Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Thursday, December 8, 2016
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Doon Valley Boxing Club, Disability Delivery Plan, Intergovernmental Relations, Business Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Doon Valley Boxing Club
- Disability Delivery Plan
- Intergovernmental Relations
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
Disability Delivery Plan
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02948, in the name of Jeane Freeman, entitled “Creating a Fairer Scotland: Our Disability Delivery Plan”.
Members might wish to note that British Sign Language interpreters are present in the chamber today, and will be signing this afternoon’s business.
I am pleased to open the debate on “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: Our Delivery Plan to 2021 for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, which was published last week to coincide with the UN international day of persons with disabilities. More than a million disabled people contribute their talent, energy, and ability to Scotland’s communities and add richness to our lives.
This year, 2016, is the 20th anniversary of the United Kingdom Disability Discrimination Act 1995, but too many disabled people still have their ambitions, dreams and promise denied them because of the barriers that are in their way. Inaccessible communication, negative attitudes, low expectations, discrimination and inequality affect the lives and chances of disabled people every single day. Their disability is not the problem; the barriers that we allow to stand in their way are the problem. Removal of those barriers and the achievement of equality of opportunity is the transformational change that this Government wants for Scotland.
Two months ago, we published the “Fairer Scotland Action Plan”, which sets out specific actions that we need to take in order to move Scotland towards where we need it to be, which is a fairer and more economically and socially just country. The “Fairer Scotland Action Plan” is there to work for everyone in Scotland, but not everyone starts from the same place. We need to tackle the particular barriers that disabled people face. Those barriers—barriers to living the independent life that every disabled person has a right to—are either put in their way or are allowed to stay unchallenged by those of us who are not disabled. Our homes, transport, workplaces, public services and local environments all too often operate, or are designed, in ways that exclude disabled people. We have to change that with a genuine transformational change in our attitude and our approach.
Disabled people and the organisations that represent them have worked incredibly hard with us to identify the critical actions that we need to take to secure that change across Government, across the public and third sectors, and in the private sector. Many of those who have contributed directly to the plan are here today in the gallery. I thank them all, and the hundreds more who took part in the consultation events, for their continuing help and support for us.
The plan outlines five clear long-term ambitions: support services that meet disabled people’s needs, decent incomes and fairer working lives, places that are accessible to everyone, protected rights, and active participation. Those are all achievable, but we know that the scale and extent of the change that is necessary for the experience and life chances of disabled people will take concerted action during this parliamentary session and beyond. Working with disabled people, we have set out the 93 specific concrete actions that need to be taken in order to make significant progress towards those ambitions by 2021.
We are not starting from scratch: we have made significant advances in important areas of policy and service delivery, including self-directed support, supported employment, strengthening building standards and our new accessible travel framework. I hope that the action that we have taken in response to the United Kingdom Government’s policy decisions—including welfare cuts—and the principles of respect and dignity that we will build into the establishment of our own social security system in Scotland, show that we are serious about protecting disabled people’s human rights.
As members will know, this Saturday, 10 December, is human rights day, and this year the UN has drawn particular attention to the need to stand up for the rights of disabled people. The call to action that is the theme for human rights day 2016 challenges us all to do more. The Scottish Government will take on that challenge, and our delivery plan commits us to increasing the pace and depth of change.
I will draw out some of the key commitments that we have made. We will work with disabled people, local authorities and providers to reform adult social care so that we shift its focus on to achievement of independent living. Next year, we will begin work to consult on the future of long-term care capacity. On self-directed support, we know that there is more to do to make the information about it and the rights that it brings more widely available and understood, and to improve access and reinforce the focus on the individual’s choice and control. With the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and disabled people, we will improve portability between local authorities of care and support packages.
We will promote independent advocacy so that people know about, and can claim, their rights in mental health. Through our new national framework for families with disabled children and the commitment that we have made to improve the transitions from education to training and employment, we will work together on the best possible provision and support so that all our young people can grow up to meet their full potential.
We are supportive of the introduction of a framework for families who are affected by disability, but the title suggests that it might not include young people who are affected by disability and who are on a supervision order or are looked after. Can the minister confirm that those people will be included in the new framework or strategy?
Yes, I can. The strategy will be worked through with disabled people and people who care for children with disabilities. It will include all such children, because we are talking about the rights of all disabled people and young people.
We know that we need to align learning and skills better, so we will look to promote the Project Search model; to introduce our own voluntary and person-led pre-employment support programme; to deliver on the specific improvement targets to make our modern apprenticeship programmes genuinely accessible to disabled people, including through part-time and flexible engagement; and, with immediate effect, to provide young disabled people with the highest level of modern apprenticeship funding until the age of 30.
To help employers to see the employee’s potential rather than the barrier, we will actively promote the Department for Work and Pensions access to work scheme and, from next year, providers of our devolved employment services will be required to ensure that disabled people are supported to claim and receive the access to work money so that they can sustain employment.
Disabled people’s organisations tell us that barriers to getting the first opportunity to work can affect future work and life chances. I hope that the new work experience pilot for young disabled people, together with the 120-place internship programme across the public and third sectors, show our intention to make a real difference in removing the barriers to employment that many young disabled people face. We need all that in place in order to transform the employment opportunities that are open to disabled people. We want at least to halve the employment gap between disabled people and the rest of the working-age population in Scotland. We will consult on setting a clear target for employment levels in the public sector, in which only just under 12 per cent of employees are disabled.
Disabled people have as much creativity and enterprise as anyone else and as many good ideas and business brains. Therefore, we will stimulate more pre-start activity for social enterprise and provide support for the set-up of micro and social enterprises.
In transport, the new accessible travel framework, which was developed with disabled people and transport providers, includes a number of specific steps to make public transport more accessible and, importantly, to involve disabled people in key areas of decision making.
Disabled people should be supported—in or out of work. Our approach to social security is to build a rights-based system that is founded on dignity, fairness and respect. That is in stark contrast to the UK Government, whose welfare so-called reforms and abolition of the independent living fund have already been internationally judged as delivering “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights.
Housing has been described as the cornerstone of independent living, but many houses are not designed or built to be homes for disabled people. Working with disabled people, local authorities and other housing providers, we will ensure that each local authority sets within its local housing strategy a realistic target for the delivery of wheelchair-accessible housing across all tenures. We will take a number of other steps to improve housing for disabled people, including carrying out research into creating tailor-made wheelchair-accessible mass-market homes, and producing new guidance on timescales for installing adaptations.
Stigma and discrimination continue to blight the lives of disabled people, so we agree with those who have called for a publicity campaign to tackle negative attitudes. I am pleased to confirm that we will do that next year as part of the one Scotland campaign. One measure of how far we have come will be when disabled people are fairly represented in public life among our leaders and our elected politicians. Earlier this year, I announced the access to elected office fund to provide support for the 2017 local government elections. I am pleased that we will maintain that fund for those who want to stand in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections.
Our shared goal is nothing less than for all disabled people to have choice, control, dignity and freedom to live the life they choose, with the support that they need to do so. The reason is simple: equal rights for disabled people are about human rights, and none of us can enjoy our human rights when even one of us does not. I commend “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” to the Parliament and ask members throughout the chamber to join us in committing Scotland’s Parliament to giving full effect to the rights of all disabled people. As Dr Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland, has said:
“the challenge now is to transform ambitions into actions that will, in turn, transform disabled people’s lives and the country we live in. There is much to be done and no time to lose.”
That the Parliament recognises the importance of the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities in drawing attention to the human rights of disabled people around the world; acknowledges that there is a need for a transformational change to achieve disability equality and therefore welcomes the publication of the report, A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: Our Delivery Plan to 2021 for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; expresses its thanks to all the individuals and organisations who responded and contributed to the consultation on this plan and agrees that the Scottish Government should continue to engage with disabled people as the experts in the continued actions that need to be taken to ensure that rights and independent living can be enjoyed and that as a society the long-term ambitions set out in the plan can be achieved; agrees that the Scottish Government should be firmly committed to implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in full so that disabled people in Scotland can realise all of their human rights, and condemns the actions and welfare cuts of the UK Government, which have led the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to conclude that there have been “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights.14:42
I welcome the fact that this debate is being signed, which is something that I hope we can do much more often in Parliament, and indeed in public life in Scotland more generally.
There is much that I agree with in the minister’s speech; in fact, I agree with nearly all of it, although there were one or two unnecessary sentences. I particularly and strongly agree with what she said about skills, work and transport.
I start on that theme of where we agree. We welcome the Scottish Government’s fairer Scotland action plan for disabled people and we agree, by and large, with the Scottish Government’s stated ambitions for it. Like the Scottish Government, we want support services that promote independent living, meet needs and enable a life of choices, opportunities and participation. Like the Scottish Government, we want decent incomes and fairer working lives for disabled people, as we do for able-bodied people. Like the Scottish Government, we want fully accessible workplaces, homes and transport. Like the Scottish Government, we want society to do everything that it can to ensure that people with disabilities have full and active participation in all aspects of public, and indeed commercial, life.
We Conservatives are proud of our long record of supporting and promoting people with disability. The minister mentioned the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which was passed under a Conservative Government. William Hague described the passage of that legislation as his greatest political achievement—and who are we to disagree? As our amendment states, the act has long been regarded internationally as a model of effective anti-discrimination legislation. With its requirements for “reasonable adjustments” to be made by employers and service providers, it went considerably further than non-discrimination legislation passed under Labour Governments in the 1960s and 1970s—invaluable and essential though that was in its day.
Will the member give way?
I am happy to give way to Sandra White.
I thank the member and hope that we can continue with the agreement that he has mentioned. Does he agree with the UN report that mentions that the UK Government’s treatment of disabled people has led to “grave and systematic violations” of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?
