New report leads to call for human rights to be at the heart of post-COVID budget decisions, to ensure social and economic recovery

Scottish Government budget-setting and spending decisions following the coronavirus pandemic must take full account of people’s human rights, according to the Scottish Human Rights Commission (the Commission) and the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE), as a new report is published into Scotland’s budgetary processes. 

The new report from the Commission compares the openness of Scotland’s budgetary processes with those of 117 countries involved in the International Budget Partnership’s (IBP) latest Open Budget Survey (OBS). The report has been compiled with the support of the ALLIANCE, the University of Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian University and the New York-based Center for Economic and Social Rights. 

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The report compares Scotland’s performance on three key measures required to ensure that budgets respect, protect and fulfil people’s rights. The findings show that Scotland performs reasonably well on budget scrutiny but falls short of recommended international standards on fiscal transparency and public participation in the budget process. A series of recommendations to the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and oversight bodies are set out to improve practice in all areas.

As concern turns to social and economic recovery following COVID-19, both the Commission and the ALLIANCE have stressed the need to acknowledge and address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on particular groups, including disabled people, women and people living in poverty. They highlight the need for political commitment to ensure this happens, combined with the active use of human rights based budgeting tools.  

Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said:

“Resources and rights are inextricably linked. The choices government makes about taxation, spending and budget allocations have a direct impact on the extent to which people’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled in practice. It is vital therefore that decisions about economic recovery from COVID-19 are informed by and rooted in a comprehensive and robust rights-based analysis. This needs to be built on strong foundations of effective scrutiny, transparency and public participation in budget processes.  

“It is particularly important to recognise that some people have been hit harder than others by COVID-19, many of whom already faced disproportionate barriers to accessing their rights, including their rights to health and care, food, housing, employment and education. Resources directed at economic recovery must be invested in a way that tackles this inequality, rather than exacerbating it.

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s stated commitment to human rights in its COVID-19 Framework for Decision Making. To translate this into action, government should now ensure that human rights expertise and analysis is embedded into both the work of the Economic Recovery Committee and existing budgetary decision-making structures.”

Professor Ian Welsh OBE, Chief Executive of the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE), said:

“Not only will the pandemic create personal distress, worry and economic uncertainty, it risks putting the support and services relied on by various groups under strain. People with long term conditions, disabled people and unpaid carers were already feeling the brunt of the impact of austerity. As the economy begins to reconfigure, their rights must be at the forefront of our social recovery from the impact of COVID-19.”


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Notes to Editors:

  1. The Scottish Human Rights Commission is the national human rights institution for Scotland, accredited with A-Status within the United Nations human rights system.
  1. The Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE) is the national third sector intermediary for a range of health and social care organisations. The ALLIANCE has over 2,900 members including large, national support providers as well as small, local volunteer-led groups and people who are disabled, living with long term conditions or providing unpaid care.
  1. The International Budget Partnership is a nonprofit organisation of economists, advocates and policy analysts dedicated to ensuring governments are responsible stewards of public funds.
  1. The open budget survey (OBS) explores transparency, participation and oversight in the budget process. The OBS is the only independent, comparative measure of open budgets, and covers 117 countries, more than 90% of the world’s population. The UK government’s budget process is already assessed by the OBS, however, as a sub-national government, Scotland’s devolved budgeting processes are not specifically subject to assessment. This research behind this report has with the support of IBP, followed the OBS methodology to provide comparable scores for Scotland.
  1. The OBS global 2019 report was launched today (29 April) at this link: