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Meeting date: Thursday, December 2, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament 02 December 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Covid-19: Preparing for Winter and Priorities for Recovery, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Contents


International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-02225, in the name of Pam Duncan-Glancy, on international day of persons with disabilities. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 3 December 2021 is the UN international day of disabled people, notes that this has taken place annually since 1992 to promote the rights and wellbeing of disabled people in all spheres of society and development and to increase awareness of the situation of disabled people in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life; acknowledges that not all disabilities are visible; notes the view that there is a need to highlight unseen impairments, such as mental ill health, chronic pain and fatigue and to promote inclusion in life and in the workplace; understands that one in five people in Scotland are disabled; acknowledges the view that disabled people’s rights are human rights and that everyone must work together to promote, protect and fulfil these to support disabled people to realise their human rights, and celebrates the work of the disability movement and its allies in the campaigns that they have won, and are yet to win.

13:01  

There are moments in all our lives when we feel the need to pinch ourselves, and today is one of those moments for me. Not only do I feel honoured and proud, as I always do, to be a disabled person and to celebrate disabled people and our organisations the world over, but I am incredibly proud and grateful to celebrate our collective fight from this chamber, having secured a members’ business debate on international day of persons with disabilities, which is tomorrow.

It is an absolute privilege to open the debate. In my first speech to the Parliament, I paid tribute to the disability movement. Today, I will do so again and expand on that. The theme for this year’s day is leadership and participation in a post-Covid world. I will dedicate my time today to the fights that the incredible disability movement, of which I am proud to be part, has led and won, and the fights that we are yet to win. It is because of the endless struggle—and, yes, the fight for representation—throughout the history of the movement that such days exist and that we are able to celebrate them and harness them to promote and improve the human rights of disabled people across the country and the world. However, as I am sure we all agree, disabled people’s rights are human rights every day of the year. In this chamber, we owe it to those who have fought for their right to exist—not even to live—to fight for them, too, every day.

The past year has been tough for all of us, but for disabled people—who have had their rights and freedoms stifled and taken away by a system that fought against them, rather than one that enabled them to realise their rights—things were hard before Covid. They have lived in lockdown for years. Long before the pandemic, disabled people across Scotland had been living below the poverty line. They had their care packages—in effect, their lifeline—cut, and they were forced to drag themselves upstairs because there are not enough accessible homes. Covid has deepened that inequality and exacerbated those problems, as is clear to all of us across the chamber.

I have said this before from the Labour benches, but it is a point that must be reinforced. We cannot go back to that normal; we must go forward to a better Scotland for everyone who lives here. That must mean ensuring that disabled people are included on the journey to recovery. We cannot, and should not want to, get there without them, so we must have them at the heart of all that we do.

It has been said that, if you are not around the table, you are probably on the menu. When the going gets tough, we have only to look at what is first to go, and who loses out on the most, to see how true that is.

In the initial months of the pandemic, almost six in 10 Covid-related deaths were of disabled people. No statistic could highlight the deep inequality that disabled people face more than that one. However, sadly, there are more figures that highlight that inequality. In the midst of the toughest years of our lives, disabled people have had their care and support withdrawn overnight and their lifeline denied. Their families and loved ones have been left to pick up the pieces, and that has broken unpaid carers. Forty per cent of children who live in households where someone is disabled are living in poverty. In many cases, disability benefits do not scratch the surface of the additional costs that are associated with being a disabled person.

There remains a disability employment gap of 32.6 per cent, and progress to reduce that has been slow. Recent analysis by the Scottish Government has shown that the employment rate for disabled people fell by 5.7 per cent throughout 2020.

Further analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that disabled people had reported a loss of earnings by the middle of 2020. As we begin to recover from the pandemic, one in four disabled people are worried about their health and safety at work, especially as workers begin to return to offices and public-facing roles.

We have to change—we all deserve better than that. That change starts by making sure that disabled people are at the centre of our recovery. Disabled people are innovative by design; we have to be, just to get by. Let us make sure that disabled people are around the table, not just because it is the right thing to do but because—you never know—we might learn something.

Decisions about us must never be made without us, and I urge the Government to ensure that they never are. To do that, it has to actively involve disabled people. It has to go the extra mile to make sure that they are around the table, and that means resourcing disabled people’s organisations.