No, I do not, and I shall explain why in a few moments.
It is not a matter of law making alone, but also of public expenditure. Under the Conservatives, the United Kingdom spends £6 billion more per year on benefits for people with disabilities and health conditions than it did when we came to power in 2010. That is to say, under the Conservatives, the United Kingdom spends more on disabled people and people with health conditions than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average—more than France, more than Germany and more than the United States.
I also point out that the UK has a record of leading internationally when it comes to supporting the rights of disabled people elsewhere in the world. Last year, for example, the Department for International Development collaborated with the International Disability Alliance to create the global action on disability group, with the aim of stimulating further action on disability inclusion.
Unfortunately, little of that work was recognised in the recent report by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Sandra White referred to and which is also mentioned in the Government’s motion. It is an exceptionally poor-quality report, riddled with errors and misunderstanding. [Laughter.] I do not know why members seem to think that that is humorous. The report is mistaken about the public sector equality duty, it is wrong about legal aid, it misunderstands hate crimes and it gets the Care Act 2014 badly wrong. That is all set out in detail in the UK Government’s comprehensive response to the UN committee’s report. The situation is unfortunate, given that the United Kingdom strongly supported the development of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and was among the first countries to sign it in 2007. As our amendment today makes plain, the convention is aligned with the UK approach to disability equality, which focuses on inclusion and mainstreaming.
That brings me to work and employability. I particularly welcome and—if I may do so without doing either of our political careers damage—endorse that section of the minister’s speech. It is one of the great success stories of modern Britain—modern Conservative Britain—that we now have more jobs in the British economy than ever before. We have more women in employment than ever before, and we have more people with disabilities in employment than ever before—nearly 500,000 more since 2013 and 360,000 more than just two years ago. Despite that progress, however, employment rates among disabled people continue to reveal what the UK Government recently called:
“one of the most significant inequalities in the UK today: less than half (48%) of disabled people are in employment compared to 80% of the non disabled population.”
Will the member take an intervention?
No, I want to develop the point.
The figures are even worse in Scotland, where the disability employment rate is a shocking 42 per cent. That is an injustice, and it is why the Conservatives have a longstanding commitment to halve the disability employment gap. Yesterday at question time, the Minister for Social Security said that that is now Scottish Government policy too, and I welcome that—yet another Conservative policy copied and borrowed by the SNP; it does not do everything wrong.
Will Mr Tomkins acknowledge what I also said yesterday about the Westminster cross-party working group’s assessment of how long it would take the UK Government to meet that target of halving the employment gap based on its current actions? The group said that that would take till 2065, so does he agree that the group’s proposed actions are actions that the UK Government should address with some speed?
I agree that it is taking too long to close the disability employment gap, and that is why our amendment welcomes not only the Scottish Government’s fairer Scotland action plan but the UK Government’s recent green paper on work, health and disability, which addresses a number of those points head on. Article 27 of the aforementioned UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the importance of work and the dignity, fairness and respect that come with it. The UK’s commitment to that is underscored by the new approach set out in the green paper, which addresses a number of the concerns that the minister has raised, illustrated, for example, by the establishment of the new work and health unit.
Like the Scottish Government’s action plan, the green paper was developed in collaboration with disabled people. Among its features are the following: significant support for people with disabilities or health conditions in the form of a new personal support package; reform of the current schemes that support employers; and plans to increase access to psychological therapies and to more than double the number of employment advisers in those services. There is increased funding for those with mental health conditions, and there is increased assistance for small employers through the provision of in-work support and advice on disability issues and workplace adaptations, as well as additional funding.
Those are measures that we need to see across the whole of the UK, including in Scotland. The UK and Scottish Governments can—and, in my view, should—work in harmony together to provide and facilitate that support.
For those reasons, I move amendment S5M-02948.2, to leave out from “report” to end and insert:
“UK Government report, Work, Health and Disability Green Paper: Improving Lives, and the Scottish Government report, A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: Our Delivery Plan to 2021 for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; expresses its thanks to all the individuals and organisations who contributed to the development of these publications and agrees that the Scottish and UK governments should continue to engage with disabled people as the experts in the continued actions that need to be taken to ensure that rights and independent living can be enjoyed and that as a society the long-term ambitions set out in the two publications can be achieved; recognises that the UK was among the first countries to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and that the convention is aligned with the UK approach to disability equality, which focuses on inclusion and mainstreaming; understands that the UK Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has been recognised internationally as a model of effective anti-discrimination legislation, and supports the UK’s aspiration that disabled people get the same opportunities as other people to find work, while ensuring that people who cannot work because of a disability or health condition receive the support that they need.”14:50
I thank the Presiding Officer and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body for their good offices in again making the Parliament an exemplar in the provision of access to people who are deaf and who use British Sign Language. In that respect, we are carrying on the good work from the previous parliamentary session.
We support the publication of “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” and the five key ambitions. We feel that they reflect some of the commitments to disabled people that we made during the election campaign, which included promises to enhance their ability and freedom to work or to set up a business; to enable them to get more involved in civic life; to ensure that they could access justice, in particular when they were victims of hate crime; and to make sure that public services—in particular, education, the national health service and transport—were truly accessible.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has just released a report that shows that although Scotland has the lowest rate of poverty in the UK, a massive 960,000 people still live below the poverty line. The report provides shocking detail on the poverty that disabled people face. In particular, 26 per cent of people in poverty in Scotland are disabled, which is the second-highest rate in the UK after the north-east of England. The foundation said that, across the UK,
“modern poverty is also increasingly linked with disability.”
As a result of the higher costs of being disabled, half of people in poverty are disabled or are living with a disabled person in their household.
The Learning Disability Alliance Scotland built on that assessment. It said that 39 per cent of people in poverty live in a household with at least one disabled person and that the costs that are associated with disability average at around £550 per month. A key thrust and ambition of the delivery plan is to provide decent incomes and fairer working lives, and we absolutely support that.
In November, it was announced that the Scottish Government would not take control of welfare powers, including those on disability benefits, until 2020. Those powers will give us the chance to restore dignity and respect to the heart of the social security system. During that time, the Tories will continue to make their savage cuts and the most vulnerable will continue to suffer.
In a letter to the Social Security Committee, the cabinet secretary said:
“For so long as executive competence remains reserved, the UK Government has the ability to administer the existing benefits and to adjust the detail of their delivery.”
At the moment, the UK Government is moving disabled people from disability living allowance to personal independence payments, which, according to research by Sheffield Hallam University, will lead to Scots losing—collectively—£190 million a year. In last month’s social security debate, we revealed that up to 150,000 disabled people in Scotland who are currently on DLA remain at risk of going through the new PIP assessment process. As long as those powers stay with Westminster, we cannot stop PIP reassessments taking place and we cannot meet the calls of the stop PIP campaign.
During last month’s debate, Alison Johnstone called on the Scottish Government to ask the UK Government to halt reassessments in Scotland, and we support that call to protect up to 150,000 DLA recipients. Ministers should use their next meeting with the joint ministerial working group or their meetings with Department for Work and Pensions ministers to make that call.
Until those powers are devolved and changes are made, the Tories will continue to make their cuts and the most vulnerable will continue to suffer. Rightly, expectation is building again that we will make different choices to alleviate that suffering, given the challenges that disabled people are still facing and that campaigners are fighting against every day. Those campaigners will watch closely how we approach the new powers. There is an expectation of a system for not just those directly affected by the powers but the country as a whole that does not tie disabled people up in red tape; that preserves people’s independence and provides not just a safety net to allow them to survive but a springboard to playing a full part in society; and that moves us beyond the idea of social protection. That is a social security system that many people in Scotland just cannot wait for.
I said earlier that one of our priorities for disabled people was to ensure that they can access justice, in particular when they are a victim of hate crime. One in five people in Scotland lives with a disability, but they also often live with prejudice and discrimination. The disability delivery plan is a good start and one that we support, but the Scottish Government must now deliver on its promises and build on them to cut through the discrimination that people with a disability face. Since 2010, hate crime towards disabled people has trebled: it is up by 319 per cent in six years. The legislation for the newer categories of hate crime came into force on 24 March 2010. That legislation was promoted by Patrick Harvie and gained cross-party support when it was introduced.
Disability Alliance Scotland is calling for the Scottish Government to fund a significant national campaign to raise awareness of disability and reduce stigma and discrimination that includes education, training and the necessary evaluation. Last month, the Parliament debated a motion on preventing and eradicating hate crime and prejudice and agreed an amendment to it that proposed
“a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime across Scotland”.
That provides a good opportunity to commit to action today. I welcome what the minister said in her opening speech about committing to the necessary awareness-raising campaign to tackle stigma and discrimination.
We support the Government’s ambitions for a fairer Scotland for disabled people and simply ask members to recognise that the new Scottish social security system will be a vital tool to ensure that disabled people have independence, decent incomes and fairer working lives.
I move amendment S5M-02948.1, to insert at end:
“; recognises that the new Scottish social security system will be a vital tool to ensure that disabled people have independence, decent incomes and fairer working lives; further recognises that two fifths of people in poverty live in a household with at least one disabled person and that the costs associated with a disability can average £550 per month, and agrees that new disability benefits powers will give the Parliament and the Scottish Government both the substantial responsibility and opportunity to support Scotland’s disabled people by halting and reversing the worst effects of Tory social security cuts, under a system that is based on the principles of dignity and respect.”
We move to open speeches of around six minutes, please. We have some time in hand, so I can give extra time for interventions or for anyone who has something very special that has to be said. I call George Adam.14:58
Thank you, Presiding Officer. It is nice to know that I have a wee bit of time today.
