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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 03 December 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Scottish Prison Service (Auditor General’s Report), Glenrothes (Living Wage Town Campaign), Veterans and the Armed Forces Community, Decision Time, Point of Order, Purple Light-up Campaign


Purple Light-up Campaign

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18901, in the name of Jeremy Balfour, on #PurpleLightUp, a global movement for change. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends the work of the Purple Light Up campaign, which celebrates the economic power of disabled people all over the world; notes that #PurpleLightUp aims to link the colour with disabled employee networks and resource groups and the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which takes place every 3 December; understands that the campaign is led by disabled employees and challenges organisations and businesses to consider what it would take to join up disability networks in order to build a movement that drives cultural change from the inside out and enables business leaders to learn from their own people and to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled people, and notes the calls encouraging disabled employees to shout out about their talents and for businesses, disabled organisations and governments to listen, act and innovate in order to improve opportunities for disabled people.


I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead this debate to highlight the purple light-up campaign, which celebrates the economic power of disabled people around the globe. I thank the members across all parties who supported my motion.

As members will be aware, today is the United Nations international day of persons with disabilities, which is always marked on 3 December. It is a chance for Scotland, the United Kingdom and the wider world to celebrate disabled talent and highlight the valuable contribution that the disabled community makes to our economy.

The colour purple is increasingly linked with disabled rights. In November, we had the launch of purple Tuesday, which is a campaign that is designed to focus on changing the customer experience of disabled people, and it has been a huge success. Large retailers and companies that offer tourist experiences, such as Sainsbury’s, Asda, The Body Shop, Edinburgh zoo and Glasgow’s St Enoch shopping centre, are among the many organisations that have pledged to commit to taking even just one action to improve the experience of their disabled customers.

That action can be something as simple as staff training, inclusive marketing or turning down the music to have quiet hours.

One such action that I have been championing, including over the course of this year, is increasing the availability of changing places toilets—facilities that are larger than standard disabled toilets, with additional equipment for more complex needs. I wrote to key businesses here in Lothian, and I was delighted to meet representatives of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the Gyle shopping centre, Dalkeith country park and the King’s theatre, which have all come on board and have committed to introducing changing places toilets into their current redevelopment plans.

That move will be further strengthened by the passing of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019—with regulations under the new act coming into force today. The provisions of my amendment, which will ensure that a changing places toilet is required in all planning applications for new retail facilities over 10,000m2 and other large buildings such as schools, motorway services and hospitals, will also come into force.

Purple Tuesday is not without its financial merit. I am sure that many members are aware of the huge untapped potential of the purple pound—the term that has been given to the potential spending power of the disabled community. It is estimated that the value of the purple pound to the economy of the United Kingdom could be as much as £249 billion, a figure that surely cannot be ignored.

Disabled customers are just part of the purple disabled movement. The purple light-up campaign is led and designed to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled employees in the workforce. It is directing the spotlight to the power of disabled employees, as well as customers, and to the economic and social benefits of retaining disabled employees.

I am the convener of the cross-party group on disability, which regularly discusses the benefits of recruiting disabled people and the barriers that many businesses perceive there to be in recruiting them. Those barriers include a lack of understanding and awareness among recruiters, concerns over the cost of reasonable adjustments that might need to be made and the potential loss of productivity due to health issues or absences from work. However, many of those barriers can be easily overcome.

The Royal Blind organisation, in its submission for this debate, highlighted the importance of the guaranteed interview scheme and of placing adverts in places where disabled people have the best chance of being made aware of job vacancies, including occupational therapy departments and job websites with good online accessibility, in addition to assistance from disability employment advisers in job centres. Furthermore, disabled people need to be encouraged to self-declare their disability without fear of stigma or of being overlooked for a position.

One key way of overcoming the reluctance to recruit disabled people is by the introduction and encouragement of disabled workplace employee networks or resource groups. We need to harness the power from within organisations. Such groups can be instrumental in ensuring that disabled employees are recruited, welcomed, empowered and willing to share their experiences and knowledge of how they have got on.

