An uneven playing field: inequality and disabilities in Scotland
Over the course of our inquiry, we have been struck by how disabled people are let down across the whole spectrum of life,” commented Baroness Deech, chair of the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and Disability Committee, as the committee released its findings last month on the lack of progress towards equality for disabled people since the 2010 Equality Act.
“It’s time to reverse the attitude that disabled people are an afterthought,” she concluded.
Although the UK Government has had to rethink proposed cuts to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), other welfare reforms are still taking place. PIP replaces Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and has stricter criteria for receipt of support, which the Government hoped would cut 20 per cent off the budget.
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Iain Smith, policy and parliamentary officer with disability campaign organisation Inclusion Scotland, finds the change concerning, particularly the stricter criteria for the higher rate of mobility payments.
“People could lose their mobility cars, their access to other passported benefits that come with that, blue badges, for example, which can make it very difficult for them to get about and can trap people in their homes,” he said.
The assessments are stressful, the application forms are complicated, most assessments are face-to-face and under PIP, disabled people do not receive support for life, but have to be reassessed every couple of years.
“Surprisingly, the DWP thinks that some people can regrow limbs. It is that sort of level of stupidity in the system,” Smith says.
Inclusion Scotland won’t have the full data of the impact in Scotland until later this year when PIP has been fully rolled out across the country, but UK data suggests that around half of those who were receiving higher rate mobility payments before are not getting it under PIP.
A lot of people are appealing successfully, but by the time the appeal is processed, they may have already lost their mobility vehicle.
The power to change PIP will be devolved as part of the Scotland Act, but because the cuts will have already taken place across the UK, the amount of money that Scotland will have available for the disability benefits system will be restricted.
However, Smith is keen that whoever is in government uses the powers that are available.
“We would argue that disabled people have suffered disproportionately from the cuts to benefits and other changes whilst others are benefiting from cuts to their taxes, so a bit of fairness in the system would suggest to us that perhaps some increased taxes would be used to support the disability benefit budget.”
No party has yet given any indication that they will increase the budget for disability benefits, as far as Smith is aware, but Inclusion Scotland understands that Scottish Labour will abolish care charges, which will benefit some disabled people.
“It’s not a discretionary for them. It’s very basic things like getting up, washing and getting out to work they need care and support for. And yet they’re charged for it, whereas people who’re not disabled have that money to do what they like, so there’s a fairness issue there,” Smith explains.
Another target of austerity is the work-related element of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which is to be reduced to the same level as Jobseeker’s Allowance, something Smith calls “an entirely unfair and arbitrary cut”.
“The theory behind it is it’s an incentive to get work, but it’ll actually make it harder for disabled people to get work because they may need to travel by taxi or some more expensive modes to get to work or they may need support to help them get to work and they won’t have that money available, so it’ll actually have the opposite effect from what it’s intended to do, drive disabled people into poverty and make it harder to find work.”
Levels of poverty are far higher among households where there is at least one disabled person than in households where no one has a disability. This is partly because it’s harder for them to access work.
Inclusion Scotland figures suggest that just over 40 per cent of the disabled population are in employment compared with around 80 per cent of the non-disabled population.
Smith says many disabled people find it harder to get work and those who are in work may be in part-time work or low-paid work because their conditions make it harder for them to work full time.
Another aspect of inequality is in participation in elected politics.
The One in Five campaign aims to increase democratic participation amongst disabled people. This includes a disability internship scheme at the Scottish Parliament.
Interns have been working with the political parties to try and identify barriers to disabled people getting involved in politics, such as the format of documents for meetings, accessible meeting rooms and access to communications support.
One campaign success is getting the Scottish Government to commit to a grant scheme, the Democratic Participation Fund for Disabled People, to be administered by Inclusion Scotland, for next year’s local council elections to provide support to disabled candidates who face additional costs related to their campaigns.
Another “small victory” was in ensuring that any costs which are associated with disability for a candidate do not have to be included in their election return as a campaign expense.
One of Inclusion Scotland’s interns, Ryan McMullan, worked as a parliamentary assistant with Scottish Labour. He investigated ways to facilitate more people with disabilities getting involved in politics.
Although produced for Scottish Labour, his ‘Not Just Chairs and Stairs’ report would also be relevant to other political parties.
Among his recommendations are holding meetings in accessible venues; livestreaming for people who cannot travel; the use of textphone; the ability for an advocate to sign up to party membership on behalf of someone else; reduced fees for those with disabilities; hearing loops, sign language and interpreters; Easy Read versions of manifestos; employability and mentoring schemes; and better education for party members about disabilities, particularly hidden disabilities.
McMullan believes that disabled people have a lot to offer. In a video about equalities produced for the recent Scottish Labour conference he said: “As a disabled man, I strongly believe that disabled people have the character and empathy to work in politics, helping society to become more inclusive and equal.
“I have a dream that one day disabled people are seen for having an expertise in a field which is not solely focused on disabled issues. It would be magnificent to see a disabled politician on the television talking about the environment or culture, as disabled people are just as ambitious and knowledgeable as anyone else.”