I welcome this debate and I am glad to take part in it. Many members will be aware that my wife, Stacey, has multiple sclerosis and therefore has mobility issues. Because of that and her day-to-day struggle with access, I am aware of some of the issues that disabled people face in Scotland. The minister, Jeane Freeman, is correct that the problem is not disability but the barriers that we put up for disabled people.
During my time as a councillor in Renfrewshire Council I became a member, and remain one to this day, of the Renfrewshire access panel. Through that, I became involved in a national access campaign and became the patron of the Scottish disability equality forum, which is the national forum for all Scotland’s access forums.
If someone does not have a disability or a family member who has a disability, they are completely unaware of the many challenges and barriers that disabled people face. I remember attending a disability awareness day in Paisley town hall many years ago at which we were asked to use either a wheelchair or a specially designed pair of glasses that would give us an example of how it would be if we had a visual impairment. We progressed from the town hall across to Renfrewshire House to see how difficult it was to access services in the council building.
I was stuck with the visual impairment glasses, and I was shocked by how difficult it was to access the building. I had difficulty with depth perception on the stairs and there was a situation when I stood at one of the information monitors. I do not think that the council ever expected a visually impaired person to be 6 foot 3, because I banged my head on a monitor that I could not see.
I and the then provost, Celia Lawson, did that exercise and we found that everything was changed. In 21st century Scotland, however, those problems should not exist. We should ensure that disabled people can get access to all buildings where that is possible. That is why I welcome the Scottish Government’s disability delivery plan and applaud its ambitions. The first ambition is to
“Support services that promote independent living, meet needs and work together to enable a life of choices, opportunities and participation.”
That gives us a start in making sure that people get involved in public life in general. The second and third ambitions are:
“Decent incomes and fairer working lives. Making sure disabled people can enjoy full participation with an adequate income to participate in learning.”
“Places that are accessible to everyone.”
We really need to work on that one. It involves ensuring that
“Housing and transport and the wider environment are fully accessible to enable disabled people to participate as full and equal citizens.”
The fourth and fifth ambitions are:
“Protected rights. The rights of disabled people are fully protected.”
“Active participation. Disabled people can participate as active citizens in all aspects of ... life in Scotland”.
All those ambitions can and should make a difference to the lives of disabled people in Scotland.
Susan McGinley, disabled person and member of Glasgow Disability Alliance’s drivers for change network, said:
“The Scottish Government Disability Plan is much needed and the particular commitments around both establishing a strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness and funding opportunities for disabled people to volunteer are backed by thousands ... I firmly believe that with the right support and connections, we can make our important contributions.”
That is what this debate is all about—the right support so that Scots with a disability can contribute to life in Scotland.
That support can come in various guises, and one example is access to transport. Stacey and I have been at the other end of various public transport journeys from hell. We need to ensure that people with disabilities get the support that they need to be able to access employment, volunteering and social activities. That is why I particularly welcome the Government’s commitment to its accessible travel framework. That is the subject of action 66, which states that the Government will
“Develop our Accessible Travel Hub”
“Scope requirements for training with disabled people and transport providers/operators”.
You have no idea, Presiding Officer, how simple it would be to do that, and how much easier it would make things for people and families who live with disability.
The plan also states that the Government will
“Specify and agree common standards of service for disabled people if their public transport journeys are disrupted”
“Produce information about bus layout designs which improve accessibility”.
That is another important action. For people who have a mobility issue, it is almost like the Normandy D-day landings when they want to organise a night out. Individuals have to be confident that the facilities are there for them. Morven Brooks, the chief executive officer of the Scottish Disability Equality Forum, stated:
“Accessible transport is vital to disabled people being able to enjoy their rights as citizens of a fair society.”
This is all a step in the right direction. The important point to make is that the delivery plan is based on a social model of disability. Unlike in the medical model, where an individual is understood to be disabled by their impairment, the social model views disability as the relationship between the individual and society. The delivery plan recognises the human rights of disabled people and it must underpin all our activities across the whole range of policy and legislation that affects disabled people. The Law Society of Scotland praises the Scottish Government for taking a groundbreaking approach.
Incidentally, it is telling that the Conservative amendment seeks to drop from the motion everything that mentions human rights.
The focal point of this debate is the main differences between the ideologies of the Scottish Government and the UK Government. While, here in Scotland, we try to find a better way forward for our people, the Government at Westminster continues to pursue its failed austerity agenda and does not care whose lives it destroys in the process. For me, this is about standing up for disabled people in Scotland and protecting them from the dark cloud of Westminster and its attack on the disabled.15:04
I apologise to you, Presiding Officer, and to the minister for being late. It was nothing to do with disability—I just cannot read a watch.
I have met a number of disabled groups since I was elected to the Scottish Parliament in May. All the groups identified the same three priorities: removing the stigma associated with disability, preventing bullying and getting more people with disability into employment. I welcome the Government’s delivery plan, aimed at improving the employment of people with disabilities, particularly those who are young, especially as our record in Scotland is not particularly good. Since 2008, the proportion of Scottish working-age disabled people in employment has fallen from 49 to 42 per cent. Just 2 per cent of working-age disabled people in Scotland get support from access to work, which is proportionately much less than the rest of the UK. There are many reasons for that, one of which I suspect goes back to education.
This lunch time, along with other members, I attended a briefing on mainstreaming in schools. The clear message that came from that was that mainstreaming does not mean inclusion. If we are going to follow a policy of mainstreaming for most people with disability, we need to ensure that it includes everything that is part of the educational experience.
After one year, school leavers with impairment-related additional support needs are more than twice as likely to be unemployed or workless as those with no additional support needs. Although disabled people make up 11.6 per cent of all 16 to 24-year-olds, in 2015-16, only 3.9 per cent of modern apprenticeships went to disabled people. That needs to change—and quickly.
My experience of meeting individuals with a disability is that many of them want to work but cannot find employment. Studies show that work is generally good for health. As well as a financial reward, it gives us self-esteem, companionship and a sense of purpose. Further evidence suggests that participating in internship schemes significantly improves one’s future hope for employment. For example, 10 of the 12 disabled graduates who participated in the Scottish Parliament internship scheme run by Inclusion Scotland moved into employment or full-time academic research.
The findings of the report, “Equal? Still not, why not?”, published by Disability Agenda Scotland at the end of November, identified that most people with a disability still experience some form of stigma, prejudice, harassment and bullying in the workplace. The report brought together some case studies. The Capability Scotland focus group included an individual who said:
“I did a work placement and the first day the person I was sitting next to was asking me all sorts of questions, which was fine. The second day I went in I was on my own and they told me because the woman sitting next to me had called me a spastic and said she didn’t want to work with a spastic.”
She did not want to be close to someone like that. It is clear that in Scotland we have a long way to go in all areas.
It is clear that all parties have to support efforts to raise awareness of disability, reduce stigma and discrimination and improve equality. We need to look at why discrimination is taking place.
We also have to look at the type of jobs that disabled people are going into. Is there still a glass ceiling for certain jobs that are simply not open to people with disability? Are there certain jobs that people think that disabled people should go into, rather than having the choice from a whole spectrum? What kind of development do people have? I was talking to a lady at lunchtime who had been in the same job for 30 years—not because she wanted to stay there, but because she was scared to move on because there was no training for that.
Disability comes in many different forms and we need to make sure that there is appropriate training. Earlier this week, I was pleased to see that the Scottish Parliament held disability equality training to help MSPs’ researchers to better engage with disabled constituents.
The parties and the Government must do more. We are underrepresented in the parties. If my maths is right, 23 disabled people should have been elected to the chamber. Part of that is to do with the electorate and who people vote for, but are enough disabled people being given the opportunity to stand?
Scotland has a vibrant and vocal disability movement, and we should welcome that and encourage them as they seek to lobby us all.
I hope that the outcomes of the Scottish Government delivery plan are felt in Parliament and, more importantly, across the disabled community. It is good to hear nice words from politicians, but what makes the difference is a job, security and a purpose. I wish the plan well and hope that it can be achieved.15:10
I, too, thank the hundreds of people who responded to the fairer Scotland consultation. One of the most important lines in Jeane Freeman’s motion is the determination to
“continue to engage with disabled people as the experts in the continued actions that need to be taken to ensure that rights and independent living can be enjoyed”.
The fairer Scotland report defines disadvantage not in terms of an individual’s disability but in terms of the barriers created by society. I will quote in full from the report, which says:
“Unlike the medical model, where an individual is understood to be disabled by their impairment, the social model views disability as the relationship between the individual and society. In other words, it sees the barriers created by society, such as negative attitudes towards disabled people, and inaccessible buildings, transport and communication, as the cause of disadvantage and exclusion, rather than the impairment itself. The aim, then, is to remove the barriers that isolate, exclude and so disable the individual.”
As the minister said, disabilities are enormously varied. We are each unique and one policy for all is not the answer. I welcome the fairer Scotland report because its focus is on giving people the means and opportunities to live as independently as possible and to make their own choices.
In the spirit of celebrating uniqueness, if members will indulge me, I would like to talk about my uncle, who works in a café and as a gardener. He is St Johnstone Football Club’s biggest fan. He goes to the football almost every Saturday and to church almost every Sunday. Throughout my childhood, the happiest parties that I went to were with him and his friends. He recently celebrated his 50th birthday with a big karaoke night with friends and family, including Tory MSP Alexander Stewart, who knows him well. Sadly for both of us—I will say this very quietly—my uncle is a Labour supporter through and through and will not be persuaded to see the light.
