Proposed National Outcomes

June 2024. We responded to the Scottish Parliament Finance and Public Administration Commitee’s call for evidence on the Scottish Government’s proposed National Outcomes, which will form part of the National Performance Framework.

This evidence has been prepared to support members of the Committee in their inquiry into the Proposed National Outcomes and addresses the primary children’s rights issues raised.

1.        What are your views of this updated purpose for the National Performance Framework?

The current purpose of the National Performance Framework (NPF) is: “To focus on creating a more successful country with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish through increased wellbeing and sustainable and inclusive economic growth” and the Scottish Government proposes to change this to “To improve the wellbeing of people living in Scotland now and in the future”.

We are disappointed that this change does not reflect the ambition expressed by the Scottish Government in respect to progressing human rights. Instead, the purpose of the NPF has been narrowed to simply reflect wellbeing.

Whilst concepts of increased wellbeing and respect for human rights may be complementary, they are fundamentally different concepts and a concentration on wellbeing has, in children’s policy, sometimes led to the inadvertent development of paternalistic approaches which are at odds with human rights principles. This was demonstrated by the information sharing elements of the Named Person scheme which was ultimately found by the Supreme Court to breach children’s human rights.[1] The new purpose also detaches the NPF from the UN Sustainable Development Goals, despite the report itself stating its importance in reporting progress against these.[2]

Our view is that the purpose of the NPF could be reframed to explicitly reflect the human rights of adults and children in Scotland, better reflecting the stated ambition of the Scottish Government to respect human rights. It is important that children and young people directly participate in this.

2.        In your view, do the proposed National Outcomes match the purpose of the National Performance Framework?

We do not feel that the proposed National Outcomes fully capture the Scottish Government’s ambitions regarding Human Rights leadership.

We note that a separate National Outcome already exists for Human Rights and that this will be expanded to Human Rights and Equality. Our view is that both these concepts should underpin all outcomes and that it is essential that human rights are also mainstreamed across all National Outcomes, with clear references made via the use of human rights-based indicators.

3.        What do you think of the changes being proposed?

Our view is that the current changes do not go far enough to recognise children’s human rights and in particular the UNCRC rights which have now been incorporated into Scots law. For example, in the Education and Learning Outcome, opportunities to both involve children and reflect children’s human rights have been missed, for example the proposed National Outcome does not reflect the UNCRC concept of an education directed to “the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential” or any of the other aspects of Article 29 of the UNCRC[3].

4.        Are there any policy priorities that should be reflected in the proposed National Outcomes but which, you consider, are not? 

See our comments above regarding the incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law and the Scottish Government’s aspiration of human rights leadership.

We note that the Scottish Government has published a Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) on the proposed changes and we note it considers the interaction with a wide range of UNCRC Articles. The assessment is inaccurate on one point in relation to Article 4, it states that “The CYP Outcome specifically mentions protecting children’s rights.”[4] It does not, although human rights are mentioned in the extended definition.

The CRWIA also suggests that the National Outcomes do not engage a number of Articles which are vitally important in protecting the rights of some of the most vulnerable children in Scotland. These include the following:

  • Article 25 – includes children detained on mental health grounds
  • Article 33 – protecting children from drug misuse
  • Article 34 – protection from sexual exploitation
  • Article 35 – prevention of abduction, sale and trafficking of children
  • Article 37 – protection from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and children deprived of their liberty
  • Article 39 – right to recovery
  • Article 40 – children in conflict with the law.

These National Outcomes are an important keystone of policy development, implementation and monitoring. We would therefore expect a more comprehensive consideration of their impact on children’s human rights to be undertaken, to ensure compliance with the UNCRC. This should include a critical consideration of the development process, including consultation, which we believe would have highlighted the failure to adequately respect the right of children to participate in decision making.

With regard to links with the broader human rights framework, we would refer the Committee to the submission of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, which addresses this in detail.

With regard to links with the broader human rights framework, we would refer the Committee to the submission of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, which addresses this in detail.

5.        What are your views on the Scottish Government’s consultation on the proposed National Outcomes?  

It is not clear to us that any children have been consulted in development of these Outcomes, with the exception of the session with Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYPs). Whilst this ensured that older children (aged 14 and over) had an opportunity to directly participate in the consultation, no equivalent was put in place for younger children. We note that the SYP group will have included a number of older young people aged 18 or over. Our view is that a more comprehensive consultation should have taken place, involving younger children. Whilst older children and adults can reflect on their experiences as children, they do not necessarily equate to the experiences of children today. This is particularly the case given the immense changes children have experiences as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

We welcome the excellent report by the Children’s Parliament and included as an Annex, which is comprehensive and will provide an extremely valuable resource in understanding the impact of the National Performance Outcomes on children’s lives. It is not, however, a substitute for direct participation of children in developing the National Outcomes.

As the Children’s Parliament research demonstrates, all Outcomes affect children’s lives in complex ways. Children have a right to participate in decisions made about them at both a personal and a national level, as outlined in Article 12 of the UNCRC and the accompanying General Comment 12[5]. This extends beyond matters solely affecting children but to all policy and law which affects them. Given the importance of the National Performance Outcomes to the development, implementation and measurement of public policy in Scotland, our position is that children’s views should have been actively considered in the development of all outcomes, not just those solely referring to them.

6.        How do you think the proposed National Outcomes will impact on inequality? 

We are concerned that children are not mentioned in the Equality and Human Rights Outcome, save in references to violence against women and girls. Children are entitled to all the same Human Rights protections and are covered by the Equality Act 2010. This should be made explicitly clear.

We are neutral on the inclusion of Equality in the Human Rights Outcome. We note that the concept of equalities is reflected by the non-discrimination provisions in the international human rights framework (including the UNCRC) and uses a broader and more flexible definition of discrimination than that in the Equality Act. Nonetheless we note that these are concepts that public authorities are familiar with and against which data is taken. Care should be taken not to inadvertently overlook discrimination where it does not align to the protected characteristics in the Equality Act.

7.        Do you think the proposed National Outcomes align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals? Please explain your answer.

We note that changes have been made to better align some of the National Outcomes with the Sustainable Development Goals, in response to feedback in the consultation. We would welcome more explicit links being developed in the National Indicators to enable process against the SDGs to be accurately assessed.

8.        To what extent do the proposed National Outcomes support joined-up policy making in Scotland?

We welcome any initiative aimed at supporting “joined-up policy making” in Scotland, but we are disappointed by children’s absence from the extended definitions of a number of the National Outcomes. This suggests that there is a risk that children’s lives are still seen as existing within certain silos – “children”, “education”, “care” – rather than as full members of the wider community, affected by all National Outcomes and with a right to participate in their development. For example, children are entirely absent from the extended definition for Climate Action, despite being active participants in climate activism. They are also absent from Culture; Wellbeing Economy and Fair Work (many older children work); Equality and Human Rights (except for references to violence against women and girls); and Housing.

9.        What should the implementation plan contain to make sure that the National Outcomes are used in decision-making? It is vital that the implementation plan makes explicit reference to the impact of each National Outcome on children and their human rights. There must be a presumption that children will be included in all but exceptional circumstances (for example actions relating solely to elderly people). A thorough Children’s Rights Impact Assessment should be undertaken alongside the development of the implementation plan to ensure it is compatible with children’s rights and this should be accompanied by robust and comprehensive opportunities for children to participate in its development. 

[1] UK Supreme Court [2016] UKSC 51

[2] Scottish Government Parliamentary Report paragraph 11.

[3] UNCRC, Article 29.

[4] Scottish Government. 2024.  Page 8

[5] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. General Comment 12 (2009) – the right of the child to be heard.

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