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On Tuesday 22 November, Chair of The Promise Scotland Fiona Duncan gave the Keynote Address at the Wealth of Nations 2.0 Conference, which focused on how Scotland can build towards a wellbeing economy. The full text can be found below.

Keynote Address

Good morning, everyone.

Thank you so much for the kind introduction.

It is a pleasure to be invited to give this address to open the Wealth of Nations 2.0 conference.

Thank you to Carnegie UK, the University of Glasgow, Community Enterprise in Scotland and – in particular – WeAll Scotland, who I know have worked so hard to pull this event together.

It was with a degree of trepidation that I agreed to speak at the beginning of today.

As I am not an economist.

But then I remembered that discussions about our economy are far too important to be left to economists!

I am here in my capacity as the former chair of the Independent Care Review , and current Chair of The Promise Scotland.

For three years from early 2017, the Independent Care Review worked to create a vision for Scotland’s children and families that experience its ‘care system’.

In February 2020, it published its conclusions and set out a decade-long timeframe for Scotland to do better and fulfil a collective promise – with over 80 calls to action built on five foundations:

  • VOICE: Children will be listened to.
  • FAMILY: Wherever children are safe in their families and feel loved, they stay. And families are given support together to nurture that love and overcome the difficulties which get in the way.
  • CARE: Where living with their family is not possible, children must stay with their brothers and sisters where safe to do so and belong to a loving home, staying there for as long as needed.
  • PEOPLE: Children must be actively supported to develop relationships with people in the workforce and wider community, who in turn must be supported to listen and be compassionate in their decision-making and care.
  • SCAFFOLDING: Children, families and the workforce must be supported

by a system that is there when it is needed. The scaffolding of help, support and accountability must be ready and responsive when it is required.

The Review’s conclusions secured cross-party support, just like the commitment to a wellbeing economy.

Today, we are over a quarter of the way through that decade of change.

Over the next 20 minutes, I will share some of what I’ve learned from how far Scotland has come over the last five years, where we are now and where we must go next.

In the hope this will help answer, as Katherine’s says, one of the most vital questions of our time: ‘how to hasten the journey towards a wellbeing economy’?

Of course, my focus will be what I know:

  • The work of the Care Review - which evidenced beyond doubt the moral as well as the financial rationale for a wellbeing economy.
  • Some of the changes needed to achieve this.
  • And reflections on the work currently taking place.

And I will share what I think are practical and applicable suggestions of things Scotland could do now to make the move from talking about a wellbeing economy towards actually delivering a wellbeing economy.

My hope is that you will see their relevance to your area of expertise and interest, and they will inform the discussions we’ll have over the course of the day.

So that collectively we can all play our part in moving Scotland from a conversation in the abstract – which can feel like a holding pattern – towards the action necessary to make a wellbeing economy the reality.

To grasp this moment to shift how we approach the allocation of resources to focus on wellbeing.

On undertaking work at the Independent Care Review, I recognised very early on that to understand the impact on children and families of life in and on the edge of Scotland’s care system – and their experiences and outcomes as care experienced adults – it could not fit inside rigid policy tramlines or narrow definition of Scotland’s ‘care system’.

To have a meaningful and lasting impact, in a way that past reviews of care hadn’t, it needed to take a very different approach.

Starting with placing the care community at its heart.

The babies, infants, children, young people, care experienced adults - and families - whose very wellbeing should be the single most important priority of the ‘care system’.

The Review identified there is no singular ‘care system’ – so it considered the role and responsibility of a labyrinth of many different areas of policy and practice.

Despite surfacing and examining systemic failure after failure, the Review always sought to define solutions, to be clear about what good would look like, to articulate the vision for Scotland that children and families said was needed.

Just as today’s organisers have a shared understanding that discussions to engender a consensus about a wellbeing economy cannot only take place within the orthodoxy of conventional economic thinking.

That reflections on how to build a radically different economy - and what that might look like - require participation from people doing different types of jobs across different sectors.

That’s why on our agenda today there are diverse themes including the role of the state, of business and enterprise, of education, the third sector and funders, and of sport.

And it’s why the voices – and actions – of each and every one of us matters for these discussions.

Just as the voices of over 3,000 children and families provided the Independent Care Review with a guiding light, alongside the almost 2,500 members of the paid and unpaid workforce.

As acknowledged earlier, you are here today because you believe that Scotland’s economic system should exist to support the collective wellbeing of all our people and our planet— rather than people working to ensure the growth of that economic system.