Every Christmas, my uncle dresses up as Santa and bestows presents on all his nieces and nephews, which almost makes up for the fact that he has spent most of the year telling us that he is the boss and sitting in the front seat of the car. He has been an avid swimmer and horse rider in the past. He lives in Perth on his own in a house with a small garden. And he has Down’s syndrome.
My uncle’s life works well. He makes the choices—until his environment stops working. Recently, traffic works meant that the pelican crossing immediately outside his house was out of action, and life completely stopped, for the simple but transformational reason that he could not cross the road. Work, football, shopping and visiting friends all stopped. Independent living was gone, not because of who he is or what he can do but because of a simple matter of traffic works. Whose fault is that—his or ours?
We are all dependent in some way—some ways might be more obvious than others or some might be more freely admitted to than others—and we must see people and not disabilities, because each of us is unique. People make a community and that community is all the richer, happier and stronger for including people such as my uncle.
Real community is also the means of support for individuals, and the debate is about how our national community removes the barriers to independent living, opens up employment opportunities, improves accessibility to buildings and institutions—physical and virtual—and promotes active participation.
I will briefly mention two ideas from the fairer Scotland report that provide great examples of how to do just that. They are based on the belief that the hurdle to participation is caused not by the disability but by the challenges of our environment. The first is the access to elected office fund, which aims to improve representation in democratic institutions by meeting the additional costs that disabled people face when they stand for election—Jeremy Balfour commented on that. The second is the forthcoming strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness, which is to be published in 2017 and which promises to address the issues to do with forming and maintaining relationships with which many people struggle.
A few weeks ago, an older gentleman, who could not walk easily, cycled to my office straight from the jobcentre. He was in a genuine state of shock, because his income was being more than halved. His fears were about not his bank balance but what that money meant. It meant a warm home and transport so that he could get out of the house and spend time with others. It meant the difference between more independence and more dependence, between having choices and not having choices and between participating in society and not participating.
The burden is on us, as representatives of the national community that we call Scotland, to ensure that disabled people exercise choice, live independently and participate fully in society and to ensure that we do not put up barriers that cause disabled people to be excluded from doing any of those things.15:16
As the minister did, I thank everyone who was involved in the consultation and in the production of the fairer Scotland report, which we absolutely support, as Mark Griffin said.
There needs to be a level of honesty on the part of Tory members in the Parliament about the impact of welfare reforms on disabled people. I took Jeremy Balfour’s point about the need for more than warm words from politicians but, if politicians are to be taken seriously, we have to acknowledge the scale of the problem that is out there. Adam Tomkins does the Tories in Scotland no service by being in complete denial about the impact of welfare reforms on disabled people.
The Disability Agenda Scotland alliance said in its briefing for this debate that
“The changes to the social security system in recent years have undermined disabled people’s right to live independently and their right to family life in contravention of article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities ... and Article 8 of the United Nations Convention on Human Rights ... This affects disabled people, carers and others around them and the wider society and economy.”
Does the member accept the fact that £6 billion a year more is being spent on disability benefits in the United Kingdom than was the case when the Labour Party was last in government?
We just heard Kate Forbes talk about the constituent who came to her office. A constituent of mine spoke to me just last week, along with his mother. He has been suffering from mental health issues and is getting support from NHS Fife, but his benefits have been pulled and he has been told that he is fit for work. There is case after case like that.
Adam Tomkins needs to look at the evidence from organisations that support and advocate on behalf of disabled people. He and Ruth Davidson’s Tories in Scotland can play around with questions about who did what when in power, but the fact is that right now the welfare reforms that a Tory Government is putting in place are having a detrimental impact on disabled people and others in Scotland.
Mark Griffin referred to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report that came out yesterday and it is worth repeating what he said. He said that 26 per cent of people who are in poverty in Scotland are disabled, which is the second highest such rate in the UK. As the JRF has said,
“modern poverty is also increasingly linked with disability.”
If, for whatever reason, someone who is working hard in life, paying their taxes and getting on becomes ill and cannot continue to work, we can be sure of one thing—that the current Tory Government will penalise them, make them feel much worse and, in some cases, drive them towards starvation.
I turn to the Scottish Government and the issues that Inclusion Scotland raises in its briefing. It talks about social care being
“part of the essential infrastructure that is required to enable disabled people to participate in family, community and economic life”,
but it goes on to talk about
“Cuts to social care packages, whether as a result of ... eligibility criteria or reductions in”
services directly to people. That is a key point. It is great to have strategies such as “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People”, and I commend everyone who has been involved in that, but what we need in Scotland is joined-up government.
As a result of massive cuts to local government funding, health and social care packages are being cut. We are beginning to see that, because one of the first things that happen when a budget is under pressure is that the eligibility criteria are changed. Suddenly, people who were previously eligible for the care packages no longer are. That is one of the techniques that are used, and it has an impact on people.
In the area where I live, it is not just the numbers of people who are trying to get out of hospital—that number stands at around 90—who are waiting for a care package, in a situation that is described as bed blocking. There are massive waiting lists of people who need assessments to get to the point of receiving a care package. When they have been assessed, there is another waiting list.
Our health and social care services are not being properly funded. Community care was never about care on the cheap. I do not doubt the Government’s commitment to trying to deliver such services, but it needs to recognise that we need joined-up care and joined-up government. Unless we fund health and social care, there will be a massive gap, and disabled people will pay a higher price because of how that goes.
The Inclusion Scotland briefing also talks about care charges, which have been one of the answers to the cuts in local authority budgets in many parts of Scotland. In Fife Council, under the minister’s party, home care charges were put up from £4 per week to £11 an hour. When the next administration came in—it included me—we abolished the charges, but that is not true across Scotland.
I, too, am concerned about care charges, which is why I spoke in the members’ business debate on them earlier this week. Mr Rowley mentioned Fife Council. Is he aware that his colleagues who run Dumfries and Galloway Council have this year moved the threshold for care charges down to £132 per week, even though they were given additional funding by the Scottish Government? That is under a Labour administration.
I cannot take another speech. Mr Rowley, you are in your last minute—you need to finish in the next 30 seconds.
I will do so. Having been proud to serve as a Labour councillor over many years, I just say to Joan McAlpine that the fact is that this year local councils across Scotland are facing a £500 million cut in their budgets. They will not be able to deal with that without looking right across services, and social care will take its share of that.
If we are serious about delivering the policy, we need to fund local services properly. My message is that Labour stands alongside the SNP Government and we want to work with it on the issue, but we need to fund local services.15:25
I welcome the publication of “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: Our Delivery Plan to 2021 for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”—to give it its full title. The plan will bring positive change for disabled people. The Scottish Government’s goal—that every disabled person has choice, control, dignity and freedom—reflects the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which I raised with Adam Tomkins during his speech.
The plan marks the culmination of two and a half years of intensive engagement with disabled people and their organisations to establish their views and priorities. The work, which was led by the independent living in Scotland project, which is now part of Inclusion Scotland, worked with disabled people’s organisations, and through them engaged directly with disabled people to identify their priorities for action when it comes to making their human rights a reality.
We did that—the Scottish Government engaged with people, listened to them and took forward their thoughts in the consultation process, which culminated in “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People”. Unlike the UK Tory Government, the SNP Government is taking action to enhance disabled people’s lives. The Tories are violating their rights by punishing them with disproportionate welfare cuts. The Scottish Government’s ambitions around the five themes and 93 actions will support the ultimate aim of disabled people gaining their human rights.
I will make a couple of points that have been raised by other members. The Tories talk about sticking up for disabled people, but I would like to ask them how cutting £30 a week from ESA will help disabled people to get into work. With PIP replacing DLA—
Will Sandra White take an intervention on that point?
I will—if the member will first let me finish my point, please. How will taking £30 a week from disabled people who are moving from DLA to PIP help them?
Would Sandra White care to reflect on there being 360,000 disabled people in work in the United Kingdom who were not in work two years ago? Is that an achievement of the Conservative Government or is it something else that Sandra White would like to condemn?
Mr Tomkins used the word “condemn”. He should speak to disabled people, because then he will see exactly who is being condemned by the UK Government. I will go on to explain my point. [Interruption.] Maybe Adam Tomkins does not get such people at his constituency office, but I certainly do. I see young people and older people who cannot work and have long-term disabilities being moved from DLA to PIP and getting a £30 cut.
Adam Tomkins mentioned Damian Green’s green paper. Let us remind ourselves that paragraph 114 of the consultation paper says that people who are long-term disabled and who are in a certain category can be mandatorily assessed for work. Let us think about that. That is not something that Mr Tomkins tends to talk about, is it? It is about time that disabled people—and everyone else in the country—knew exactly what the Tories are up to in this and the UK Parliaments.
Does Sandra White agree that cutting three of the four jobcentres in the east end of Glasgow is not going to help disabled people?
John Mason is absolutely correct. How will those people afford transport? We have raised that issue before. That is the—supposedly—caring Tory UK Government, for you, and members here are doing its work for it by promoting those cuts.
I want to talk about a performance in Parliament that I sponsored last week. A number of people were there—11 MSPs from all parties, including Annie Wells, and the minister turned up. It was absolutely fantastic. The performances by Purple Poncho Players were outstanding; they were hard-hitting, but truthful. The Purple Poncho Players, from Glasgow Disability Alliance, was born out of an experience at a march and rally in 2011. The GDA listened to disabled people’s experiences and it got together and created the Purple Poncho Players. As I said, the performance was hard-hitting. As I speak, I am reminding myself what happened.
The scenarios that were enacted were not figments of the players’ imagination—I am sure that Annie Wells can reflect on that because she was there and we spoke about it later on—but were real-life experiences. They were a damning indictment of how the UK Government has systematically treated disabled people. The performances were absolutely fantastic and were about the individual experiences of those people in the players. They were asked whether they could walk: some cannot walk properly even with walking sticks. They were asked how they got to the assessment. If they answered that they had got the bus they were told that they were all right and could work, and that was it—they were taken off DLA.
