Update for the week

Over recent months, Covid-19 and our response to it have understandably been at the forefront of everyone’s mind. However, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are continuing to take steps, across a whole range of areas, to improve the lives of people across the country.

Here are some of the announcements made this week…

Providing free bus travel for young people aged under 19

Following consultation, the Scottish Government is making preparations to extend free bus travel to all young people under the age of 19 who reside in Scotland.

Draft legislation has now been laid which, if approved by the Scottish Parliament, will enable arrangements to be put in place for the scheme to start operating as soon as practicable during the financial year 2021-22

Extending free bus travel to approximately 770,000 young people will deliver on parliamentary budget agreements and was a commitment outlined in the 2020 Programme for Government. Once the scheme starts, young people under the age of 19 will join the third of Scotland’s population who already benefit from free bus travel.

The same legislation will also extend the existing National Concessionary Travel Scheme to eligible disabled children under the age of five, allowing free travel for a companion accompanying them.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

Scotland is set to become the first country in the UK to directly incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law.

The UNCRC an international treaty setting out civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that children and young people are entitled to. The UNCRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world and sets out the specific rights that all children have to help fulfil their potential, including rights relating to health and education, leisure and play, fair and equal treatment, protection from exploitation and the right to be heard.

The rights in the UNCRC apply to every child and young person whatever their ethnicity, sex, religion, language, abilities or any other status, whatever they think or say, and whatever their family background.

By directly incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law, and to the maximum extent possible under the current powers of the Parliament, we will build children’s rights into the fabric of decision making in Scotland.

I was delighted to join with the Scottish Parliament and ensure the Bill passed its first legislative stage unanimously.

More than £250 million for drug deaths emergency

In Parliament on Wednesday, the First Minister announced an additional £50 million will be allocated every year for the next five years to improve and increase services for people affected by drug addiction.

Talks have been taking place with people with lived experience, a range of organisations and the Drug Deaths Taskforce following the publication in December of statistics which showed that in 2019 there were 1,264 drug related deaths in Scotland.

In a statement to Parliament, the First Minister said a national mission was needed to turn things around.

She outlined a number of areas where improvements will be made and a further £5 million is being allocated in this financial year to ensure work starts immediately. These actions include:

  • substantially increasing the number of residential rehabilitation beds across the country
  • reducing stigma and increasing the number of people in treatment for their addiction 
  • allocating funding directly to Alcohol and Drug Partnerships, third sector and grassroots organisations to improve  work in communities
  • widening the distribution of naloxone
  • implementing new standards for medicine-assisted treatment to ensure equitable services for all drug users
  • reassessing how overdose prevention facilities might be established despite legal barriers

Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill

Retail workers carry out an important role across Scotland in serving the needs of our communities. That is especially the case during the current Covid-19 situation.

Following amendments being made to the Bill at stage 2, the Scottish Government supported this legislation – introduced by MSP Daniel Johnson – to improve understanding of the extent of offences against retail workers and to ensure a new specific offence can be used for assaults, threats and abuse committed against these workers.

This Bill was well-intentioned and it can have a role to play in trying to influence behaviour, so I was delighted to support it.

Young Person’s Guarantee

The Scottish Government has announced new funding to help more vulnerable young people across Scotland into work.

As part of our Young Person’s Guarantee, it will deliver specialist pre-employment support programmes for 16 and 17 year olds.

Support for childminders

Funding of £1 million has been made available for childminders who have been financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Grants of up to £1,000 each will be made to eligible childminding providers, and work is now underway with the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) to finalise the details of the scheme. Further information on how to apply will be published shortly.

Alongside the funding, a new Childminding Action Plan has been published, setting out the Scottish Government’s vision for the sector and the actions to support it that are being taken now and into the future. These include:

  • development of flexible, tailored learning models to better support childminders to access continued professional learning
  • research into trends within the childminding workforce to better inform future actions to support the growth of the sector
  • work collaboratively across the sector to identify and deliver ways in which childminders can be better enabled to participate in the opportunity to provide the funded early learning and childcare (ELC) entitlement