Such organisations are way more than service providers—in fact, that is usually not the main thing that they do. They advocate and speak truth to power for a better world. They develop policy, build capacity, support, lead, listen, deliver and fight. They have given me and thousands of other disabled people so much. It is not an overestimation to say that they changed my life.

It was because of disabled people and the collective action and solidarity of our organisations, the Labour Party and the labour movement that I realised that the inequality that I experienced was not my fault. I was not broken or wrong—society was. The inequality that I and other disabled people have experienced is the consequence of structural, systemic oppression. It was because of disabled people and our organisations that we have risen up and demanded our rights and our emancipation. Disabled people’s organisations are life changing for disabled people—they are a lifeline for our families and are pure gold for Governments that want to improve the lives of disabled people, because—I promise—they can tell us how to do so.

None of us knows what the future holds, but we know that inequality cannot be an option and that we can conquer it only by working together with disabled people and their organisations. They have told us for a long time what that future should look like for them: a Scotland where social care meets our human rights and our workers rights, where charges for such care are gone, and where social care workers get £15 an hour; a Scotland where equality and human rights are enshrined in law and delivered in practice, including through the full incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and a Scotland with a social security system that is there for people in and out of work, that guarantees a minimum income and, crucially, that does so while properly taking account of the varying conditions that disabled people live with and the costs that they incur.

Colleagues, if we do those things, we will begin to scratch the surface of tackling the systemic, sustained and ingrained inequalities that disabled people face. That is the new normal that we, in this chamber, must seek and deliver.

This week, in the run-up to the international day of people with disabilities, I want to end with a message to disabled people across Scotland: I promise that, for as long as I am in this place, your fight will be my fight, and there will be nothing about us without us.

Thank you, and well done, Ms Duncan-Glancy.

13:08  

I thank Pam for bringing the debate to the chamber. I will touch on many of the same points that she did, because they are very important points to make.

Although the international day of people with disabilities should be a time to celebrate and embrace the many and varied achievements of our disabled brothers and sisters, I am afraid that, this year, as we remain in the midst of a pandemic, most people with a disability will struggle to celebrate it.

As we have already heard, the theme of tomorrow’s international day is fighting for rights in the post-Covid era. It is a sad indictment that, in 2021, disabled people are still fighting for their rights. Although the challenges that people with disabilities face are not new, the pandemic has crystallised many of them and has created new ones, too.

Health inequalities between disabled and non-disabled people are stark, and they make for grim reading. Six in 10 people who die of Covid-19 will have a disability, whether visible or hidden, and people with disabilities continue to be more likely to contract Covid than the general population.

On top of disabled people being at greater health risk, the underlying societal conditions that they face require an urgent and sustained response. The latest figures on the disability employment gap in Scotland reveal that the employment rate for disabled people remains 35.5 per cent lower than that for non-disabled people.

Will Stephanie Callaghan give way?

Not just now, sorry. I have a lot to fit in, Stephen.

Although disabled Scots make up about 20 per cent of our nation’s population, too often, they remain excluded from much of society, be it decision making, policy setting, employment, culture or sport. As Scotland continues its journey of recovery, people with disabilities—including disabilities that might not be seen—need to be included in all areas of recovery policy.

An ingredient for creating sustainable societies that embrace people with disabilities is to have communities that are based on the law of equity rather than just the law of equality. There is an important difference between the two: equality means that everyone is treated exactly the same regardless of need or any other individual difference, whereas equity means that everyone is provided with what they need to succeed. Equity is about levelling the playing field.

As a South Lanarkshire councillor, I have had the joy and privilege of working with councillor Grant Ferguson, who is the first British Sign Language-using councillor in Scotland. Conducting virtual meetings created great challenges for Grant, and our councillors’ well-meant suggestions were, to be frank, unhelpful and, to be honest, a wee bit rubbish. It took Grant defining his own needs to find real solutions. That clearly demonstrates why the full and direct participation of disabled people is important—hence the popular slogan, “Nothing about us without us”.

However, change cannot be one dimensional. We must challenge attitudes. The pandemic has presented an opportunity to make workplaces more inclusive and allow employers to tap into the benefits of a diverse workforce. For example, a person with autism has a neurodiverse mind—a way of seeing the world differently to others. As my autistic child once said to me, “Mum, the world needs autistic brains to solve the problems normal brains can’t solve.”

There is a vast pool of untapped talent in society—people who can help businesses to become stronger and more competitive. However, they can do that only if those businesses are willing to stop seeing someone’s disability as a problem and to start viewing it as an asset.