How far does Sandra White think someone should be able to walk before they do not get the benefit? Where would she set the limit? What line would she draw?
Perhaps Jeremy Balfour should have been there to see the performance. I know that a number of Conservatives were there. The assessment should not ask people how far they can walk.
One of the performances was about people with mental health problems who may feel all right one day but not the next, but because they felt all right on the day of the assessment, they were taken off DLA. There is another example of the caring Tories.
I whole-heartedly support the approach of the Scottish Government of involving disabled people and disability organisations in promoting and planning the strategy and listening to them. The big problem with the Tories is that they listen to nobody. We need to listen to the disabled people who go through this day in and day out. The Tories should look at the number of people who have been forced back to work—I do not like to talk about people who have died, so I will not raise that, although I can send the Tories figures on that. Thousands, not hundreds, of people have died since they were taken off DLA and told that they were fit to work. The Tories should get out in the real world and stop pontificating from their seats.15:31
I very much welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and I broadly welcome the Government's “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” plan, which lays out an ambitious approach to achieving disability equality.
In the short time that I have, I would like to address some of the very positive recommendations that will help disabled people to achieve economic security through employment and the benefits system, and I will highlight how some might be taken further.
With non-disabled people being almost twice as likely as disabled people to be in work, and given that that figure has barely changed in more than a decade, the Government’s aim to halve the disability employment gap is welcome and could not be more urgently needed.
As a supporter of the one in five campaign, which seeks to promote the involvement in public life of the 20 per cent of Scots who experience a disability or health condition, I very much welcome the pledge to support new job opportunities for disabled people in politics and in the third and public sectors. So many of the actions that are listed in the plan will come to fruition only when disabled people are properly represented at all levels of policy making, so that is a positive step. I ask ministers to consider whether 120 posts over four years will be sufficient or whether we can be more ambitious. Perhaps the debate will serve to encourage interest.
Having stood on a manifesto pledge to increase opportunities for disabled people to access modern apprenticeships, I was really pleased to see action 36, to widen access to modern apprenticeships for disabled people, and action 37, to pay them
“the highest level of Modern Apprenticeship funding ... until the age of 30.”
Helping people with disabilities and health challenges to stay in work once they have found it is important too, so I am glad that that is recognised by the plan.
As much as work can be a positive force in our lives, too many Scots work in jobs that do not promote healthy working practices or an appropriate work-life balance, so we are faced with a significantly increasing number of people who leave work for health reasons—in particular, because of poor mental health. Integration of health, disability and employment support to ensure that people can stay in work is laudable, and I look forward to working with the Government to achieve it when the full devolved employability schemes begin to operate in 2018.
I ask Conservative colleagues who focus on keeping people in work to speak to their UK colleagues about cuts to the Motability scheme, which have had a devastating impact on many people’s ability to attend work.
However, I question whether the disability plan takes into account the broader economic transformation that Scotland needs for all Scots—disabled and non-disabled. We have an economy in which too many jobs are low-paid, with highly variable hours, and which do not protect people from poverty. Disabled people are more likely than non-disabled people to work in those jobs. Halving the disability employment gap will not be the achievement that we all wish it to be if it is achieved by encouraging disabled people into work that does not offer the economic security that we want work to offer. The quality of all jobs must improve.
After years of slow but steady progress, the move towards equality for disabled people has gone into reverse in the past few years, in particular as a result of disability benefit cuts. Those cuts have—as the motion notes—been criticised by the United Nations as “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights.
I accept that the Scottish Government recognises the terrible impact of the cuts and has made some positive first moves in response to them. Stepping in to save the independent living fund when it was axed by the UK Government has helped more than 2,000 people, and the proposed expansion will help many more. Implementing the Green manifesto pledge for a national healthier and wealthier children project could, based on evidence from the original scheme in Glasgow, help disabled parents and children to access disability living allowance and personal independence payments. However, I am concerned that the disability plan does not demonstrate a clear strategy for responding to those cuts and to the many more cuts that are still to come. By 2020, for example, 70,000 Scots will lose up to £900 a year through cuts to employment and support allowance, and another 70,000 will lose as much as £2,600 each in the move from DLA to PIP.
I would welcome the Scottish Government’s taking a clear position on whether it is willing to use fully the new devolved benefits and tax powers to mitigate the impacts of welfare cuts on disabled people. A fairer disability benefits system, which I have no doubt the Scottish Government seriously wishes to establish, must recognise that some users of the system will have lost thousands of pounds, which will have had negative impacts on their health and wellbeing and on the likelihood of their accessing employment. If the system does not do that, the Scottish Government will be tacitly accepting the cuts.
After years of cuts that have eroded the human rights of disabled people, “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” puts those rights at the heart of the strategy to create a more inclusive society. The plan to achieve that is appropriately ambitious, but the Scottish Government must recognise the weight of expectation among disabled people because of that ambition, and it must recognise the dreadful extent to which some disabled people have suffered in recent years as a result of Westminster’s welfare cuts. They will be looking for bold and radical change. If the Scottish Government is willing to pursue the plan that it has laid out to the radical extent that is needed to achieve equality for disabled people, it can be assured of Scottish Green Party support.15:38
Although I take many opportunities to offer the Scottish Government robust criticism and honest scrutiny, I believe that to try to score points in this debate would be to do a disservice to the tens of thousands of children, men, women and families who look to us as legislators to work across the chamber to bring about a better quality of life and greater inclusion for people who are affected by disability in our society.
In that spirit, I take this opportunity to thank the Government for this debate and for its excellent motion; for its work in the previous session of Parliament to reverse the iniquitous DLA takeaway, which involved suspension of DLA payments to families whose children went into hospital for 84 days or more; for its work to support carers through the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016; and for its nascent moves to define Scotland’s new social security system, which is gathering deserved cross-party support. I also welcome the publication of “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People”, and its five recommendations, which the Liberal Democrats are proud to support actively.
I will use my time today to offer some reflections on every stage of life’s journey for families, children and adults who are affected by disability in our society. That process begins with diagnosis. Many physical disabilities are self-evident or clearly apparent at birth, but many others may take months, years and sometimes even decades to identify.
I have raised a couple of times the case of Islay McKenzie, the schoolgirl in my constituency for whom it took nearly a year to get a diagnosis that she is on the autistic spectrum. Yesterday, it was my great pleasure to finally meet Islay in Parliament at the meeting of the cross-party group on children and young people. She is not alone. Last week, I met three families who are at various stages in the diagnostic journey and are struggling and waiting for support and a definitive answer as to what they can expect from the state. Last year, Enable Scotland published evidence that it can take up to three years to obtain a diagnosis. Not even getting to the starting line means that families and children are deprived of access to support.
One would think that once support is being given, the various sectors of society in whose gift it is to offer statutory support would helicopter up a suite of options and packages of help, but it is sometimes not that easy, and some health boards are better than others. We all know families who, stunned and devastated by a diagnosis and wondering what life might hold for them, have been left in the wind, and only by chance have stumbled upon state support. I know one family who attended an appointment for treatment two and a half years after their daughter was diagnosed with a complex condition. Only after a chance encounter with a family who had a child with the same condition did they realise that they were entitled to any form of support. We as a country are doing such families a profound disservice if they are unaware of the support that could be available to them.
Even after diagnosis, families can face a brick wall regarding availability if they are in rural locations. Depending on their living circumstances, many may find it difficult to access respite care, or struggle to obtain the care package that they deserve, if they have to travel great distances to access support.
All those things can be captured in what I hope will be a profound movement towards realising a strategy for families who are affected by disability, which has been a long time coming. In 2007, a consequential of nearly £40 million came north as a result of the UK strategy, “Aiming high for disabled children”. However, because of the presumption against ring fencing, that money did not make it to disabled children in Scotland but went on local authority expenditure. I am grateful that, nearly 10 years later, we are on the verge of the strategy and I hope that it will encompass diagnosis, provision, transitions into adult services and, most important, inclusion, which includes inclusion in work and learning.
I am grateful for the minister’s confirmation that the strategy will not be restricted to families but will cover children who are looked after or who are on supervision orders and who do not fit the normal definition of family support.
In the previous session, we passed the laudable Social Care (Self-directed Support) Scotland Act 2013. My party supported that and we still do. It is a very liberal and empowering agenda to give people and families choice over the care that is directed for them. However, the 2013 act has faced challenges. We still see some local authorities not applying its provisions in the way that Parliament intended and families being unaware that they have four choices available to them. Indeed, in some areas where provision is patchy, the families to whom the 2013 act’s provisions were extended do not have the choice that we would have expected or hoped for.
We have heard a lot about access to employment in the debate. It remains one of the abiding challenges to Parliament and society that disabled people still face so many hurdles before they enter the workplace. In 2011, a major metropolitan local authority in this country published an outcome in its single outcome agreement that said that it wanted 200 16 and 17-year-olds who had a disability to be in the workplace a year later. When, a year later, it reported on that, it had achieved only 11. Such is the crushing gap between rhetoric and reality in this agenda. We cannot rest on our laurels; we must work harder together.
On end-of-life provision and families who are affected by life-limiting conditions, we want to see parity between child and adult hospice care and, as the Scottish Government takes over administration of the DS1500 form, we want to ensure that there is no arbitrary cut-off as to when patients with terminal conditions can access disability benefits.