You believe that Scotland’s economy needs to deliver on the health and wellbeing of all our societies: not the other way around.

The Independent Care Review heard from far too many children and families about the need for them to build their lives around a fragmented, disconnected set of systems - and what those demanded.

People are disempowered and impoverished by dysfunctional systems at all levels: whether that system is the global economy or domestic public services.

Part of this dysfunction can be explained by that fact that we collect the wrong data for the wrong reasons.

In 1968, in a speech at the University of Kansas, Robert F Kennedy said about Gross Domestic Product:

“It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.

“…yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play….

“It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

The Care Review found that the way Scotland collects data and evidence is not helpful in understanding what makes life worthwhile for children and families.

Our aspiration, as stated in the National Performance Framework is that our children grow up loved, safe and respected.

Yet, broadly speaking, the data collected on the ‘care system’ reflects its systems and its processes – the ones that can be easily quantified – rather than the true outcomes and experiences of the children who move through it.

  • Whether our children are loved, happy, feel safe, and have their rights championed and upheld.
  • Whether they have friends and get out to play, have sleepovers, go to clubs, have good relationships with carers and teachers.
  • Whether our children dream of being an astronaut, pirate or hermit (just me?) when they grow up.
  • Whether our families are nurtured and can access the support they need, when they need it.

For as long as Scotland focusses solely on the data that serves the system, we will never measure what really matters.

Worse still, we will never understand the impact of services on outcomes and – at worst – will delude ourselves with a false sense of positive impact that reinforces investment in systemic barriers.

Let me explain what I mean. And give you an example.

When the Care Review was exploring how to calculate how much Scotland spends on this thing it calls a ‘care system’, it was a care experienced person who said, ‘the lifelong cost of care is borne by the person who lived it, not the system’.

By talking about how their adulthood had been determined by their childhood— by the decisions taken by the people who had a statutory parenting responsibility towards them. This meant multiple moves between schools thwarting their chance of an education and not considering any place as home. Over-policing of their care settings resulting in them being criminalised for activity their non-care experienced peers had been grounded for, and with no intensive support for their trauma.

All of this, despite their childhood dreams, their immense capabilities, skills, brain and vitality.

So, the Review shifted from the intention of calculating how much Scotland spends on its ‘care system’ to focusing on the human costs first, the economic cost being second.

This was referred to ‘Human and Economic Cost Modelling’— or as it became known, HECM.

I did attempt to commission a number of well-respected economic think tanks. They all said no.

Some recognised the innovation and importance of the approach, but didn’t know where to start, or have the experience and skills to deliver.

Others thought the idea was bonkers. It was not plausible to put the needs of the person before the pound.

So instead, the Review:

  • had a formula devised based on what was known about the lives of children and families: before, during and after ‘care’
  • secured brilliant academic analysts to use a range of data sources to populate the formula
  • commissioned a team of accountants to pull together financial data from published sources including the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS)
  • had the academics help draw together conclusions.

HECM showed that Scotland spends around £942 million on its ‘care system,’ with the universal services associated with care experienced children and young people totalling a further £198 million per annum.

One billion pounds.

Despite this, Scotland’s care experienced population has poorer outcomes than their non-care experienced peers across a range of areas such as health, education and employment.

They face greater obstacles, making their lives harder - and on average their incomes lower.

As a result of Scotland’s ‘care system’ failing the children in care, the services required to support care experienced adults is estimated at a further £875million.

The result of HECM is a morally compelling, financial rationale for a change to a wellbeing economy.

That stands up to fiscal scrutiny.

As stark as these numbers are, to me it is the failure of children, the loss of childhoods, and the burden the system leaves them with that they then carry into adulthood and throughout their life - that is unforgivable.

You will have your own red lines.

The reasons you are here, why you want a wellbeing economy, and what you believe it needs to deliver in terms of people and planet.

Mine is that the substantial amounts of money currently being spent make crystal clear that getting it right for every child – and family - is entirely affordable. With investment that prioritises wellbeing, can be measured and celebrated, and will make material difference to public finances.

And help makes lives worthwhile.

The Deputy First Minister, John Swinney said about HECM:

“I found the economic analysis that was produced by the Care Review one of the most compelling pieces of analysis that I have read in a long time.”

So, what is getting in the way?

There is more than enough – domestic and international – evidence.

You being here is a manifestation of commitment.

Although… Scotland has been committed to wellbeing for a long time… As you know, we love a wee reverie about the Christie Commission which said:

“Proposals for the reform of public services should first and foremost, be shown to support the achievement of outcomes: real-life improvements in the social and economic wellbeing of the people and communities of Scotland.”

