Scottish Election 2021: Where the parties stand on disability employment, rights and transition

Sanjeev Mann explores where Scotland’s leading political parties stand on disability issues.

How are Scotland's biggest parties pledging to tackle disability issues?

It’s been a long 12 months for Scots, but especially for those of us in Scotland’s disabled community and those who were shielding.

The road to recovery, after months of economic woe, has begun. How we kickstart the nation post-pandemic will be of utmost importance to voters at the Scottish election on Thursday.

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With many disabled issues coming to the forefront of the agenda, we spoke with each of the five main parties on the big talking points affecting disabled people in Scotland in 2021.

Covering topics like employment, human Rights, travel, and transition to adult services for disabled people. Here are the answers to four key questions.

(when responses were not given we went to party manifestos).

How can the Scottish Government help with cutting the employment gap between disabled people and non-disabled?

Jeremy Balfour, Scottish Conservative candidate in the Lothian Region:

“In politics, those with disabilities are underrepresented in the Scottish government, and even after the election numbers aren’t going to go up, in fact, they might even go down. I was the only physically disabled member of the Scottish parliament and there were 2 or 3 others with hidden disabilities. The fact that 20% of the population has a disability shows how unrepresented people are. Coming out of the pandemic jobs will be harder for people with disabilities so we will set up a government-owned company to give opportunities for training and employment to equip those with disabilities going into work. We need to show the benefit of having someone with a disability working for you.”

SNP spokesperson

“We will expand the specific duties that require a listed public authority to publish gender pay gap information to disability and ethnicity reporting and ensure these areas are included within their Equal Pay Statement. We will continue to call for the devolution of employment law to the Scottish Parliament. As part of supporting disabled people into work and closing the employment gap, we will increase specific support for disabled parents into work. We will nearly double the planned investment in the Parental Employability Support Fund to £15 million in the next two years to help improve employment chances and support parents into good, secure jobs. “

Pam Duncan, Labour Candidate for Glasgow Kelvin and spokesperson for social security:

“Inequality is the default sadly in our country and we need to fix that by design. We need to use every level of government we have to give support and it should always be contingent on good employers that means having a unionised workforce, paying the minimum wage, ending zero-hour contracts, and closing the gap in employment. We want to guarantee jobs so that means guaranteeing jobs to disabled people between 16 and 24 if they want it in the public sector for 6 months and that will cover training and placement as well so they can train for the future. Giving people the opportunity is essential and we want to extend that in the voluntary sector too.” Our Good Work plan includes radically improving the employment rate of disabled people, including better access to facilities, public services, work, training, and apprenticeships

Gillian Mackay, Greens Candidate for Central Scotland:

“We need to keep some of the adaptions and flexible working we have had during the pandemic. For too long disabled people, amongst others, have been told repeatedly that it is too expensive, too difficult, or not good for their company to allow people to work from home. Many were changed to home working overnight because of the pandemic and this should be retained for those who would benefit from it most. At this election, we need to elect disabled MSPs to get those voices and lived experience into the chamber. We need disabled people in every facet of public life and that should start with the Scottish Parliament leading by example. Mentoring and other schemes would be useful to give disabled people the confidence and opportunity to use their voices.”

Liberal Democrats spokesperson

“The employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people of working age is higher in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK. And the economic impact of Covid-19 is likely to be disproportionately high on disabled people in terms of redundancy and reduced hours. We will work with employers to encourage them to adopt flexible working arrangements which address the barriers to employment faced by disabled people. We will carry out pay audits of government, local government, and agencies to provide evidence on unfair disadvantage experienced by ethnic minority and disabled employees. We will make disabled people a priority group for access to the Young Person’s Guarantee. In terms of political representation, recent party President Sal Brinton - the first wheelchair-user to head a major UK political party - took forward a Leadership Programme which aims to increase the number of disabled, women, people from ethnic minorities and LGBT+ parliamentarians.”

How can Scot Gov Improve transitions for children going into an adult and prevent them from being left behind?