Our disabled citizens are our friends, neighbours, family members and colleagues. They are part of the rich diversity that makes Scotland great. They have so much to offer, so we must work together in Parliament to make sure that there is nothing in their way to stop them doing so.15:44
I welcome and commend the Scottish Government’s delivery plan for creating a fairer Scotland for disabled people. I believe that it provides a comprehensive blueprint for the work that has to be undertaken over the next five years to remove the barriers that can often exclude disabled people from living as independently as possible. The plan contains many commendable points, and I particularly welcome the undertakings that are set out in the section on decent incomes and fairer working lives.
Although the right to work is as important to people with a disability as it is to people who are not disabled, only about half of those of working age are in work compared with 80 per cent of non-disabled people of working age. There are still too many barriers to employment for people with a disability, and I am pleased to see that there will be targets to increase the number of people with a disability who are employed in public sector workplaces.
Moreover, alongside a work experience scheme to help young disabled people to adjust when they find work, there will be employability programmes to help people into jobs and a social enterprise strategy to help disabled people to set up their own businesses. We must do all we can to remove the barriers that are in the path of those who can and who want to work.
But what of those who cannot work? How should we treat our fellow citizens who are unable to work, either for prolonged periods or not at all? The motion notes that the welfare cuts of the UK Government have led the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to conclude that there have been “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights. If we design our social security system to ensure that it supports rather than condemns, that will define the kind of society that we aspire to be.
I can give the chamber an example of the kind of social security system that we do not want. I was recently asked by a constituent and friend to accompany her to a PIP review meeting that she had been unexpectedly asked to attend in Glasgow. My constituent is a lady with a degenerative condition; she has multiple health problems, is on numerous medications, is under the care of several hospital consultants, receives physiotherapy and podiatry treatment and has regular contact with general practitioners. She is also awaiting surgery.
Although my constituent was not due for a PIP review until September 2017, she had received a text message asking her to call the DWP. She was asked questions about her illnesses and whether her conditions had deteriorated or improved. Following that telephone call, she was asked to attend a review. She is currently 12 months into a two-year award, but no reason was given for why she was being reviewed early.
We arrived at the office 25 minutes early, as my constituent was very worried that she would be sanctioned if she was late. Her appointment was at 1 pm, but by 1.15 she had still not been called. The receptionist’s manner in response to my polite inquiry about the delay was brisk, cold and verging on hostile, and it became very apparent that I should not have made it. I was informed that the reviewer would be reading my constituent’s notes and that that could take some time, depending on the complexity of the condition. That raises the question: if notes need to be read prior to appointments, why not schedule appointments for later? If those who are called for review spent less time waiting in reception, some of the anxiety that they experience might be alleviated.
At 1.20, we were collected at reception by the reviewer. There was little explanation of the process, and the reviewer had no idea why my constituent had been called in early. Her attitude was definitely, “Prove to me that you’re unfit.” However, as the interview progressed, and the complexity of the disability that my constituent lives with became more apparent, the reviewer’s attitude changed dramatically. She became more empathetic in her questioning and her body language and tone of voice changed.
I was quite taken aback by such a discernible change. Given that my constituent’s conditions are well documented and given that the reports of the consultants and healthcare professionals are held by the DWP and had apparently just been read by the reviewer, why were those comprehensive notes and assessments evidently not believed? Why did my constituent have to demonstrate her disability? Why did she have to disclose very personal and intimate details about her conditions to a stranger when the medical evidence had already been submitted to the DWP? Does the DWP think that healthcare professionals lie or exaggerate in their reports and letters? Does it not trust their clinical judgement?
Throughout the interview, the reviewer typed information into a form on the computer, but my constituent had no way of checking whether the information being recorded was accurate. She was not shown what was being recorded and it was not read back to her for verification. We must remember that that information decides whether she continues to receive her benefit or not, and it can be the difference between her having some quality of life or merely existing. Mistakes in recording information can be made, information can be misheard or misunderstood, and the wrong box can be inadvertently ticked. Her experience would not occur in any other situation—if, for example, I was to make a statement to the police, I would be able to check and sign that the information had been recorded accurately.
My constituent is a very forthright and assertive lady, but she was cowed and disempowered by that process. She felt unable to speak up for herself as the balance of power was definitely against her. Her fear was that, by questioning or challenging anything during the review, she would be treated less favourably, and she cannot afford to lose her PIP payments.
When I fed back to her my experience and concerns after the review, she became tearful. She was so relieved that I had witnessed what she had and that her perception of what had happened was validated. It was of more concern that she informed me that the review had been much better than the last one, which she had attended alone. At that review, she had felt that the reviewer was openly hostile and treated her with a complete lack of respect.
It was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have had for quite some time. We in Scotland can do so much better than that. Whether ensuring that people can enjoy fairer working lives or—where working is not an option—providing fair and appropriate support to enable them to live as independently as possible, we must ensure that dignity, respect and inclusion are at the heart of what we deliver through the plan. By continuing to engage with disabled people, we can better understand the challenges and barriers that they continue to face. The Government’s plan for creating a fairer Scotland for disabled people seeks to tear down those barriers and to deliver a society where every citizen is valued and where their rights are fully recognised.
Mr Briggs, you will be the penultimate speaker in the open debate. I say that in hope.15:51
I am pleased to take part in today’s debate. We can all agree with the Scottish Government’s key aim of ensuring that disabled people have equality with and the same rights as non-disabled people. The challenge for the Government and for us as elected representatives is to remove the practical barriers that can often be in place for disabled people, and to allow them to have the same opportunities to realise their potential as other citizens in Scotland. I also agree with the minister that, as the Scottish Government takes forward its delivery plan, the direct involvement of disabled people is essential. Their views and input must be sought every step of the way.
Accessibility is, rightly, a key theme in the delivery plan and the accessibility of transport for disabled people has been an issue that I have been campaigning and working on with Lothian constituents since my election—especially in relation to access to Edinburgh Waverley station. I commend the Edinburgh access panel for the efforts that it has made in campaigning to improve the current inadequate pick-up and drop-off arrangements at Waverley station. For the two years since taxis were banned from the station, disabled people in Edinburgh have felt that, in effect, they have been made second-class citizens when it comes to access to Waverley station. That is unacceptable and must be addressed at the earliest opportunity. I believe that operators might have broken disability discrimination legislation in that regard and I hope that, in responding, the minister will tell us whether the Scottish Government will agree to look into that.
I recently had a members’ business debate on the issue and I look forward to meeting constituents and the transport minister, Humza Yousaf, at the station in the new year. From the headlines that I have read this week, he might also be using Waverley station more often in the near future. I will continue to do all that I can to support constituents to achieve a more accessible station for blind and disabled people.
Reducing barriers to employment is critically important, which has been mentioned by members including my Lothian region colleague, Jeremy Balfour, from whom we heard a first-class speech. Hopefully, the plan will work to smash any glass ceiling that disabled people might face in accessing employment in Scotland today. Disabled people have so much to offer if employers are able to make the reasonable adjustments that are required to allow them to join the workforce.
We have to address the fact that the disability employment rate in Scotland is lower than that in the rest of the UK, although I welcome the comments that the minister made on apprenticeships and business start-up schemes.
Good work is already being done in my region by a number of local and national third sector organisations, including the all in Edinburgh service and Remploy. Their efforts are to be commended and there are some real success stories as a result of support being provided to help disabled people to find employment and to give them continued guidance and assistance while in employment.
More widely, I pay tribute to the many voluntary organisations in my region that work with and on behalf of disabled people. Their work is immensely important to people. The volunteers who help those organisations do so much to improve people’s quality of life and are to be commended.
Kate Forbes is not in the chamber at the moment, but she made a very good contribution. I hope that the delivery plan will also look at access to sport for disabled people, both to watch it and to take part in it.
My colleague Adam Tomkins talked about mental health and, as my party’s spokesman on that issue, I back up the comments that he made. Next week, Scottish Conservatives will publish a new mental health policy statement with a broad range of detailed policy proposals that can help people with mental health challenges and inform the Scottish Government’s forthcoming mental health strategy. It is important that the Government’s disability delivery plan aims to support those whose lives are affected by mental health disabilities as well as those who have physical challenges.
It is disappointing that the Scottish Government’s motion, which after all is about its own delivery plan, includes the now obligatory attack on the UK Government. I suggest to the Government that it might be better if it focused on the areas where it has direct responsibility and could make a difference to people’s lives. If SNP ministers are trying to build consensus on the issue in Parliament, they seem to be going about it in the wrong way.
Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned palliative care. I am pleased that Scottish Conservative pressure on that issue has meant that the Scottish Government has agreed to deliver parity between children and adults on palliative care.
Earlier this week, I met a number of young constituents with severe physical disabilities who have to pay for their social care and who want the Scottish Government to consider how it can better support them. On Tuesday evening, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport agreed to my request to widen the feasibility study into extending free social care to dementia sufferers under 65 so that it includes consideration of those under 65 who have terminal illnesses. Young disabled people who have life-limiting health conditions rather than terminal conditions would also like to have a debate about how they could benefit. I hope that we can have those discussions as the Government looks to improve care packages and set up its independent living fund.
I again welcome today’s debate and look forward to the Government delivering the practical improvements that disabled people want. I support the amendment in the name of my colleague Adam Tomkins.15:57
I am delighted to support the motion. There are 1 million people with disabilities living in Scotland, and the delivery plan recognises that the human rights of disabled people should underpin all our activity across a range of policy and legislation. I endorse the points that Alex Rowley and others made about the UK benefits changes under the Conservative Government. We should not avoid pointing out the problems that those have caused for disabled people. Welfare reforms touch on our direct experience as MSPs. If those on the Tory benches do not recognise that, that is perhaps because people whose disability benefits have been cut altogether do not go to their Tory MSP as a first port of call.
