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25/04/19 15:07

Advance redress payments: Deputy First Minister statement

Deputy First Minister John Swinney's statement to Parliament about financial redress for vicims and survivors of historical child abuse in care. 

Presiding Officer, last October I made a statement in Parliament committing to provide financial redress for victims and survivors of historical child abuse in care. On behalf of the Scottish Government, I made clear that we wholeheartedly accepted the need to provide acknowledgement and tangible recognition of the harm done to children who were abused in care in Scotland. We do so, openly acknowledging that such recognition cannot in any way take away the pain that individuals have suffered.

Since October we have continued to hear harrowing evidence of the abuse of children in care settings across Scotland. We have listened to the testimonies given to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. Victims and survivors continue to tell us of their experiences of being failed by the establishments and people entrusted to look after them. We must continue to listen to that testimony and the Scottish Government will consider with great care the findings and recommendations that are made in due course by Lady Smith.

Work has been progressing since my statement in October to design the statutory redress scheme. The Government remains committed to introducing a Bill which can pass its final stages before the end of this Parliamentary term in March 2021. I welcome the views and the encouragement of Members of this Parliament that we should do all that we can to accelerate this timetable.

My Officials are working at pace to establish a statutory Scheme as quickly as we can. I am conscious however that there is a significant amount of detailed design required to ensure that we get this right. We will have a full pre-legislative consultation later this year to hear a wide range of views in this process. We must be confident that we get all of the details correct in such a Scheme.

Presiding Officer, we are all too aware that, because of age or health, some survivors may not live long enough to apply to the statutory scheme. I am pleased today to confirm the launch of an Advance Payment Scheme for those who were abused as a child in care in Scotland, and who have a terminal illness or are age 70 or over.

The scheme is now open for applications and full details will be published online this afternoon. A telephone support line will open on Monday morning dedicated to helping survivors who wish to request an application pack or to find out more about the scheme.

We realise that the application process itself may be distressing for some survivors and we will signpost applicants to sources of support should this be required.  The Advance Payment Scheme will be administered within the Scottish Government by specially trained caseworkers who will support applicants through the process in order that they access the acknowledgment that they rightly deserve.

The Advance Payment will be an equal payment to all applicants who meet the eligibility criteria. It will be made using the Scottish Government’s common law powers. The payments will be discretionary and made on an ex gratia basis. The payment level has been set at £10,000. This sum is broadly in line with interim payments made by redress schemes in other parts of the world. The costs of the Advance Payment Scheme are being met in whole by the Scottish Government, and we intend it remains open for applications until the statutory redress scheme is established.

Given the time sensitive nature of Advance Payments we have kept the application process as straightforward as possible.  To be eligible applicants must either have a terminal illness or be aged 70 or over, and must have been abused in care in Scotland before December 2004. 

Whilst we are guided by the terms of reference the Government has set for the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, this is not the sole influence in relation to eligibility.  Given the differing purposes of redress and the Inquiry, we have looked to other sources if those provide a better fit, or to add interpretation to the Inquiry’s terms of reference where that is needed.

Presiding Officer, the systems we now have in place to regulate different aspects of child care and to safeguard children from systemic abuse are radically different today than the regimes of yesteryear.

It was this Parliament which introduced fundamental regulatory change in this area, establishing Disclosure Scotland, setting up the Care Inspectorate, requiring the registration of care staff across children’s services, and more.

It is the prior, historic, failings which have led the Government to establish a scheme of redress. December 2004 marked the public apology made by the then First Minister Jack McConnell and endorsed by the Scottish Parliament as a whole.  It also marked the broad mid-point of a period of rapid and significant change in child protection legislation, and policy and practice in relation to children in care. We have defined that date of December 2004 as the date prior to which abuse would have to have taken place to demonstrate eligibility.

For the purposes of advance payments, residential pupils at boarding schools will not be eligible if their parents chose that place for their children’s education. We know from criminal cases that abuse did take place at some boarding schools, and the impacts will have been as horrendous as abuse elsewhere. But the Advance Payment scheme seeks to respond where institutions and bodies had responsibility for the long-term care of children in the place of the parent. 

Longterm healthcare eligibility will exclude establishments whose primary purpose was medical or surgical treatment. Patient stays in these hospitals – primarily general or local hospitals - will normally have been short to medium term and importantly, it will have been possible for parental contact to be maintained, albeit constrained by visiting arrangements. Children who stayed in all other establishments, where the function was primarily care and not treatment, and the stays were often long term, indeed sometimes lifelong, will be included.

Survivors asked us to develop an application process that is as straightforward as possible for survivors, whilst making the scheme robust and credible. This is what we have designed and today are delivering.

Applicants will not be required to submit evidence of having been abused, but will require documentary evidence which shows they were in care. Terminal illness will need to be certified by a registered healthcare professional, through a process which we believe is as sensitive as possible to the circumstances of the applicant.

We know that some eligible applicants will not yet have the written documentation they need to support their application. Our caseworkers will be on hand to help and advise applicants, and to refer them to organisations that can help them obtain a supporting document. Recognising the impact that applying for and receiving an Advance Payment may have on survivors, we will also make applicants aware of organisations that offer emotional and other types of support.

Presiding Officer, there are no reliable estimates of how many survivors may be eligible for Advance Payments. We will prioritise applications from those who are terminally ill. We will keep our arrangements under review so that our processes and procedures adjust in the face of experience, reflecting feedback from applicants.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank the InterAction Review Group for continuing to work closely with us towards this launch today. Their input to the design of the Advance Payment Scheme and the application materials has been invaluable.

We will work in a sensitive way, taking into account the trauma applicants will have experienced, and I want to express my gratitude to all those survivors and organisations who have given us their advice and suggestions.

I thank also colleagues who have designed and delivered redress schemes in other parts of the United Kingdom and indeed across the world, and who are giving so generously of their time to help us understand what lessons can be learned.

Our next key step is to develop proposals for the Statutory redress scheme. No decisions have yet been taken. In developing our proposals we will take into consideration the views expressed in the survivor consultation last year, the responses that will come from the more detailed pre-legislative consultation later this year and our experience of delivering Advance Payments.

Presiding Officer, this Advance Payment Scheme is a significant milestone in our endeavours to do what we can to address the wrongs of the past. I hope it will provide some degree of recognition and acknowledgement for survivors who have waited the longest for acknowledgment and redress, and those who have a terminal illness.

I can reassure other survivors of historical abuse in care that our commitment to design the statutory scheme with a strong survivor voice is unrelenting, and I commit to updating Parliament on a regular basis on the progress that we are able to make.