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After the pandemic, our priority must be to build a fairer Scotland with wellbeing at its heart

Credit: PA Images

4 min read

As we begin the road to recovery from this pandemic, on this year’s St Andrew’s Day, our focus must be on building something better than our old normal.

As well as a celebration of our culture, St Andrew’s Day in Scotland is also about celebrating Scottish values – and I am proud to say that one of those values is fairness.

On St Andrew’s Day 2020, as we look to rebuild from the current crisis created by the pandemic, our priority must be to build a fairer Scotland with wellbeing at its heart.

There must be no return to poverty-inducing austerity. Especially when we know Brexit will already make the whole country poorer.

This is where Scotland’s Social Justice and Fairness Commission has a role to play. The Commission was established to consider options for independence, but also action that could be delivered now – to make Scotland a better place for us all.

The Commission seeks to harness the very best ideas being discussed and distil them into workable, coherent proposals to ensure a recovery where everyone is recognised and rewarded for the contribution they make.

As the Depute Convener of the Commission, I want to set out how, as we continue to deal with 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 least the fact that the ‘safety net’ many imagined was there in the UK, simply does not exist.

This safety net did not simply wither away over time, it has been deliberately dismantled over time. If we want to build something better than what we have right now, a big shift in political thinking is required, as well as action from all of us.

One of the most important lessons we have learned this year is that we can make big changes when we need to. Going forward, one of those changes must reflect the need to properly recognise and reward those undertaking work essential to our society and wellbeing.

The Social Justice and Fairness Commission has been considering a number of fundamental questions that have been brought into even sharper focus by the current pandemic.

One of those questions is how to provide a safety net through a secure income for all. As well as Minimum Income Guarantees and Universal Basic Services, we have been looking at a Universal Basic Income (UBI), 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 Scottish Government has committed to providing £250,000 over two years to support the UK government in the undertaking of a feasibility study for a UBI pilot in Scotland. Whilst welfare and tax powers remain reserved to the Westminster government, we need the co-operation of UK ministers and Whitehall departments to do this.

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 citizen and state. We need that kind of ambition now, to reset the relationship between governments and the people they serve.

A vital part of that relationship is changing how we make decisions, and ensuring people are not just consulted, but empowered to shape the decisions that affect them.

Our remit as a Commission is to produce a new social contract between Scotland’s government and citizens to build an inclusive, rights-based society – where everyone is cared for and supported from baby box to ripe old age, 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 on this year’s St Andrew’s Day, our focus must be on building something better than our old normal. Please join our discussion about how to make that happen.

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