Tory members could perhaps learn a little by turning to a blog that is run by one of my constituents, Mark Frankland, who operates the First Base Agency food bank in Dumfries. His blog tells the story of a man who he called Donald—that is not his real name—who came to First Base looking for a food parcel because he had received an 86-day benefit sanction. Donald has learning difficulties. He asked for a non-cooking parcel because he had no money to pay his electricity bill and therefore could not cook. He had no heat and light in the middle of winter. Mark Frankland was so worried about Donald that he started a crowdfunder to pay his £160 electricity bill. Within a few hours, Mark had raised much more than £160, and the fund has reached £6,000 at the last count. Donald will have his electricity bill paid and Mark says that the extra money will help other Donalds. Sadly, there are too many other Donalds.
In the previous session of Parliament, the Welfare Reform Committee, in producing a report on sanctions, took considerable evidence on sanctions against disabled people. I sat on that committee and we went on to take evidence on the shape of the future social security system, which will have a huge effect on people receiving disability benefits. To address Mark Griffin’s point, shortly after the Smith commission, the minister at the time, Alex Neil, asked for PIP not to be rolled out in Scotland. The committee questioned the Secretary of State for Scotland and asked for PIP not to be rolled out because such benefits were being devolved to the Scottish Parliament. However, he refused point-blank to consider that, as the UK Government is doing now.
Another, perhaps more controversial point was raised with the committee by disability groups when we were talking about designing the new social security system. Those groups were absolutely opposed to the devolution of that new system to local authorities, which is what some politicians wanted. I remember vividly that the groups said that it would equate to the parish system—the old parochial system—that preceded the welfare state. They warmly welcomed the Scottish Government’s decision to set up a national system, which is what the minister is doing. It is excellent that she is taking the time to consult carefully the people who will be using the system, so that she gets it right.
The reason why those disability groups were so opposed to local authorities having control of the new social security system was because of their current experience with local authorities in the provision of services. They had had too many negative experiences to trust councils to protect them. I am sure that there are lots of good examples of councils that are doing things right. However, having dealt with constituents with disabilities and listened to those groups, I believe that there is a problem at local authority level with the way in which some disability services are delivered.
Alex Rowley raised the issue of charges. I cannot see how those charges are compatible with human rights. Alex Rowley said that it is a financial issue. As he knows, these cuts are coming from the UK Government, and local authorities are receiving the same level of cuts as the Scottish Government is receiving from London. However, I do not think that this is just a financial issue, because that does not explain why charges for home care vary across local authorities and, as Mr Rowley said, from administration to administration.
On the cuts from Westminster, the fact is that, as well as having social security powers in this Parliament, we have other powers. Does Joan McAlpine agree that many people are asking what this Parliament—despite the failed austerity Tories here—will do? Should we use our powers to invest in those services?
As I mentioned to Mr Rowley’s colleague Colin Smyth—who is on Dumfries and Galloway Council, which has hiked up the charges the most in Scotland—during the debate on social care charging this week, there are choices within local authorities about the way they do things. For example, councils are creating a whole new layer of bureaucracy called ward support workers, who are not front-line staff and who are there to support councillors.
To get back to the point, in some cases the charges start at £132 per week, which is COSLA’s minimum threshold. Income tax is not levelled on people at £132 a week, so I do not see why disabled people should be penalised in that way. I am pleased that the Government is reviewing the charges and extending its review to look at people under 65 who suffer from dementia. I agree with Miles Briggs that it should not just be people with terminal illnesses; all disabled people should be included in the review, because many of the people affected are the most vulnerable people in society.
I want to reflect on the points that have been raised about self-directed support. The way some local authorities are administering it is very worrying. For example, in Dumfries and Galloway, people are given cards and their accounts are closely monitored by council officers. They are not allowed to build up too much of a balance, which means that they cannot plan ahead to pay for respite and family holidays, and I do not think that that was the intention of self-directed support when the Parliament passed the legislation. The idea was to empower people. I believe that the Scottish Parliament information centre is doing a bit of work on how self-directed support has been rolled out across local authorities, and I look forward to reading that when it comes out.
We move to the closing speeches. I call Pauline McNeill.16:05
One million people in Scotland live with a disability, and because of that they often also live with prejudice, discrimination and attitudes that serve to marginalise them, making their lives more difficult than they need to be. Of course, as we all agree, they are people first.
It is time to make serious and long-lasting inroads into changing attitudes and creating equality for that 1 million-plus group. I welcome the fact that we are discussing the delivery plan today. In my opinion, it is the area of equality in which the Parliament has most to do this session. As others have said, the UK welfare reforms that have affected hundreds and thousands of disabled people across Scotland were a serious setback for the agenda. Clare Haughey spoke eloquently about how disempowered her constituent felt as a result of her experience, and about the hostility and, ultimately, the lack of respect that she felt. Sadly, I do not think that that case sits on its own.
The UK has been a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since 2007, and there are many things for which the UK Government is to be commended in relation to disabled people. However, it is important to document in today’s debate some of the detail of the UN report, which was based on an 11-day inquiry in 2015 that found that austerity policies introduced into the welfare and social care system amounted to
“systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities.”
The report is also withering about the manner in which ministers conducted the reforms. According to the report, the worst aspect of the actions contained therein was that the UK Government pushed ahead even though it knew that that would have an adverse impact on disabled people.
Page 26 of the report states:
“The impact assessments conducted by the State party”—
that is, the UK Government—
“prior to the implementation of several measures of its welfare reform expressly foresaw an adverse impact on persons with disabilities ... The core elements of the rights to independent living and being included in the community, an adequate standard of living and social protection and their right to employment have been affected ... by policy changes”.
It further states those changes have resulted in the restriction of disabled people’s
“freedom of choice and control over their daily activities”.
If ministers make a 20 per cent cut to welfare expenditure, they must have some idea that that will have an impact on the group who rely on those benefits. The extra cost of disability has been ignored and income protection has been curtailed as a result of benefit cuts, while the expected goal of achieving decent and stable employment is far from being attained. The bedroom tax, cuts to personal independence payments and the notorious fit-for-work tests, which we have discussed in this Parliament many times, all create high levels of anxiety and stress. I believe that that is a huge backward step in the times that we live in, when we should have been able to build on the progress that had been made since the 2007 convention and the 1995 legislation on discrimination against people with disabilities.
In setting out our commitment to eradicating barriers to employment, Miles Briggs and others made important points about travel and public transport.
We know that we have a job to do to fundamentally change attitudes to people with disabilities, because the organisations that we have heard from and which regularly brief us are fighting too many rearguard actions, fighting for the most basic rights—the right to live and to be supported by the welfare state.
Many members, including Alex Cole-Hamilton, talked about the disability delivery plan’s focus on young people, and I believe that that is an extremely important area for the delivery plan. At the age of 16, disabled people have similar career aspirations to those of their wider peer group. It should make us optimistic that, at that stage in life, young people with disabilities have the same aspirations as other young people; sadly, by the time they reach 26—according to Disability Agenda Scotland—they are nearly four times more likely to be unemployed. As Jeane Freeman said, that is when dreams are dashed. The delivery plan must focus on ensuring that those young people’s dreams become a reality.
In 2005, the earnings of young disabled people in employment were 11 per cent lower than those of their non-disabled counterparts with the same level of educational qualifications, so there is undoubtedly a high level of discrimination against that group. As young disabled people reach their 20s, the impact of their frustrated ambition becomes clear in the effect that it has on their confidence, their subjective wellbeing and their belief in their ability to shape their own future.
According to Inclusion Scotland, the plan’s 93 actions remain to be clearly defined as regards who is to do what and when. It says that the plan is helpful, but that more remains to be done to turn it into something that can be implemented and monitored.
I know that we all agree that there is a much broader context for our work on disability discrimination. I whole-heartedly support the minister’s statement that she will ensure that the Government conducts a public information campaign. In many ways, that is the most important aspect of the plan. The fundamental purpose of a public information campaign is to tackle attitudes. If we do not change attitudes, we will not have done our job. People with disabilities face stigma and discrimination from ordinary members of the general public and from those at every level of public service, including—as we have read in our briefings—health professionals. We must do better at every level of service and in every aspect of public transport. We must take decisive and progressive action in the current session of Parliament, because we owe it to the 1 million-plus people who look to us for action.16:12
My voice might be a bit croaky, so I ask members to bear with me. I thank those who have spoken in the debate and I thank everyone who participated in the social security consultation. It is in the interests of the 1 million-plus disabled people who live in Scotland and contribute to Scottish life that we deliver on the issue and reach some consensus on how best to do so.
Although I recognise that slamming the Opposition is part and parcel of debate, the Scottish Government’s motion misses the point. It might be an inconvenience for those who want to take every opportunity to damn and berate Westminster, but such rhetoric is slowly becoming redundant. New welfare powers are coming to Scotland under the Scotland Act 2016. The Scottish Parliament will have full control over the benefits that are associated with the extra costs of living with a disability and it will have the ability to top up any reserved benefit, including employment and support allowance, when it deems that necessary. Maybe the motion should at least acknowledge that.
Will the member take an intervention?
I would like to make some progress.
Adam Tomkins was right to stress the achievements in the UK Government’s response to the UN report. The UK Government spends £50 billion a year on benefits specifically to support those with disabilities and health conditions.
Will Annie Wells take an intervention?
If the member lets me make progress, I will do so.
That figure has risen by £6 billion since 2010, which is an increase of nearly 14 per cent. That is by no means insignificant.
The member mentioned the UN report, which Mr Tomkins does not believe was correct. Does she agree with him?
