The 2011-2016 term of the Scottish Parliament saw significant strides forward for equality, including the introduction of the Scottish-specific public sector equality duty, passage of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, the lowering of the voting age in the independence referendum and Scottish elections to 16, the development of the Equally Safe strategy, and the publication of the Race Equality Framework for Scotland. Ahead of the recent election, most Scottish political parties made commitments to equality in their manifestos, with some stronger and more specific than others.
However, despite promises and precedent, we know that making continuing progress on equality is a long and difficult process which requires considerable political will. As such, CRER has written today to the First Minister with three urgent requests to push forward the equality agenda in the new parliamentary term.
A Dedicated Minister for Equality
CRER believes there is merit in creating a ministerial post focused solely on equality, rather than including it as part of a wider remit or portfolio. Much more practical work remains to be done to promote equality for all those who face discrimination. The task of successfully implementing initiatives and strategies and of creating additional legislation and schemes needed to address issues for many equality groups is significant and expansive and deserves a dedicated focus.
Social justice and equality work are not the same. The former is largely concerned with income inequality and poverty, whereas equality seeks to address the prejudice and discrimination (both personal and institutional) faced by individuals because of who they are. These agendas are certainly related, but should not be conflated. With plans to progress the Fairer Scotland Action Plan and to introduce a socio-economic duty for public sector bodies, the Scottish Government would benefit from separating these two agendas to ensure each area of policy receives specific focus and expertise to effectively tackle inequality for all.
Furthermore, appointing a government minister to focus specifically on equality would send a strong message to the equality sector and to community members affected by equality issues that the Scottish Government values its commitment to equality and intends to keep it as a key priority area in the coming years.
Equality Impact Assessment of the Programme for Government
As legislation passes through the Scottish Parliament, it must undergo an Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) to ensure that it does not have a negative impact on groups with protected characteristics, to determine if there is a differential impact on any one group in particular, and to highlight opportunities to promote equality that may have been missed.
Given this, CRER asked the First Minister to ensure that the upcoming programme for government itself be assessed prior to its announcement in the Scottish Parliament. Significant consideration must be given to the aims and potential effects of legislation and initiatives on equality. Performing an EqIA on the programme for government would offer a strategic method to identify the impact of these commitments and demonstrate that the Scottish Government is being conscientious and considered about equality.
Dedicated Resources for the Race Equality Framework for Scotland
The recently published Race Equality Framework for Scotland 2016-2030 made several promises to improve racial equality across a variety of sectors including education, employment, health, housing, justice, and participation. Given the fifteen year life of the Framework, CRER is mindful that the pledges made to communities require sustained resourcing and commitment to be successful in the long-term. It is exceptionally important that the Scottish Government recognises this and sets aside the resources needed to successfully implement the Framework in the coming years. Without this, it will fail to achieve the results promised and minority ethnic communities will continue to face racial discrimination and inequality.
At the start of the new parliamentary session, it is important that the equality sector and community groups hold MSPs and the Scottish Government to account for their commitments to equality. Fulfilling these three requests would go a long way to demonstrate that equality will remain high on the agenda in the term ahead.