Over a decade ago.

Probably, like me, you think it is well past time Scotland quite literally put its money where its mouth is.

Yet, the challenges faced by the Care Review when devising the Human and Economic Cost Model - and in establishing its credibility - are mirrored in The Promise Scotland’s work to embed a new approach.

I was pleased when in 21/22 Programme for Government the creation of a Whole Family Wellbeing Fund of at least £500 million over this parliamentary term was announced.

With recognition of the human cost.

Could this be the mechanism that offers the potential to demonstrate something different?

To target investment towards effective, preventative services and support.

To achieve Christie’s vision for reform.

To wrap families in the help and support that they need, where and when they need it, in a way that focusses on their wellbeing.

For me, that is the most important reason.

Despite being one year into investment, I think it would be fair to say that the potential of the Whole Family Wellbeing Fund is yet to be realised.

When President Joe Biden (the man who is defying the odds) was a Senator roaming the halls of Congress he used to say,

“'Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.'”

The Whole Family Wellbeing Fund must deliver - between now and 2026 – exactly what it says on the tin: family wellbeing.

And show us what Scotland values.

I absolutely believe the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister when they say they are wholeheartedly committed to keeping the promise.

There are colleagues from government here today and I hope we will get a restatement of commitment to a wellbeing economy from Angus Robertson this afternoon.

So, in the interests of nudging government towards both: here are some practical and applicable changes that could be incorporated right now in support of its realisation.

First up: apply human and economic cost modelling to budgeting processes.

For the Whole Family Wellbeing Fund, this will demand a new way of working across Government.

Involving officials in 49 of the Scottish government’s 117 policy teams, straddling 26 of 43 directorates.

This means the child poverty team, the substance misuse team, the homelessness team, the mental health team, the justice team – as much as I would love to – I really don’t have time to list them all.

But please don’t think I am being critical.

Scotland has world class intentions.

There is no ingenuity gap.

We have amongst the most progressive policies in the world.

But we do have a significant implementation gap.

In fact, many gaps, fractures and fissures.

In part because of the silo-ing of all that good policy intent.

That level of fragmentation results in the multiple categories of disadvantage, discrimination, harm and abuse – that in real life interact with one another –being considered in isolation by the respective team.

What policy makers, and others, refer to as intersectionality.

For example, the Independent Care Review evidenced beyond question the social gradient that influences entry to Scotland’s ‘care system’. The impact of poverty is felt before, during and after.

The same gradient is true with the educational attainment gap. And the justice statistics. Drugs deaths. Homelessness.

The gap is further exacerbated by outcome measures in one policy area driving perverse outcomes in another inter-related policy area: despite both often directly relating to the same, single group affected.

For children and young people I met, this meant their situation was worsened by performance measures in the root causal drivers of Scotland’s ‘care system’ being responsible for the devastating effects of the failure of our ‘care system’, the consequences of growing up in care.

Children frequently described the day they were removed from their family as one of the very traumatic in their life. Regardless of the trauma being faced in the family. Then living in a strange place, routinely separated from their brothers and sister, worsened that sense of loss and fear and loneliness.

I thought a lot about which of many, many examples to use to illustrate that despite best intentions – Scotland’s is in a holding pattern.

Of our own making.

But here is the good news… We can unmake this.

You will all have your own areas that you would like to changes in.

The parts of the system you think are most broken, do most harm – or not enough good – for people and planet.

The ones that you can create a strong argument for a new approach.

And offer practical / applicable changes will create solutions.

Imagine this for a moment.

And think of the ripples.

If the design of the Whole Family Wellbeing Fund had a wellbeing lens, it would bring into alignment the currently disparate root cause and effect policies.

The collaboration this would encourage reflection of real people’s whole lives.

Creating cohesive policies and complementary co-terminus initiatives with measurements that reflect the wellbeing of the same children and families.

Providing a singular laser focus on supporting the families who – day in and day out – face a crisis and are completely worn down by the challenge of barely surviving.

Supported by targets that deliver what really matters most: like keeping families together wherever safe to do so, and if that is not possible, keeping siblings together.

Engendering a move from funding individual worthy projects, which make a short-term difference and then disappear when the money does, towards a new way of budgeting recognising that family life doesn’t start and end with fiscal years

Yes, this would require a new approach to commissioning; but the prize would be a shift of resources upstream.

Towards preventative public services, designed around wellbeing and avoiding – as much as possible – the need for costly crisis interventions.