Let us show people the strengths and abilities of the persons who are currently being excluded. Let us change attitudes, remove barriers and treat people of all abilities with dignity and respect. Let us learn from disabled people themselves. In the post-Covid world, we must not forget that the idea of returning to how things were before the pandemic is not on. We do not want to go back; we want to go forward towards a more inclusive future and a more inclusive Scotland.

I recognise that this is a consensual debate, but I gently remind colleagues to refer to one another by their full names.

13:12  

I congratulate Pam Duncan-Glancy on securing the debate and giving us the opportunity once again to discuss what I have always described in the Parliament as a misnomer. I have never liked the term “disability”. My view is that everybody has an ability and it is our job as a Parliament to ensure that the route to achieving those abilities is realised.

Without question, we have come a long way in relation to disability. I make no apology for the fact that I will talk about sport at some point during this speech, but I will talk about employment rates first.

I was asked to go to an event with employers in, I think, south Ayrshire, to discuss with them the importance of ensuring that their workforce is representative of the community and to highlight the support that is available to them to ensure that the workplace is adapted for people with any disability.

The first thing that I did was turn to my colleague Jeremy Balfour and ask whether he would go with me. What better way to demonstrate achievement through disability than to go with him? A double act was born—it is not so much Morecambe and Wise, although he is the funny one. We were asked to several events after that, and now we have Pam Duncan-Glancy—

Will the member give way?

I will give way to Mr Kerr.

I thank my friend for giving way, and I congratulate Pam Duncan-Glancy on her motion and excellent speech.

Is not one of the ways in which MSPs can practically show our commitment to tomorrow’s celebration to commit ourselves to become disability-confident employers and sign up to the five commitments?

Stephen Kerr is absolutely right. In the previous session of Parliament, many of us did exactly that to ensure that we not only talked the talk but walked the walk. It is incredibly important that we as MSPs demonstrate leadership.

I will—obviously—talk about sport for the next minute. We have come an awfully long way, if we consider how the Paralympic games have developed over the past decade. London 2012 was a big turning point, since when the games have been much more at the forefront of public knowledge.

I have said previously in the chamber that I have been, and I still am, extremely fortunate in coaching athletes who have so-called disabilities—cerebral palsy, foetal alcohol spectrum disorders and autism—some of which are visible and some not. I know that the inclusion of those athletes and its positive impact on their ability to participate are life changing for them. In the FASD debate, I spoke of the young man with whom I was working then. The framework of sport has helped him develop as a person; he went to college, and now lives and works on his own.

It is crucial that all people, irrespective of background or personal circumstances, should have the opportunity to participate in sport. The big issue for me is not so much what those with disabilities do once they get into a sport as their access to it. I always talk about the members of the Ayrshire Tigers Powerchair Football Club, who have given us many lessons on how to play that game. The problem for them is being able to get to training and competitions.

I thank Pam Duncan-Glancy again for bringing the debate to the chamber. Whatever we decide to do in this area, we need to remember that access to opportunity is crucial.

13:17  

I say thank you—not just the customary thank you, as I am incredibly grateful—to Pam Duncan-Glancy for securing the debate and to one other member in the chamber: Jeremy Balfour. I am a disabled person; I have attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. I would not have been comfortable saying that if it had not been for the support of Pam—my apologies, Presiding Officer; I mean Pam Duncan-Glancy—and Jeremy Balfour.

I will never forget the conversation that I had with Jeremy in the garden lobby after I stated that I had ADHD. He said that I had to tell Parliament that I have a disability. I was not sure that I was “disabled enough”, but Jeremy told me, “It’s important that you tell Parliament, because everyone who has a disability has to be matter-of-fact and confident in discussing it. Unless you do, you will make it harder for all of us.” That was an important contribution. Likewise, Pam was encouraging and reassuring, and she embraced the fact that I had a disability.

Importantly, that has given me ownership of my own identity: you cannot understand me if you do not understand my ADHD. It is a vital part of how I think, behave and see the world. Sometimes, that is not terribly easy, but it is easier if I explain what I have and who I am. That is perhaps particularly the case when I am blurting something out in the chamber when I should perhaps be sitting and staying quiet—I thank you for your patience, Presiding Officer.

It is critical that we talk about the disabilities that are not immediately obvious—disabilities that are invisible. Beyond that need to have confidence, we must acknowledge that, although we have made huge progress in talking about disability and breaking down prejudices, there is still huge prejudice against those with disabilities, especially when those disabilities are invisible.

