We must increase the focus on equality and human rights - Lucy Mulvagh

Covid-19 has been devastating for many of us, and as Scotsman readers will know, this has been particularly true for disabled people, people with long term conditions and unpaid carers.

Lucy Mulvagh, Director of Policy and Communications, Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE)

In Scotland, nearly half of all adults live with at least one long term condition and over one million people, around a fifth of the population, define themselves as disabled. The virus has had a shocking impact – for example, people with learning/intellectual disabilities are over three times more likely to have died from Covid-19 than the general population. Moreover, some of the action taken to address the pandemic has been unduly negative for disabled people, resulting in increased debt and money troubles, food insecurity, and serious disruptions to healthcare and social support – to name just a few. Estimates also suggest that the number of people called upon to provide unpaid care has swelled to over one million.

However, even before the pandemic, unpaid carers, disabled people, and people with long term conditions experienced substantial inequality. In many ways, Covid-19 has exposed and magnified pre-existing injustices like poverty, poor housing, under-employment, and inadequate social care. On the back of a burgeoning body of evidence and reports, there have long been calls for transformational change in the way this inequality is addressed, and people are meaningfully involved in important decisions that affect their lives.

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A proposed new Scottish law could be fundamentally life-changing by directly addressing these issues. In March this year, the Scottish Government committed to introducing a Human Rights Bill that will incorporate – or embed – international human rights into Scots law. A raft of measures would be included, including ones that focus on the rights to health, housing, work, and food, and which target specific population groups like disabled people and women.

Covid-19 has exposed and magnified pre-existing injustices like poverty, poor housing, under-employment and inadequate social care.

Unless human rights form part of the law of the land, they cannot be fully realised. The Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE) therefore strongly supports this proposal, that echoes a call in our Holyrood 2021 manifesto, ‘Equally Valued’. We also joined Inclusion Scotland and over 120 others in a joint statement calling on the next Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to ensure full and direct incorporation of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. We are clear that delay is not an option; the time for action is now, and were therefore delighted when representatives of the five main political parties all endorsed this at our joint hustings with Disability Equality Scotland in March.

Our Equally Valued manifesto also sets out the ALLIANCE’s calls for an increased focus on equality and human rights across other areas, including mental health, social care, digital health and care, public sector budgeting, social security, and action on climate change.

Putting rights into law means that they can be both enjoyed and, importantly, are enforceable. It means that people’s rights and lives can be used to design policy, and steer how that is interpreted and put into practice on a daily basis. Any steps to impede the ambition to embed human rights into Scots law risks further entrenching inequality and injustice.

The key to post-pandemic recovery is to put people at the centre and base it on a solid foundation of human rights. It is vital that, regardless of who is elected to the Scottish Parliament, we are all equally valued. The ALLIANCE looks forward to working with our members, partners – and the new intake of MSPs – to achieve these goals.

Lucy Mulvagh, Director of Policy and Communications, Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE)

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