And – as much as I admire the government’s commitment to listening to lived experience – children and adults would no longer be re-traumatised by having to re-live their most intimate experiences to re-tell multiple agencies and policy makers each looking through their siloed lens, what they need to hear to understand their lives.

They could tell their story once.

And— Scotland could stop commissioning perpetual individual reviews and inquiries into what they consider discrete policy issues.

This perpetual motion examining intersectional issues from different angles at to different timeframes, is a major contributor to the policy ‘implementation gap’.

They devour energy and resources, cause chaos— and provide, for those who want to avoid change, something to hide behind. As the ever-present risk that the next set of conclusions might contradict the previous one, creates circumstances that contribute to inaction or worse still, permit paralysis.

And when conclusions don’t align, the necessary change of course presents a detour from the previous forward motion.

So not only will an end to this deliver for the communities whose lives are seen as a wicked problem, and bridge another implementation gap, they will also save money as each comes at a financial as well as a human cost.

Ultimately, this provide the catalyst for a radically different approach to how and what data Scotland collects, and uses in decision-making.

Resulting in new framework for inspection and scrutiny where different questions are asked to get the right answers.

Bridging the gap between policy and the National Performance Framework – or if Carnegie’s nudge works, the Wellbeing Framework.

Translating what is an aspirational tag line into the lived reality for all our children.

With ripples outwards all across the public and voluntary sector.

But even reformed public services can only play their part.

That is why we are here.

There are myriad social, structural and economic factors that directly contribute to the experiences and outcomes of children and their families.

The ability to make significant improvements to family support, and to families’ abilities to thrive, is linked to the economic health and wellbeing of Scotland’s communities.

It is not possible to separate the two.

To make change, Scotland must boost family income, with an ongoing commitment to alleviating the impacts of poverty.

In practice this means an economy with better paying jobs with terms and conditions that support flexible family caregiving and childcare.

It means institutions, public, voluntary and private, that place the common good over narrow interpretations of self-interest.

It means all of us playing our part.

And changing the hearts, minds – and budgets – of people not in the room today.

It means building communities with the social, economic and emotional resources to provide supportive and nurturing environments for families— so that families can act as supportive and nurturing environments for their children.

For Scotland to keep the promise by 2030 it must also make meaningful steps toward building a wellbeing economy by 2030.

We are living through a global financial contraction.

Presenting decision-makers with an extremely challenging set of ever-changing economic circumstances.

Creating the sort of turbulence that means there’s a risk, the commitment we have all worked so hard to secure may not be secure forever.

That there’s a danger that decision-makers will default to the salami slicer. So, all have less. Everyone has to contract.

Something we know isn’t an option for the families barely surviving.

Surely, instead, this must be the moment for Scotland to land a wellbeing economy?

With a focus on the parts of the old system that didn’t work— and who and what it didn’t work for.

On saving our home, this world, before it is too late.

Just before I close and hand over to you to ‘Build Unstoppable Momentum towards a Wellbeing Economy’ I am reminded of something else Robert Kennedy who I quoted earlier said (although I have ironed out his gendered language):

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped each time a [HU]man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice.

He [or they] sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.”

I know it can feel like we are facing ever stronger headwinds as we drive forward these ideas.

But I believe that the skills, the conviction and the values to overcome these barriers are in this room.

Let’s have a great day.

And give Scotland what it needs to budget with kindness and compassion for those who need that now, and in the future. For people and planet.

And send ripples of hope to Scotland that we will keep our promise to children and families. In the toughest of times.

To make sure that in a decade from now, there will NOT be a room full of people having the same discussions.

Lamenting a promise made, then broken to a generation of children.

Because when Scotland does live up to its commitment:

[‘where children are safe in their families and feel loved, they stay – and families are given support together to nurture that love and overcome the difficulties which get in the way’]

then those to whom The Promise is kept will know only care and compassion, not a ‘care system’.

They may never know that transformation was powered by the generosity and selflessness of all those who shared their stories with the Care Review in hope of change for people they may never meet.

Nor that in a room in Glasgow, on a chilly November day in 2022, the persistent disruption of a group of committed individuals devised purposeful solutions that made sure Scotland grasped the moment and embraced the opportunity of a wellbeing economy.

Thank you.

About the author

Fiona Duncan - Chair
Photo credit: Sarah Maclean

Fiona Duncan


Fiona Duncan is the Chair of The Promise Scotland, the organisation responsible for driving and supporting the change demanded by the conclusions of the Independent Care Review— which Fiona also chaired.