It’s the right thing to do: the Scottish Budget and human rights

In announcing his budget for 2023 the President of the United States Joe Biden made a speech in the White House in which he said:

“My dad had an expression.  He said, “Don’t tell me what you value.  Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”  “Don’t tell me what you value.  Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Never were truer words spoken because when we strip away the rhetoric and soundbites so often the currency of contemporary political debate we reveal the reality of what is considered a priority and what is given importance. A national budget can either walk the talk or continue the deceptive delusion.

These thoughts were in my mind this past week as, with colleagues at Scottish Care, I continued a tour of the country where I heard from frontline staff, managers and employers about what they considered to be the critical issues of the moment in care home, care at home and housing support services. Amongst all the issues raised the ones that stood out were how we reward and recognise our workforce and how we fund sustainable social care services especially in remote and rural communities.

Our Scottish Government will publish its annual budget in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 19th. Many groups and organisations have called for their sector to be prioritised and protected. Many have argued against and raised concerns about the cuts to funding which have already been experienced in what is a time of growing austerity and restriction. Scottish Government ministers have been consistent in arguing that this is going to be the hardest budget within the devolution era. Put simply Tuesday and its message is going to be challenging. But it will inevitably demonstrate the values and priorities of the Government and I hope will be divergent from the Westminster’s Chancellors recent finance statement which evidenced tax cuts above funding public services.

It is at such hard times that I think we need to hold an external mirror to our collective decision making and when political leaders need to be influenced by the neutrality of standards and rights rather than attracted by the allure of popularity or political expediency.

It’s maybe an accident of timing but no less interesting for that, that this Budget comes 9 days after Human Rights Day on which I reflected in last week’s blog.

Over the last decade the concept of human rights budgeting has become more and more talked about. This current Scottish Government has openly declared the significance of human rights legislation and indeed we are shortly to see the publication of a planned new Human Rights Bill. But legislation alone does neither protect or help to realise and fulfil the human rights of citizens. The way a government spends its money, the choices it makes in fiscal spend and priority can either take us further down the road towards realising rights or can put up added barriers and blocks in the way.

As a recent briefing paper stated:

‘Human rights budgeting [HRB] means that decisions on how money is raised, allocated and spent are determined by the impact this has on people’s rights…

HRB means that the process of setting a budget should be driven by three principles.

  • Transparency

Parliament, civil society and the public should have accessible information about budget decisions.

  • Participation

Civil society and the public should have opportunities for meaningful engagement in the budget process.

  • Accountability

Budgets should be subject to oversight and scrutiny that ensures accountability for budget decisions and the impact these have on human rights.

HRB means that the actual content of a budget (i.e. the decisions taken around how money is raised, allocated and spent) should be in line with the government’s human rights obligations.’

I think we can all agree that we are some steps away from a human rights budgeting process and content. But it is the latter I’ll briefly conclude with.

Is our Budget on Tuesday going to better realise the human right to social care and support?

Is it going to protect and further the human rights of older Scots?

Those are the two lenses by which I’ll reflect on the words that come from the ministerial benches. In Biden’s terminology will it show what is valued?

Will we value the astonishingly dedicated frontline staff in care home and homecare services I’ve been meeting over the last few weeks who are continually told ‘We value you’ but for whom £12 an hour will not cut it but fairness at £15 an hour will help to make words of solidarity sound real and not hollow?

Will it recognise the shameless lengths of time that people are waiting on for a social care assessment, for a place in a nursing home or a package of care and support?

Will it do something for the reality that more and more care homes are closing and homecare organisations are going to the wall not because there is no need but because they simply cannot make themselves sustainable with what the State is prepared to pay?

Will it move us to ending the inequity of local authorities being both provider and contractor and hypocritically treating one group of staff (their employees) so much better than another (the third and independent sector) through their contracting process?

Will it put social care at the heart of our economic strategy recognising at last its contribution to the economic and social wellbeing of Scotland?

Will it walk the talk or just flatter to deceive?

In all this talk of finance and priority and value, I am reminded of the current Poet Laureate Simon Armitage and his poem about a ten-pence coin from its making in the mint. It touches in a humorous but direct way on poverty and true societal value.

Ten Pence Story

Out of the melting pot, into the mint;
next news I was loose change for a Leeds pimp,
burning a hole in his skin-tight pocket
till he tipped a busker by the precinct.

Not the most ceremonious release
for a fresh faced coin cutting its teeth.
But that’s my point: if you’re poorly bartered
you’re scuppered before you’ve even started.

My lowest ebb was a seven month spell
spent head down in a wishing well,
half eclipsed by an oxidized tuppence
which impressed me with its green circumference.

When they fished me out I made a few phone calls,
fed a few meters, hung round the pool halls.
I slotted in well, but all that vending
blunted my edges and did my head in.

Once I came within an ace of the end
on the stern of a North Sea Ferry, when
some half-cut, ham-fisted cockney tossed me
up into the air and almost dropped me

and every transaction flashed before me
like a time lapse autobiography.
Now, just the thought of travel by water
lifts the serrations around my border.

Some day I know I’ll be bagged up and sent
to that knacker’s yard for the over-spent
to be broken, boiled, unmade and replaced,
for my metals to go their separate ways…

which is sad. All coins have dreams. Some castings
from my own batch, I recall, were hatching
an exchange scam on the foreign market
and some inside jobs on one arm bandits.

My own ambition? Well, that was simple:
to be flipped in Wembley’s centre circle,
to twist, to turn, to hang like a planet,
to touch down on that emerald carpet.

Those with faith in the system say ‘don’t quit,
bide your time, if you’re worth it, you’ll make it.’
But I was robbed, I was badly tendered.
I could have scored. I could have contended.

Simon Armitage: Ten Pence Story (

Donald Macaskill