Jeremy Balfour, Scottish Conservative candidate in the Lothian Region:

“There's a private member’s bill put in by Joanne Lament, sadly ran out of time and didn’t come off. If I was to be re-elected, I would work with other MSPs from other parties to work on that. We need more legal authority to make sure local authorities and health boards are getting some rights for people leaving school or moving on from college. It’s a bill that’s ready to go and I think it will give much greater rights to parents and children going through the difficult process”

Gillian Mackay, Greens Candidate for Central Scotland:

“We will champion an education service that is inclusive for each disabled child and the disabled young person so that they receive appropriate care and support before, and during, the transition to adulthood”

SNP spokesperson

“We will introduce a National Transitions to Adulthood Strategy to ensure there is a joined-up approach to supporting our disabled young people and improve guidance to all those providing support, ensuring that no young person is left behind.”

Labour manifesto

“We will continue to promote the Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions to Adulthood) (Scotland) Bill, which would give a right to a Transitions Plan to every child or young person with an impairment or long-term health condition. We will continue to promote the Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions to Adulthood) (Scotland) Bill, which would give a right to a Transitions Plan to every child or young person with an impairment or long-term health condition”

Scottish Liberal Democrat Manifesto:

“Give every child or young person with a disability or long-term health condition the right to a transitions plan to help with their move from child to adult services.

With many train stations still not accessible, how can the Scot Government improve access to public transport for disabled people?

Jeremy Balfour, Scottish Conservative candidate in the Lothian Region:

“Im not sure I don’t know if that’s a policy that’s going to be coming in. If not, it should be because it’s clearly an important thing to do. Before we get to transport, we need to make sure access to things like train stations are accessible. I think it’s often the case that councils aren’t spending money on local pavements and roads. When and if you can get out it is important that we keep spending money on stations so when they are refurbished they can be made accessible and when its not there should be help there for people coming on trains and off them. I think having to book well ahead of time limits people choice and opportunity. With modern technology like apps and phones that should come down in time. We need to make sure disabled people aren’t looking for anything more than what the average person gets but do what the average person does.

Gillian Mackay , Greens Candidate for Central Scotland:

“Automatic ramps would make independent travel much easier and should be looked at now that ScotRail is being taken into public hands. Many of our train stations are far less accessible than they could be and I would support an accessibility review of stations as part of the nationalisation process.”

SNP Manifesto

“Our vision is that all disabled people can travel with the same freedom, choice, dignity and opportunity as other citizens. We will continue to implement the Transport Act that includes measures to improve accessibility of bus travel for all, and while rail accessibility is reserved to the UK Government, we remain committed to improving access at stations beyond the UK Government programme. To make it safer and easier for people to get around, by the end of the parliament, 10% of transport capital budget will be spent on walking, cycling and wheeling”

Labour Manifesto:

The legislation governing taxi and private hire services needs to keep pace with technological change and ensure a level playing field between operators. We believe there is a case to legislate for national standards to guarantee safety and accessibility.

What are your plans to incorporate the UN rights of persons with disabilities into Scots’ law?

Jeremy Balfour, Scottish Conservative candidate in the Lothian Region:

“You can implement things into law but if we don’t put it into action then it won’t make any difference to anyone’s lives. We need a cultural change, and, in my view, disability is probably the furthest behind anyone. We need to have a cultural change across government local authorities and business without that, things won’t change even with legislation.”

Gillian Mackay, Greens Candidate for Central Scotland:

“We support the incorporation of the UN rights of persons with disabilities into Scots Law. We recognise the case being made for a Commissioner or independent body to uphold these rights and will consult with disabled people on this proposal.”

Liberal Democrats Manifesto:

“As we put recovery first, we will put human rights first. We will bring international human rights standards into Scottish law wherever we can. We will ask representatives from different equality groups to help shape public services to learn from the mistakes”

Labour Manifesto:

“Disabled people face barriers, inequality, and poorer outcomes across all areas of life. Poverty, prejudice, and lack of understanding prevent them from accessing vital services and information... Scottish Labour would create a fund to support the development of Changing Places Toilets in public spaces and businesses across the country. We support establishing an Autism and Learning Disability Commissioner and will include the Principles of Inclusive Communication into all our strategies and services

SNP spokesperson

“We are committed to incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into Scots Law. Our goal is to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up for every child, including children with disabilities. That’s why we are determined to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - the global “gold standard” for children’s rights - to embed the rights of children, young people, and those with disabilities into law. It means their rights will be built into decision making at all times.”

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