A good example is provided by Scottish Water, whose disability forum is one of the company’s seven employee-led belong networks, and has been instrumental in putting disability at the forefront of Scottish Water employee initiatives such as a wellbeing calendar and the hosting of a Scottish wellbeing conference on what it feels like to experience certain physical health conditions and dyslexia.

Such groups can help to drive cultural change and to stop employers worrying that recruiting disabled people means costs for making workplace adjustments and potential time off. Workplace disabled networks can come together across the country, facilitated by organisations such as PurpleSpace, whose founder, Kate Nash, provided the vision behind the purple light-up campaign. Companies that are signing up to the campaign are signalling that they are agreeing to put disability on their board agendas, they are showing a willingness to improve the lived experience of their disabled employees, and they are supporting the campaign to build disability confidence.

I recognise that both the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government have set good and challenging targets. I urge the Scottish Government, businesses and organisations to listen to their disabled workforce, to help overcome the systemic barriers obstructing their employment and economic empowerment, and to ensure that the Government meets its target to reduce the disability employment gap by at least half by 2038.

I commend the purple light-up campaign today—but not only today. I hope that all businesses, across the calendar year, will seek to be open to those with disabilities, to give them the confidence to join them and shop in them. All our lives will be enhanced by that.


I congratulate Jeremy Balfour on securing time for the debate. Today is, of course, the UN’s international day of persons with disabilities. It has been observed each year since its inception in 1992, and the theme for this year’s IDPD is:

“Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda.”

That is about the empowerment of people with disabilities, equitable, inclusive and sustainable development, and pledging that no one should be left behind.

The purple light-up campaign links with the UN’s IDPD to celebrate the economic power of disabled people. The day is about changing culture and valuing the contribution of disabled people to the workplace. I look forward to seeing many of our workplaces lit up in purple today.

Let me highlight a project that breaks down the barriers and challenges the notions of what disabled people can achieve and of the type of jobs that disabled people—especially those with learning disabilities—can do. Breaking barriers, delivered by Enable Scotland, the University of Strathclyde business school, Scottish Power plc and Marriott hotels, is the first initiative of its kind. Young people with learning disabilities attend one of the leading business schools in the UK and get access to a world-class education. They achieve accredited qualifications and graduate alongside their peers, while gaining real work experience and, in many cases, employment.

We know that about 40 per cent of school leavers go on to university; however, only 4 per cent of young people with learning disabilities do so. That is a significant gap.

Only 7 per cent of people with learning disabilities are in employment. Employers are missing out on a talented, skilled and loyal workforce because they cannot see beyond that person’s disability. Employers involved in the breaking barriers project get to work with young people on work experience, and many have taken those people on permanently.

This is what Joe Kingdom, one of the project’s graduates, had to say:

“I got involved with Breaking Barriers through ENABLE Works. I’d had some negative experiences with Higher Education in the past and had decided that it just wasn’t for me. Breaking Barriers changed all of that, and through it, I’ve achieved things that I didn’t think were possible. Getting an accredited qualification and work experience has done so much for my self-esteem. It’s been amazing. It just goes to show that with small differences being made, every experience can be made inclusive for everyone.”

During his work placement at Scottish Power, Joe worked in several different departments and got to discover his passion for renewables. Scottish Power recognised the enthusiasm that he showed in completing his work placement and offered him a long-term position.

This is a ground-breaking partnership that delivers real results and will help to close the disability employment gap. I congratulate all who are involved because it is giving genuine opportunities to young people and enabling them to reach their economic potential while benefiting our economy—what’s not to like? The second cohort graduated in November, and I understand that the project will run again in 2020.

As the convener of the cross-party group on learning disability, I know that that is the kind of thing that makes a difference. On this day, I commend it to the chamber and to the minister.


I congratulate Jeremy Balfour on securing the debate and thank him for doing so. I, like others, welcome the opportunity to celebrate the important work of the purple light-up campaign to highlight the talent of disabled workers and what they bring to the workplace. I will make an obvious point: “disabled workers” might be a single label, but it hides a vast array of disabilities and talents and we should not imagine that one label covers it.