It is still acceptable to make jokes about poor spelling in which dyslexia is used as the punchline. Social awkwardness is still dismissed as someone being “a bit on the spectrum”, and an inability to concentrate is still described as someone being “a bit ADHD”. We are one of the groups in society that it is still acceptable to make the butt of a joke or to be casually dismissive of or prejudiced against. That must stop.

We need better understanding. Just today, we heard about people being stigmatised for taking medication. I took my medication this morning, and I will not apologise for that. We need understanding that some people need medication to overcome and help them with their disability. I am thankful that I have that possibility, because my brothers and sisters with autism do not have a prescription for medication that they can take to help them with their invisible disability.

To give members an understanding of the stark reality of such disabilities, I note that every one of the groups that are considered to have a neurodevelopmental disorder is overrepresented in prison. People with ADHD are five times more likely than the general population to be in prison, people with autism are twice as likely to be in prison and people with dyslexia are three times as likely to be in prison. There is no greater sign of the injustice that is happening to people with neurodevelopmental disorders than those statistics.

We cannot go back to the old normal. Pam Duncan-Glancy is absolutely right about that. We need better understanding, we need to break down barriers and we need to break down the prejudices that still exist.

Thank you very much, Mr Johnson. I will just clarify that an explanation of an intervention from a sedentary position will not be considered as justification for it. I also note that I have my work cut out in getting members to refer to one another by their full names. I take that in the spirit of the debate.

13:21  

I am pleased to speak in this important members’ business debate to mark the international day of persons with disabilities. I congratulate Pam Duncan-Glancy on securing the debate. As one of her colleagues on the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, I see at first hand her determination to ensure that the needs of disabled people are listened to.

The debate allows us to show our cross-party support for this annual event. The theme this year is fighting for rights in the post-Covid era, which I welcome. As a member of the Parliament’s Social Justice and Social Security Committee, the theme reminds me of the evidence that we recently received from the Glasgow Disability Alliance, which is clear that the pandemic has supercharged the inequalities that disabled people face and created new inequalities. Glasgow Disability Alliance correctly points out that listening to the voices of disabled people will be vital to ensuring that the recovery leaves no one behind. Therefore, the debate gives us all the opportunity to say that we hear that message and that we will listen to disabled people as we make our decisions. I am supportive of that approach, and it is my long-standing view that disabled people massively enhance our country and should be involved in shaping its future.

My view has been positively enhanced by my volunteer work with adults with additional support needs, which began in my teenage years, and by my employment as a support worker in the heart of my constituency. I draw members’ attention to my entry in the members’ register of interests on my previous employment.

As MSPs, we owe a big thank you to Inclusion Scotland for the excellent briefing that it produced for the debate. The briefing is clear that disabled people have been the hardest hit by Covid-19. It stresses that disabled people want to move forward and not back, that they want to do so as leaders and full participants, and that they want to help to create a more inclusive future. This Parliament must unite in agreement with that approach.

We have made good progress on the dignity, fairness and respect agenda as we redesign social security. The redesign has, rightly, involved disabled people, whose experiences are vital if we are to avoid, in the future, the failures of the past. For example, we have vehemently rejected the use of private sector assessments and the harsh conditionality regime that has been at the heart of the Westminster disability benefit system for many years. Once we have had the safe transfer of cases from the Department for Work and Pensions to Social Security Scotland, we will continue with the much-needed redesign.

Unfortunately, the harsh assessment regime remains for universal credit and legacy benefits. Benefit sanction levels have crept up again since sanctions were suspended during the pandemic. We must continue to call that out and not let disabled people in Scotland be subjected to a two-tier system of social security.

However, it is not just in social security that we must listen to disabled people; we must take the same approach in making decisions across the whole range of services that we provide in Scotland. In health and social care, education, housing, transport and our green recovery, we must listen to the voices of those who can help us shape a way out of the pandemic that is fair and just and leaves no one behind.

I take this opportunity to thank all the groups in my constituency that support and are led by disabled people. There is a really strong community spirit across Clydebank, Bearsden and Milngavie, and I promise that I will continue to be on their side in this Parliament.

13:25  

As other members have, I want first of all to thank Pam Duncan-Glancy for securing the debate, which provides a valuable platform not only for commending the work of those who have gone before us, but for looking forward to the progress that is yet to be made.

