraordinary position of seeing the reversal of the gains made in combatting child poverty since the inception of the Scottish Parliament. The number of children living in relative poverty reduced from has halved – from 300,000 to 150,000 – since the Parliament was established. However a range of organisations, such as the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Child Poverty Action Group, are predicting that numbers will increase by tens of thousands between now and 2020.
And the cuts so far are just the beginning. George Osborne said at the start of the year that a future Conservative government would implement further cuts of £25 billion – with welfare accounting almost half of those cuts. And that’s without counting the specifically targeted cuts in Scotland’s budget –up to £4bn of them – which could be enacted at Westminster after a no vote by scrapping the Barnett formula.
It’s worth remembering here that Scotland has paid more tax, per head of population, than the rest of the UK for each of the last 32 years. At present the expenditure on social protection is a smaller proportion of those revenues in Scotland than in the rest of the UK – 38% against 42%.
Therefore the resources are there to provide decent social protection; but at the moment, we lack the powers.
However with additional powers needs to come a different attitude. A glaring example is the Bedroom Tax.
Just two weeks ago, the Scottish Parliament voted to set aside a total of £35 million in this year’s budget to help mitigate the impacts of the bedroom tax. It’s the latest in a string of measures to mitigate the effects of UK cuts. As a result, nobody need face eviction this year purely as a result of the bedroom tax.
That’s good. That’s great. But we should be absolutely clear about what it means. We still haven’t abolished the bedroom tax in Scotland, because the Scottish parliament can’t abolish the bedroom tax.
It’s worth asking – why should we be forced to establish a framework of measures, to cancel out the consequences of a policy, which virtually nobody in Scotland wanted? Wouldn’t it be simpler just to have control of our own welfare policies in the first place?
Even more fundamentally, how have we got to the point – in energy-rich, resource-rich, talent-rich Scotland – where 50,000 people are using foodbanks? Where tens of thousands more children might grow up in poverty by the end of the decade? Where we’re part of one of the most unequal societies in the developed world?
Or as Margaret Lynch, the Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland asked the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee last year,: “How is it possible in the 21st century in an advanced capitalist society…that we are having to give our volunteers suicide awareness training because the welfare state is being ripped asunder?”
When David Cameron came into office, the Big Society was his big idea. But his policies are creating a shrinking society, not a big society. And the third sector is being asked to provide a sticking plaster for the scars of austerity; to be the public sector’s replacement, not its partner.
Referendum on 18 September
In Scotland, it shouldn’t be this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way. On 18 September, all of us get the opportunity to shape a different future.
Now, I don’t expect all of the organisations in the room to express a clear view – on either side – in the referendum debate. After all, you represent employees and volunteers, and work with individuals, who hold diverse views on Scotland’s constitutional future. I understand and respect that.
However the next six months give us a unique opportunity to reflect on the sort of country we wish to create, the Scotland we want to see. All of you can add your voices to that wider debate, and contribute your views on how best we can create a fairer and more prosperous country.
Many of you are already helping to lead the debate in your communities about Scotland’s future – frequently a much more vigorous and constructive debate than the one conducted in the media.
That’s hugely important. After all, many of the people you work with feel excluded from normal democratic processes. They may not vote. They may well be bored with politics and politicians – many people are.
But this year, Scotland’s future is in their hands as much as it is in anyone else’s. And if you can encourage as many people as possible to take an interest in and participate in this debate, the most important opportunity Scotland has had in three centuries –it will be a huge service to our democracy and to our society.
Scotland’s Future and the Third Sector
In November, Scotland’s Future set out the Scottish Government‘s vision for an independent Scotland.
Scotland’s Future answers important questions for the third sector –it explains that the Big Lottery will continue to operate, and that tax reliefs will be maintained. It also makes it clear that charities registered in England and Wales, or Ireland, would continue to operate in Scotland – just as charities registered in Scotland could continue to operate elsewhere on these islands.
But Scotland’s Future also emphasises that one of the first and most exciting tasks of a newly independent country will be to create a new constitution. It is inconceivable that third sector wouldn’t play an important part in that process.
Scotland’s Future does more than answer specific questions, and outline constitutional processes – hugely important though they are. It also sets out a comprehensive picture of the sort of Scotland we could create with the powers of independence. One where social justice goes hand in hand with economic prosperity, and where we value social protection as an investment in our people, rather than attacking it as a burden on our state.
The Council of Economic Advisers of the Scottish Government has been in the news of late. One of its members is the Nobel laureate, Professor Joseph Stiglitz. In a very important book, The Price of Inequality, Joseph Stiglitz argued persuasively that making the poor poorer makes all of society poorer.
And so we shouldn’t just argue for a change in direction out of morality – although we certainly should; or out of social cohesiveness – although we certainly should; but out of the enlightened self-interest which recognises the economic imperative of having a fairer society.