I will talk about one of my late pals, who died three years ago. Brian Rattray was a pal, a colleague and a great political campaigner. When I joined the Bank of Scotland as a trainee programmer in 1969, Brian was already in situ, working as a programmer. He had been totally blind since an accident he had at about the age of 12.

I was ensconced in a room in a rather cold building in George Street, Edinburgh, learning how to do computer programming. A guy came in—he was always silent—went across the room, sat down at a card punch machine, punched away at his programmes, took them out and just walked out. Being the new boots, in my first week at the bank, I was ignored by him totally and I said nothing to him. It was very cold and I moved a little closer to me the two-bar electric fire that the bank, in its largesse, had provided for heating the room. The next time Brian came in, he walked straight through it and it was only then, after three or four days, that I realised that he was blind. So adapted was he to his environment that I was unaware of it. He was not ignoring me because he was rude, and he definitely did not ignore me after he tripped over my fire: I got a volley of abuse that would have done justice to anybody in the shipyards of the Clyde or any of our industrial factories.

Brian never let his disability get in the way of the job he was doing. He refused for years to have a guide dog; he walked along the street and you could not keep up with how fast he walked, waving his white stick. On one memorable occasion, he walked over—that is the only way I can describe it—the chief executive of the Bank of Scotland, who was coming the other way and did not dodge out of the way quick enough. Brian just walked over him, swore at him and continued on. That was how Brian treated life.

His blindness, however, meant something very important that made him extremely valuable to his colleagues. Because it was difficult for him to read all the technical manuals relating to our job, he had basically memorised them all. Whenever you needed the answer to a question that was technical and deep, you simply asked Brian. He was genuinely the brains and the memory of the outfit, and I will treasure the memory of him forever.

We had John, who was also blind. He had very slight sight and his hobby, amazingly enough, was flying gliders. He never got to fly solo, but he loved looping the loop in a glider, under supervision. There is no limit to what people can do, except the limits that we impose upon them: that is an important point.

Jeremy Balfour referred to the Scottish Government’s work. We have seen a decrease in disability unemployment, which is good, but we are only just on target for halving disability unemployment by 2038. I would certainly like to see us move a little faster. The Government itself is recruiting more disabled staff. We identified in 2018 that 16 per cent of recruits identified as disabled; two years earlier it was eight per cent. So the Government is doing its bit.

Others must also help to create a society where disabled people generally have equal access to education, as Jackie Baillie said, because of the contribution that they can make. Programmes such as Fair Start Scotland are making a big difference. The improved participation of young people in modern apprenticeship programmes is removing some of the barriers that disabled people experience. The motion calls on,

“businesses, disabled organisations and governments to listen, act and innovate”.

I see evidence that they are, but we have a lot more still to do.


I, too, thank Jeremy Balfour for bringing this members’ business debate to the chamber and raising an issue that is close to the hearts of many of the members here.

As others have highlighted, today is also the UN-led international day of persons with disabilities, which the purple light-up campaign supports. It is a relatively new movement, having been established just two years ago. However, since that time, it has become an important part of the grass-roots movement to recognise the potential of people with disabilities around the UK and internationally.

In Scotland, fewer than half of disabled people are in employment. For non-disabled people, the equivalent figure is well over 80 per cent. As a result of that substantial disability employment gap, there remains a significant and very real underrepresentation of workers with a disability in the labour market. However, as the purple light-up campaign highlights, disabled people have a huge amount to offer our economy.

As a society, we have a duty to help people with disabilities work towards their aspirations and realise their ambitions. We perhaps forget that, for many, employment and economic participation represent independence. However, for many, that it is not the assumed outcome.

Work must begin early. We should look not only at people currently moving into work, but at the next generation of children with disabilities. They deserve to be able to look forward with confidence, just as their friends and peers can.

Across the UK, we have seen major employers in the public and private sectors engage with the purple light-up campaign. We have also seen action from Government. The Scottish Government has set out its ambition to halve the disability employment gap, a welcome commitment that will be judged on its results.