I also thank my colleagues from across the chamber for giving up their lunch hour to come and engage with issues surrounding disability. Even though disabled people make up 20 per cent of the Scottish population, it can often feel as though they are a secondary concern, compared with other issues, so I am grateful to and encouraged by members who have come to participate in the debate.

I am also happy that I am no longer able to say that I am the only person in the Scottish Parliament who openly identifies as having a physical disability, as I was in the previous parliamentary session. It is unarguable that we have benefited greatly from the election of a more inclusive Parliament, and I look forward to further progress in elections to come. However, even though such great strides have been made, we have still not reached our destination of being a truly inclusive Parliament. There are still barriers that must be broken down, both in a material sense and in the context of our attitude to disability issues.

That brings me to a point that I want to make clearly: we do a great disservice to disabled people if we lower the bar too far and do too much for them. Viewing a person’s specific disability as being indicative of their wider ability is very common and very destructive. We should not lower the achievement bar beyond what is reasonably simple in order to bestow good feelings on people with disability—or, as is often the case, on ourselves.

Often, we are at best encouraging, and we are at worst forcing, disabled people to settle for a life in which they do not fulfil their potential or pursue their dreams. Far too often, we assume that the fact that someone cannot do something means that they cannot do anything at all. That is clearly not the case in reality, given the fact that disabled people have succeeded in a wide range of sectors. We should be encouraging everyone, regardless of disability, to strive to be the best that they can be, and we should be supporting them in their efforts.

Of course, we should be pragmatic in such endeavours. It would be dishonest not to acknowledge that there are limitations experienced by disabled people that inform the extent to which they can progress in certain fields. For example, it is very unlikely that I would make a good brain surgeon—it is probably not the area that I should be working in. However, that does not mean that I cannot look at other areas into which I can put my energies. When limitations are identified, they should serve only as guidance for each individual. They should never stop people realising their dreams and excelling in their chosen field.

I once again applaud the progress that we have made and commend my colleagues across the chamber for seeing the potential in disabled people, helping them to realise their dreams and facilitating all of that as we come out of the worst 18 months that many of us have ever faced and look forward to a brighter and better future.

13:29  

I am pleased to contribute to the debate as convener of the cross-party group on learning disability. I thank my colleague and friend Pam Duncan-Glancy for securing the debate as we mark the international day of persons with disabilities. I also pay a wider tribute to Ms Duncan-Glancy for all the work that she has done over many years and for what she has already done in the short time that we have both served in this Parliament.

On 2021’s international day of persons with disabilities, it is important to acknowledge that the chamber looks different to how it looked when the previous international day was marked in 2020. Parliament has changed to become more diverse, with an increased number of MSPs identifying as having a disability.

I praise Daniel Johnson, my colleague and friend, for his powerful and personal speech. As someone who knows something of speaking your own truth every day, whether that is in Parliament or anywhere else, I say that it is a brave and important thing to do, not only for oneself but for other people. Jeremy Balfour’s advice on that to him was very solid: speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.

Jeremy Balfour also made a characteristically powerful speech. He was a great help to me in a former role in the secretariat of the cross-party group on learning disability in the previous session of Parliament.

This session, Parliament includes our first permanent wheelchair user in Pam Duncan-Glancy. I will quote from her maiden speech. She said:

“for too long this Parliament—and others like it—has not looked like the people that it is here to represent, but this year is different. The people of Scotland broke glass ceilings and glass staircases, and this room got a bit closer to looking a bit more like the people of Scotland. It is now our chance to turn a little hope into lasting change. This is the room where it happens.”—[Official Report, 27 May 2021; c 50-51.]

Those are powerful words that are worth recalling, because we know that we have much more to do to make our Parliament look like our country and to ensure that the voices of disabled people are heard and listened to.

Does Paul O’Kane agree that it is not just the Parliament that has to change? Our political parties—all six parties in the Parliament—need to change.

I certainly agree with Jeremy Balfour on that. All of us in political life have a duty to find ways, within our political parties, to encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to join our political life. Politics is often off-putting for people because there are barriers in respect of how we deal with and respond to one another. Political parties have a bigger role to play. I hope that we all take cognisance of that.

Decisions that we make in Parliament impact on the lives of disabled people every day and on their families and communities. I will focus my remaining time on this year’s theme, which is disabled people’s leadership and participation in fighting for rights in the post-Covid era. For too many disabled people, the past 20 months have been a battle to have their rights upheld, protected and advanced. Too many people have seen care and support being removed with little or no consultation. Too many have been cut off from family, friends and their social lives. Many have been pushed further into poverty. Tragically, six in 10 deaths from Covid-19 have been of people who were disabled.