We can see that the UK Government puts in £6 billion more in spending a year than in 2010, which is a 14 per cent increase. We need to see that the UK Government takes seriously people with disabilities and health conditions. [Laughter.] Laughing is probably not the right thing to do.
The UK Government spends £50 billion a year on benefits for those with disabilities and health conditions, but promoting the best opportunities in life for those who live with disabilities should not focus solely on welfare.
Will the member take an intervention?
I want to make some progress—thank you.
Welfare, health services, education and employment all have important roles to play for those who live with disabilities. The best opportunities for anyone, whether or not they live with a disability, start with good health or at least with having confidence that they are on the path to achieving it. One in four Scots experience mental health issues, and Miles Briggs was right to point out that we need to tackle that. I am proud that we have recognised the importance of mental health and I look forward to the publication next week of our policy on the issue, which will flesh it out.
The best opportunities for anyone, whether or not they live with a disability, also start with education. It is concerning that only 64 per cent of young people aged 16 to 19 with a disability participate in education, compared with the nearly 73 per cent of able-bodied people in Scotland who do so. We should do our utmost to ensure that those with disabilities, including those with learning disabilities, are supported through primary, secondary and higher education.
The Scottish Conservatives have always supported providing additional funding that will follow pupils with additional support needs. That is why I sound a note of caution about the Scottish Government’s flagship policy for pupils with learning difficulties in mainstream schools, which an Enable Scotland report this week showed is causing concern among parents, teachers and carers. I recognise that the Scottish Government has those pupils’ interests at heart, but I urge it to look specifically at the reported lack of specialist support teachers and training for mainstream teachers and at the feelings of isolation among ASN pupils.
The best opportunities for anyone, whether or not they live with a disability, also start with employment for those who can and want to work. It is right that we try to eradicate the myths about the UK Government’s work choice programme. People who receive employment and support allowance are never sanctioned for not finding work or not applying for jobs.
Adam Tomkins was right to emphasise the relationship between health and work, as stated in the UK Government’s “Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper”. Work is as important to health as health is to work. That is why I commend the Scottish Government for mimicking our policy to halve the disability employment gap and for announcing £14 million for the work first Scotland programme. As Jeremy Balfour pointed out, the current rate of disability employment in Scotland is 42 per cent, which is lower than when the SNP first came to power and lower than the UK average by nearly 6 per cent. I am pleased to see initiatives such as the Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living, which equips disabled people with the skills that are needed to break down barriers and seek employment.
Looking ahead, I urge the Scottish Government to consider regional differences. In Glasgow, the disability employment rate is less than 25 per cent, which contrasts starkly with the position in Shetland, for example, which has a rate of 88 per cent—that is over 250 per cent higher than Glasgow’s rate. That underlines the need to look into having further devolution of employment services and the range of disability benefits to the local level, whether that involves health boards, local authorities or new partnerships. Will the Scottish Government look further at that so that individuals can receive tailored packages that suit their needs?
I stress again the need to move the debate away from the magnifying glass-type of scrutiny that we currently see of the UK Government’s welfare benefits. The rhetoric on sanctions and cuts is becoming redundant, as the Scottish Government will have the powers that it needs to make the changes that it wants. I know that some of my friends with disabilities who are watching the debate on television at home want to know the ins and outs of the legislation that will come forward in the coming years and not just what is off the cards but what will be on the table.16:20
As I did earlier, I start by thanking the individuals and organisations that have joined us in the public gallery to listen to the debate, particularly Inclusion Scotland and Dr Sally Witcher, who I quoted in my opening speech; Glasgow Disability Alliance; Disability Agenda Scotland; and Jim Elder-Woodward, who wrote the foreword to the disability delivery plan.
I also thank colleagues throughout the chamber for their contributions. Although it is true that we may disagree—I will come on to that—on some matters and in our assessments of the impact of the UK Government’s policies and actions, I will focus on the determination that I believe we share to increase the pace and the depth of our efforts to win the transformational change that Scotland’s 1 million disabled people deserve.
We heard a number of interesting and important speeches. George Adam made the points that disability is not always visible and that we are founding our delivery plan on the social model of disability. That is critical to our approach.
I could not agree more with Jeremy Balfour about the importance of addressing stigma. I want us to focus on raising awareness of the potential that disabled people have and of the fact that we lose that when we ignore them, as we have done in terms of their rights. On his point about modern apprenticeships, although there is a great deal more to do, the number of disabled people on that programme rose by 4.1 per cent to 7.6 per cent in the first six months of this year. There is absolutely more to do and fine words are not enough, but we should recognise progress when it is made.
Kate Forbes made an important point about communities and our responsibility, as leaders of the national community that is Scotland, to remove barriers. She also made a telling point about what an adequate income actually means, what happens when it is withdrawn and the degree of social isolation and loneliness that can then be imposed on individuals.
I am grateful to Alex Rowley and other Labour members for their approach to the debate and their support. The cuts to local government expenditure that he referred to are of the same proportion as the cuts to our Scottish Government budget, and I add that there has been a 29 per cent increase in expenditure on adult and social care since 2007-08.
We absolutely agree about the need for joined-up health and social care, which we support. That is why we have allocated substantial funds—£3 billion over the current session of Parliament—precisely to achieve that, and we will work with COSLA to make the improvements that are outlined in the disability plan, which will focus social care towards independent living and include the steps that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has taken on care charges.
There are of course difficulties, and there are differences between us and Labour, but I think that we both accept that there are political choices to make. Although we might not agree on the final choices, I think that we are as one on the need to make them and the intention behind what we want to do.
I am grateful to Alison Johnstone and the Greens for their support and would have welcomed their amendment had it been selected for debate. She makes an important point about the 120 internships that we propose—indeed, there could be more. I make the point to every member throughout the chamber that each and every one of us has a responsibility to be a champion for the disability delivery plan, so if any member can assist in increasing the number of internships that we can deliver, I will very much welcome that assistance.
Alison Johnstone also made an important point about working to help disabled people who are in work to stay in work. I have to say that the Scottish Government already spends £100 million on mitigating the worst effects of the Conservative Government’s welfare cuts and I do not accept that the fact that we cannot address every unfairness that is caused by the imposition of UK Government policies means that we are indicating a tacit acceptance of those policies. That is an unfair charge.
Does the minister agree that, with the new powers that are coming to the Scottish Parliament, we will be in a position to top up existing benefits and create new benefits in devolved areas?
That is a factual statement. However, we have those powers in the overall context of a Scottish budget—I am conscious that the finance minister is sitting right beside me—that has been decreased by just under 10 per cent in the past period. The choices that we have to make as a Government over all the areas of and demands on our expenditure are difficult. I assure the member that we will make the best possible choices that we can for the people of Scotland.
I thank Alex Cole-Hamilton for his support and recognition of the steps that the Scottish Government has taken. I also thank him for the important contribution that he made to the development of the national framework for families of disabled children. I look forward to his continued engagement as we develop that framework.
I am grateful to Clare Haughey for bringing real-life experience to this afternoon’s debate. She described not only the impact on her constituent of going through the assessment process but the impact that it had on her as a member of the Scottish Parliament in understanding how that unnecessary process demeans and diminishes people.
Will the minister give way?
No—I need to keep going. I have to power through everybody and I do not want to miss anyone out.
The points that Miles Briggs made about transport are important. Given that he is meeting the Minister for Transport and the Islands at Waverley station, he can be assured that we are taking the issue of that station seriously. I am grateful to him for the important points that he made about mental health.
Joan McAlpine and Sandra White made important contributions to the debate. We need to address self-directed support at a local level because there are differences and discrepancies that need to be ironed out. I am grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport for the commitment that she has made to working with us on tackling them.
I turn to Mark Griffin and Adam Tomkins. Before I go any further, I recognise the pivotal role that Mr Griffin played in seeing the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015 through the Parliament. I agree with him—and indeed with Mr Tomkins—that we hope to see a great deal more signing in the Scottish Parliament.
I remind Mark Griffin that the Scottish Government called on the UK Government on many occasions to halt the PIP transfer in Scotland. I am happy to keep on repeating that message to the UK Government and we will take the opportunity to do so again at our next meeting. Unfortunately, in this matter, as in others, the UK Government is not listening to us. We share Mr Griffin’s view that the PIP transfer should not have been carried out in Scotland and should be halted if that is at all possible at this stage.
I recognise Mr Griffin’s point about the expectation that is on the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament in relation to our social security system. We may have points of difference, but I am sure that we can work together to build a rights-based social security system for Scotland.
I turn finally to Mr Tomkins’s speech. I welcome the significant areas of agreement that he outlined. However, I gently suggest to him and his colleagues that our concerns about and criticisms of UK Government policy, and particularly the welfare reforms, are not unfounded or redundant. Those concerns are shared by many people—particularly disabled people—across the country. I gently suggest that the credibility of my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament in the Conservative Party would be greatly enhanced if they recognised that reality for many people across Scotland.
Mr Tomkins is very fond of quoting the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, so he should also recognise its finding—Labour colleagues have also pointed this out—that 26 per cent of people who are in poverty in Scotland are disabled. That comes directly from the UK Government’s welfare reforms, which were, in their own terms, deliberately intended to save money. They include the ESA cuts, which are part of a £450 million cut in the UK Government’s spend on welfare.
It will not do to dismiss the UN’s report, which accurately said that the UK Government is guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people. It will not do to say simply that we do not like the authors and we do not like how they wrote the report. We need to recognise the realities and not pick and choose.
I commend to the Parliament the disability delivery plan for the transformational change that we require, and I say to every member in the chamber that I look forward to their active engagement with me in the delivery of the rights that disabled people need and should have and which make the rights of us all much more meaningful.