At a UK level, we have seen schemes such as the Department for Work and Pensions’ disability confident campaign raising the profile of disability employment, which is vital.

In some businesses, the barriers to adaptation for disabled employees can seem far greater than they are. My Highlands and Islands region has a proportionately larger share of small employers. Those are businesses that often have had little or no experience of taking on staff with disabilities. For many, taking on staff can itself be a big step. In those cases, awareness raising can be enormously beneficial. Sometimes, the most important thing to have is simply somewhere to turn to for advice, guidance and to be pointed in the right direction.

We will all have experience from across our regions and constituencies of some of the excellent examples that exist of disabled people being supported into work. In my constituency, I have visited Highland Blindcraft, which has been providing meaningful, high-quality supported employment to people with sight problems and disabilities since 1881. The Orkney Blide Trust is a charity supporting mental health that also helps with work. It is also supported in delivering Scottish mental health first aid, a programme supported by NHS Health Scotland that teaches how to approach people who may be suffering a crisis in mental health.

Today, this Parliament should give its clear and full support to disabled people in the workplace. Collectively, we should be addressing disabled people directly and acknowledging how much we value their contribution, recognise the struggles that they may sometimes face and affirm that we will do what we can to make sure that every individual has an equal chance to thrive and succeed.

However, we are only one part of that. It is also important that disabled people are involved in promoting employment and that they lend their voice to employers and to other disabled people looking to enter work, to retrain or simply to advance in their chosen career, because, simply put, there are no better advocates for disabled people than disabled people themselves. I wish the purple light-up campaign every success.


I am really pleased to have the opportunity to respond to today’s debate. I welcome the purple light-up campaign. I obviously got the memo to dress in purple, and it is my honour to do so. I hope that Jeremy Balfour will be wearing a purple tie tomorrow.

It is particularly apt to hold the debate today because, as members have mentioned, it is the international day of persons with disabilities. As we have heard, too many disabled people face too many barriers, especially in accessing fair work. In a tight labour market, and as things change, that means that we are not accessing a talented labour pool or doing what we can to make businesses and organisations much more diverse.

Any employer will tell us that a more diverse workforce is a more productive workforce. I will give an update on the range of actions that the Scottish Government is taking to address that issue. We have launched our new devolved employability programme, fair start Scotland. More than 2,500 disabled people have been in contact with the service since its inception. It is great that people are accessing that support.

We have increased modern apprenticeship funding for young disabled people, and we are implementing a health and work support pilot in Dundee and Fife to help disabled people and those with a health condition to stay in work or to move quickly back into work if their health worsens and they have to take some time off.

In December 2018, we published an employment action plan, which sets out how we and our partners—who will be a key element and who I will come back to on many occasions—intend to halve the disability employment gap by 2038. That is a big challenge—we are in no doubt about that. If it was easy, we would have fixed it already. It will take a significant change in the way that many people perceive disabled people and their contribution to the labour market, but it is possible, especially when we all work together to create that change. We have heard some great examples of that today.

Stewart Stevenson talked about ability and talent. When I talk to a person with a disability, they sometimes say, “People keep talking about my disability, not my ability.” We need to change that narrative. Stewart Stevenson also spoke about the need for understanding and the need to enable workplaces, communities and the environment to be much more inclusive.

We continue to work with, and are grateful for the guidance and expertise of, our disabled people’s organisations, the third sector, trade unions, local authorities and employers. I will come back to some of those in a second. We know that businesses and disabled people need the right support at the right time to fully realise that opportunity. Jeremy Balfour talked about how important workplace networks can be and how they can be a driver of change by supporting the employer and, more important, the employee.

Our plan includes commitments to support employers to improve employment practices and provide inclusive workplaces. Scottish Water is a great example of that work. The plan also includes commitments to help disabled people to access the right support at an early stage, so that they can enter fair work, and to support all disabled young people who want to work.