We know that people have not felt consulted, engaged or involved when Covid-19 regulations have changed. I reflect on my experience of working to support people with learning disabilities and their families in the first lockdown. Regulations did not always fit the many complex and different challenges that those people experience every day. For example, autistic children could not visit the beach that they went to every week, which for them was a haven because it was in a different local authority area, just down the road.

Many people did not feel able to engage with and understand what was being asked of us all because of the lack of accessible formats such as easy read. Far too many people’s lives were viewed as being worth less than those of others, through blanket approaches being taken to “do not resuscitate” orders. I commend my colleague Jackie Baillie, who is a former convener of the cross-party group, and the former vice-convener, Joan McAlpine, for bringing that matter to the fore in the previous session of Parliament. Serious questions remain unanswered.

I conclude by looking forward. A single day of awareness raising and celebration will not solve the problems that are faced by disabled people. We must learn the lessons of the past 20 months and we must do more. We must always ensure that the voices of disabled people ring loud and clear in all our considerations, in Parliament and beyond.

13:34  

I thank Pam Duncan-Glancy for securing the debate and giving us time to discuss what more we can do—there is much more that we should do—to ensure that Scotland achieves equality for every one of the 20 per cent of Scots who are disabled. I also thank all the individuals and organisations who provide support, advocacy and so much more to disabled people across Scotland.

Households with a disabled person experience a relative poverty rate that is 6 per cent higher than that for the general population. Disabled Scots are just less than half as likely as non-disabled people are to be employed. In 2020-21, disability hate crime, not including crimes that go unreported, rose by 14 per cent, and the figure has risen by more than 600 per cent since 2010-11.

The Scottish household survey tells us that disabled people are more than twice as likely as non-disabled people are to experience loneliness. Those facts say a lot about the depth and breadth of disability inequality in Scotland. In almost every way that it is possible to think of, disabled people can be—and are—discriminated against, overlooked and disadvantaged.

For too long, disabled people have borne the brunt of cuts to our social security system. Just a few weeks ago, tens of thousands of unemployed disabled Scots living on low incomes had £20 a week cut from their universal credit payments. However, with about one in 10 Scots claiming one of the devolved disability benefits, we have a truly golden opportunity to advance equality for disabled people.

Our social security system in Scotland is built on the idea that social security is an investment. Indeed, the Scottish Fiscal Commission projects that spending on the new adult disability payment will eventually be more than £0.5 billion. The commission also predicts an extra £40 million of consequential payments to carers of disabled people. It is absolutely right that that will happen, and I am proud that the Greens were central to it.

Getting to this point, however, has taken years of campaigning by disabled people, and organisations that represent them, to highlight the damage that has been done by the personal independence payment and by welfare cuts. There have been countless protests outside jobcentres and hundreds of thousands of appeals, and hundreds of thousands of lives have been affected. Therefore, disabled people, their voices and their experiences should be at the heart of our new system. In particular, the forthcoming review of disability benefits must be led by disability benefit recipients and must leave nothing off the table that might increase support and access to support.

I would like to touch on the impact of climate change on disabled people. Last year, the United Nations published a landmark study into the impact of climate change on disabled people, which presented evidence that disabled people are more likely to be left behind during evacuations and that emergency information is not always accessible. Earlier this year, extreme heat in Canada saw huge numbers of people with mental health conditions being treated for heatstroke—sadly, some died of it—because drugs that are used to treat certain mental health conditions can cause reduced heat tolerance.

Worldwide, disabled people experience poverty at more than twice the rate of non-disabled people, and we know that it is the world’s poorest people who experience the most severe impacts of climate change. However, the Glasgow climate pact contains just a single passing reference to disabled people. Inclusion Scotland, which organised the first ever disability-focused event at a climate change conference of the parties, said that the agreement is

“very disappointing in relation to active involvement and participation of disabled people in climate action”.

Without proper involvement of disabled people, well-intentioned measures to tackle climate change, plans to build a new society and attempts to support vulnerable people properly will further marginalise them.

We must ensure that all that we do has disabled people front and centre, and that their voices are heard. That applies not just in debates such as this, or on the international day of disabled people tomorrow, but every day.

