What the Scottish Budget means for the Wellbeing agenda

Yesterday’s Scottish Budget included a raft of Wellbeing initiatives among its plans for economic recovery and support for business as Scotland looks ahead to a wider emergence from the pandemic .

Believe in Scotland has argued that Wellbeing should be at the core of rebuilding our economy in the wake of the pandemic. Indeed 'Independence Through Wellbeing' was a major strand of the recent newspaper produced by Believe in Scotland in partnership with the SNP and the National and delivered to a million homes throughout Scotland.

And Scotland is a member of the Wellbeing Economy Governments Partnership along with Iceland, New Zealand and Wales.

The big steps we need to take can only be fully achieved with the powers of independence

The Scottish Budget unveiled by finance secretary Kate Forbes yesterday contained several important initiatives designed to promote Wellbeing, although the big steps we need to take can only be fully achieved with the powers of independence.

The Budget included record funding of £18billion for health and social care  to both provide support through the next phase of the pandemic and help recovery of “vital services”.

But the package also provides £1.2billion for mental health and confirms a £50million Whole Family Wellbeing Fund to provide holistic support for children and their families.

The Budget provides for £200m to be spent on tackling the poverty-related attainment gap; £4bn to be spread across social security and welfare, £544m for free funded early learning and childcare and £831m for affordable housing.

The Budget’s key anti-poverty measure was the heavily trailed doubling of the Scottish Child Payment to £20 a week, from April 2022. The contrast between Holyrood and Westminster, which recently cut £20 a week from universal credit, could hardly have been starker.

More than £4billion will be paid out across social security and welfare payments in Scotland, providing support for low income families, carers and disabled people – including £1.95billion to start delivery of the Adult Disability Payment in 2022-23.

And a total of £41million will be given to the Scottish Welfare Fund, helping people in times of crisis.

A further £110 million to let young people travel free on Scotland’s buses from January will also have the knock-on benefit of encouraging great use of public transport.

The Wellbeing agenda also prioritises measures to tackle climate change and Kate Forbes’ budget – partly the result of discussions with the Scottish Greens, now in a power sharing agreement with the SNP in the Scottish government – sets out almost £2bn of low-carbon capital investment in infrastructure to decarbonise homes, buildings, transport and industry.

This includes the first £20m of the 10-year Just Transition Fund, to help the north east and Moray transition from carbon based industries.

Putting wellbeing at the heart of everything we do ... is not just morally the right thing to do but it also unlocks the creativity and the confidence that we need

A total of £1.4bn will be spent to "maintain, improve and decarbonise" Scotland's rail network and  £336m has been allocated for energy efficiency and renewable heating. Other initiatives include:

  • Walking, wheeling and cycling will be promoted with £150m investment
  • Large-scale decarbonisation projects have been allocated £60m and there will be £43m spent on promoting a circular economy
  • Woodland creation gets £69.5m, increasing the target by 15,000 hectares, while £53m will be spent restoring the natural environment.

In a speech to the National Economic Forum in June the Scottish finance secretary spoke of the importance of the Wellbeing agenda.

She said: ‘Putting Wellbeing at the heart of everything we do, the wellbeing of the economy, the wellbeing of the environment and the wellbeing of people is not just morally the right thing to do but it also unlocks the creativity and the confidence that we need, which in turn will help businesses to innovate, to grow and to make them more globally competitive.’

To fully embrace that agenda Scotland needs the powers only independence can bring. Unveiling the Budget yesterday Kate Forbes pointed out that the so-called ‘block grant’ from Westminster – which is not a grant at all but simply Westminster giving some of our own money back to us – is lower than it has been for the past two years.

For Scotland to truly tackle the challenges of building back after the pandemic it needs to have complete control over its own finances and the ability to properly decided its own priorities.

By Richard Walker