We are also tackling the cross-cutting issues that many disabled people face, including child poverty, by investing £6 million of additional resource to support disabled parents into work and to support their families while they are at work. We will also support employers by investing up to £1 million in the formation of a public social partnership to bring together employers, disabled people’s organisations, the third sector and Government to co-produce a range of pilot schemes to ensure that employers are provided with the support and expertise that they need to attract, recruit and retain talented disabled workers. Jackie Baillie, Jamie Halcro Johnston and others talked about how important participation is. That is why that piece of work is being done in a way that involves co-production on the part of all the groups that I mentioned. On that issue, I pay tribute to the Glasgow Disability Alliance for its work on participatory budgeting. It has gone right into the nuts and bolts of the issue, asking Government and local government, “Where are you spending your money, and what difference does it make for me?”

Jamie Halcro Johnston also talked about the duty to help people to fulfil their ambition to work. I hope that the work that I have outlined reassures him about our action and our ambition in that regard.

To improve employers’ ability to hire disabled people, we will invest £500,000 to develop a pilot scheme that is aimed at delivering similar support to the access to work scheme to those who are undertaking work experience or work trials, so that they can continue into employment afterwards. Jackie Baillie spoke loudly and clearly about changing the culture, and I would hope that that type of input would change the culture in those workplaces.

The other big piece of work that we have done recently concerns the workplace equality fund, which supported 22 projects with a total of £750,000 funding in 2018-19. Several projects focused on addressing labour market inequalities for disabled people such as a project that involved Enable Scotland—members will be glad to hear me mention that body—working with businesses to identify barriers to the recruitment and retention of disabled people and people from a minority ethnic background. I hope that that reassures Jeremy Balfour about our collaborative approach to work in this area.

Jamie Halcro Johnston talked about some of the other organisations that we should work with. I hope that he will be pleased to hear that the Royal National Institute of Blind People has collaborated with the Marriott Group to produce a toolkit to support employees who have or are experiencing sight loss. That is an example of a third sector disabled people’s organisation working with the private sector, and it feeds back into the points that Stewart Stevenson made about his former colleagues.

It was great to hear about the breaking barriers project. When I was a young employment development officer in a social work department, we were always keen to see such work. Jackie Baillie talked about the small differences that are being made to Joe Kingdom’s opportunities in the workplace, which are brilliant to see. She will know that the keys to life strategy focuses on such work in the context of people who have learning disabilities.

My colleague the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills recently launched the new, expanded workplace equality fund, which will fund 23 projects. Stewart Stevenson mentioned that we need to do more, faster, and I hope that the fund will be a trigger in that regard. In one of the projects, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People will work with private business to improve confidence in recruiting, supporting and retaining deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in the workplace.

Jeremy Balfour talked about retention. The Scottish Government has just published “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: Scottish Government Recruitment and Retention Plan for Disabled People 2019”. We should lead by example, should we not? We are doing some of that in Government and in the civil service. This Government’s key purpose and commitment is to ensure that we create a more successful Scotland, providing opportunities for everyone who lives here, focusing on people’s wellbeing and fostering sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

While I am talking about matters inclusive—or #incLOOsive—I pay tribute to PAMIS and its great work on changing places toilets. I was able to work with PAMIS to fund pamiloo 2. Science centres, the national galleries and other organisations, including the one that Jeremy Balfour visited, are working alongside PAMIS to create opportunities—because if a place offers the right support, disabled people can go there and spend their money, thereby boosting the economy—[Interruption.]

Excuse me, minister. I can give you some extra time. I just want to ask the two people at the back of the chamber to go somewhere else to talk.

I have almost finished, Presiding Officer.

We have heard a lot from members about the things that we are doing and the things that we need to do. The key is partnership working that takes account of people’s lived experience. That is why we are so grateful to our disabled people’s organisations and all the other organisations that work with us.

If we can achieve our goal, Scotland will be a world leader on diversity, inclusion and human rights. More important, disabled people will have the support that they need to be able to live their lives independently. Realising that ambition requires an all-Scotland approach, which is why participation and partnership are so important. I welcome the support of members of all parties. We have worked endlessly on this stuff, but members should always keep the Government on its toes, to ensure that we do more, faster, in partnership with the people who matter—that is, disabled people and their organisations in Scotland.

Meeting closed at 17:32.