13:38  

I congratulate Pam Duncan-Glancy on securing this timeous debate—she is a force to be reckoned with, and thank goodness.

We have come a long way since we used the definition

“a person who is unable to walk or move properly through disability or because of injury to their back or legs.”

According to the “Oxford English Dictionary”, that definition was first used as long ago as 950AD. Today, under the Equality Act 2010, someone is disabled if they have

“a physical or mental impairment”

that has

“a substantial and long-term adverse effect”

on their ability

“to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

That recognises, as does the motion, that many disabilities are invisible. Many decades ago, when I was a secondary teacher, we were not aware of issues such as autism. We might have had autistic children in the class behaving strangely, but we had no idea.

I confess that the term “disabled” sits uncomfortably with me, as it can be construed as having pejorative undertones. I do not know how we move away from that.

In my lifetime, there have been improvements in the perception of and provision for those with impairments. That is not simply in providing equipment to assist people—although that is important—but in recognising the obligation to ensure a level playing field for work and life at large. I am talking not just about having access and hearing loops but about seeing beyond the disability to the person.

Not many decades ago, our society hid some people with disabilities—they were even locked up—and it certainly did not go out of its way to make accommodations. In too many parts of the world, the situation is still a struggle or even Dickensian.

I will start with the Parliament building. It was ensured that those with impairments were involved at the beginning of construction. We have Braille signs and disabled access, although some lift locations are simply daft, as I am sure Pam Duncan-Glancy has found. Ramp access in the chamber had to be adapted. We have a hearing loop system, although I recall that alterations had to be made to that after the Parliament was built.

In the selection of Scottish National Party candidates for this place, endeavours are made not to disadvantage those with disabilities and to encourage them to go forward. In our regional list system, anybody with a disability who is on a list automatically goes to the top of it. I am not talking about patronising people; I absolutely agree with everything that Jeremy Balfour said about not patronising people. We must have a system that allows people to fulfil their potential, whatever it is.

I remind members that, when Dennis Robertson was a member, he had his wonderful dog, Mr Q, in here. Staff fought for the right to walk Mr Q, who even had his own pass. Woe betide anyone whose speech was boring, because Mr Q had a very loud snore—that was bigger than any critique from other members.

I will talk briefly about changing perceptions. In an episode of the detective series “A Touch of Frost”, two young actors with Down’s syndrome portrayed a couple with Down’s syndrome who fell in love and wanted to get married. That exposed prejudices among parents and society at large, and the episode had a big impact.

Brian Whittle mentioned the Paralympics, which I have spoken about before. That has made a difference to perceptions of disabilities. Some folk used to turn away from looking at an amputee, but that is ordinary now. The Paralympics have had a lasting impact on children who share such disabilities.

“Strictly Come Dancing” was mentioned at First Minister’s question time. I confess that I watch the programme with a whisky and the cat—that is the sad story of my Saturday nights. When I saw Rose Ayling-Ellis dancing so beautifully, I clean forgot that she is deaf. The result of her participation has been a huge increase in the number of people who wish to learn to sign. She is an inspiration to others who have a similar impairment.

My conclusion is that, yes, politicians can change life for those with disabilities through policies and legislation, which are important, but, in my book, it is popular programmes and events that give the extra push to equality and change societal perceptions.

I confirm that, although Mr Q’s sedentary interventions were perhaps explicable, they were not encouraged.

I call Monica Lennon, who is the final speaker in the open debate.

13:43  

I, too, congratulate Pam Duncan-Glancy on securing the debate. I am pleased that the Parliament has the opportunity to recognise the UN international day of persons with disabilities 2021, which falls tomorrow.

As I am the last to speak in the open debate, I can say that all the speeches have been genuinely excellent. A range of issues have been covered and I have scored out things that I was going to say because they have been said, but I will add a few things. After today, the cabinet secretary will be busy speaking to lots of colleagues, because cross-cutting issues have been raised and we need a joined-up approach not just for the Government but for all employers, agencies and others across Scotland.

I declare an interest as the patron of Disability Equality Scotland. I am honoured to hold that voluntary role. I will talk about a couple of things that have not been fully covered.

I want to mention toilets. Every week, Disability Equality Scotland polls its membership, which has increased during the pandemic. Ninety-five per cent of disabled people who responded to the recent survey said that they have changed plans because no suitable toilets are available. If that does not spell out exclusion, I do not know what does.