Youth employment and Community Jobs Scotland announcement
In about an hour’s time, the latest labour market statistics will come out. Over the last few months, unemployment has been declining and employment rising in Scotland. But joblessness among young people is still stubbornly high, and is the most pernicious problem attacking the roots of our society.
Angela Constance will speak here later this morning. She is the only youth employment minister in Europe; her post was created as part of a crusade here in Scotland – one which has included the third sector, the private sector, and all arms of the public sector – to ensure that tough economic times don’t create a lost generation of young people.
Our powers on employment are limited. We don’t have the full range of fiscal levers and spending powers to promote growth, and we can’t ensure that work pays – and by that I mean we don’t have the power to promote a living wage and ensure that the minimum wage increases each year at least in line with inflation.
There have been notable successes, but there is still a huge amount more to do. The organisations represented here under the SCVO banner however have played a major role in those successes.
The Community Jobs Scotland fund has created more than 4,000 job opportunities since it started in 2011. Emma Scott, the 4,000th start, will be receiving her certificate from Angela Constance later this morning.
And therefore I’m delighted to announce that we will be allocating an additional £4m to fund Phase 4 of the Community Jobs Scotland programme. This will allow the third sector to deliver up to 1,200 further job opportunities for young people, across all 32 local authority areas in the country.
Those 1,200 opportunities include 100 which are specifically for people with disabilities or long term health conditions; and 200 which are part of a pilot programme for youngsters with a troubled background.
It’s worth contrasting that approach to the initiatives run by the UK Government, such as the Work Programme. These programmes are unpaid, often mandatory, and provide no guarantees that the young person will be kept on. Community Jobs Scotland is a genuine job opportunity for at least six months, with training and support provided.
In a recent evaluation, 94% of employers were positive about the programme. During its second year, the proportion of young people entering a positive destination was almost 70%. The comparable figure for the UK Work Programme is between 10 and 15 %.
The Work Programme uses threats based on coercion; our approach of the Community Jobs Fund delivers opportunities through partnership. This is a shared social investment that will benefit our society and our economy for many decades to come.
Childcare is a further example of social investment.
Later today, the Children and Young People Act goes through its Stage 3 proceedings in the Scottish Parliament.
The Act enables us to increase the care and learning provided for 3 and 4 year olds to 600 hours a year. From August 2015, this care will be available to 27% of two year olds.
The third sector has been crucial to the development of our policies on childcare, and will be crucial to delivering them. That’s why we’ve established an Early Intervention Fund for the third sector.
Working together, we’ve made major progress on childcare. But although we can improve childcare under devolution, we can only achieve a transformational change with independence.
Independence allows us to reduce spending in areas such as defence – to decline to finance the madness of a new Trident programme. That will allow us to fund learning and care for 50% of 2 year olds – not 27% – in the very first budget of an independent Scotland.
But secondly, and most importantly, only independence allows us to benefit from the success of our policies.
We’ve led a sustained drive to increase women’s employment over the last 18 months. The female participation rate is now higher than in any other country in the UK, having increased by over three percentage points in the last year – 60,000 women.
Using 2012 figures, getting female participation in the workforce up to the same levels that they have in Sweden, would require an increase of six percentage points or so. The scale of that increase would generate an additional £700m or so of tax revenues.
The problem is, under current arrangements, the overwhelming bulk of these revenues go straight to the UK Treasury in London. And I see no sign whatsoever in George Osborne’s conduct over the last week – or over his whole political career – that he would give these revenues back to Scotland to fund our transformation in childcare.
Retaining that revenue in Scotland is what will make a transformation in childcare affordable and sustainable. With devolution, we bear the financial cost of our social investments; with independence, we receive the full benefits.
The same applies to youth employment. The investments we have made are crucial, but the revenues flow back to Westminster. We should be able to fund further expansions to our programmes as a result of our successes.
Employment and childcare are examples of the sort of Scotland we’re trying to build- one where the public sector, the third sector and the private sector make common cause; investing in our people- our human capital – to create a sustainable, fair and prosperous society.
But too often, at present, we’re working against the grain of policies decided elsewhere – ones which have led to huge imbalances between different parts of these islands; growing levels of inequality; and welfare cuts which harm the most vulnerable members of our society.
On 18 September, the choice you face – the choice Scotland faces – is one of two futures.
With a no vote, decisions get taken for us; we continue to mitigate other people’s mistakes; with a yes vote, our future is in our own hands. We can build the Scotland we want to see.
That’s the simple but overwhelming truth at the heart of the case for independence –that the best people to make decisions about Scotland’s future, are the people who live and work in Scotland. It is not an argument that is subject to statistical manipulation, it is not an argument for a day’s headlines, it is not an argument born of fear. It is a common sense position based on experience.
And it’s the reason why, this 18 September, the people of Scotland will choose independence – because doing so provides us with the powers we need, to create a wealthier and fairer country.