I pay tribute to former MSP colleague Mary Fee and to Jeremy Balfour for the great work that they did in the previous session to champion changing places toilets. In the previous term, the Government announced more funding, which is welcome. However, from looking at my inbox, I know that people want to see the roll-out of more changing places toilets. That important work must be borne in mind.

I will talk about transport but in a way that is linked to toilets. One of the respondents to the recent Disability Equality Scotland poll said that the lack of suitable accessible toilets on long-distance bus journeys is a real issue in Scotland. They said:

“The worst offenders are long-distance bus operators—toilets on those buses are useless.”

Others said that, in rural areas, a journey to a hospital appointment can take several hours, and not having access to a suitable toilet is a real problem. In some restaurants and pubs, accessible toilets are being used for storage. Cleaning products are kept there, taken out when a disabled person wants to use the toilet, then put back in. That is really offensive. Today’s debate is about dignity and human rights, so we need to do better than that.

Transport and town planning is another issue that is close to my heart, including access to the built and natural environments more widely, and Disability Equality Scotland does important work on access panels. For those who do not know, access panels are groups of disabled volunteers who work together to improve physical access and wider social inclusion in their local communities. During the scrutiny of the Planning (Scotland) Bill in the previous session, some of us tried to secure statutory recognition of access panels in the planning process. That issue still needs to be considered by the Government. It is about access to inclusive communication and ensuring that discussions with planners and transport providers are fully accessible.

I do not have much time left, but the other “T” that I want to mention is treatment, as well as access to healthcare, particularly for chronic pain patients, who feel that their care has been further deprioritised during the pandemic. We also need to improve treatment for hidden disabilities such as migraines.

In its briefing to members, Inclusion Scotland said:

“Policy and decision makers and service providers already have the best resource possible?to get things right—Scotland’s?disabled people.”

That comment is from disabled people. Today, we have heard that disabled people know what is needed, what works and what does not. It is the responsibility of us all to listen and break down barriers. I hope that both the Government and the Parliament will be ambitious and bold enough to deliver the system change that disabled people require.

13:48  

I join others in thanking Pam Duncan-Glancy for securing the debate. I also thank all the members who have taken part in such a good debate for sharing their views and their aims and suggestions for the future. Those are all important ahead of this year’s international day of persons with disabilities.

As mentioned, this year’s international day focuses on the importance of the leadership and participation of disabled people for an inclusive, fair, accessible and sustainable post-Covid world. As others have said, it is encouraging to see that the Parliament itself is more diverse than it was in previous sessions. Jeremy Balfour noted that point, as did Paul O’Kane, who also reminded us that there is more to do to ensure that the Parliament truly looks like Scotland.

It is a key moment to recognise Scotland’s champions for disabled people’s rights, equality and inclusion. There are members here who have done a tremendous job in breaking down barriers and showing what can be done. Disabled people’s organisations play a vital role in representing the diverse views and experiences of disabled people across the country, in urban, rural, Highland and island communities.

That role has been particularly crucial during the pandemic, which has had considerable impacts on disabled people, and I offer my thanks to all those working in disabled people’s organisations and the wider third sector for their invaluable contribution to supporting people at this very difficult time.

The Scottish Government is listening to disabled people’s lived experiences and is trying to ensure that, collectively, we build resilience in our communities, so that disabled people can realise their rights and get on with living their lives. Pam Duncan-Glancy was right to say that people with disability should be around the table. We do not always get that right and it is important that we do so.

One of the foundation stones of our approach will of course be our new human rights bill, which will bring the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into Scots law as far as is possible within devolved competence. It will provide greater impetus to public bodies to remove barriers and to support disabled people to participate fully in society, and it will also empower disabled people by enabling them to claim and, just as important, enforce their rights.

That follows our work in the previous parliamentary session on taking the UN convention as the blueprint for our “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” delivery plan. Our next plan for action, which we will publish by the end of 2022, will build on that, reflecting on what has and has not worked so far as we progress towards a Scotland where the convention is meaningful in communities, services and opportunities. Through our equality and human rights fund, we will invest £21 million over three years to advance human rights, promote equality and tackle discrimination, with over £5 million of that funding going to disability-focused projects and organisations

An important issue that has been highlighted is the disability employment gap, which we are committed to reducing by at least half before 2038. Real progress had been made on that before the pandemic, but the disruption of Covid-19 slowed the pace of change, and we are now working with disabled people’s organisations and, importantly, employers to reinvigorate the programme of work. We will also establish a scheme to tackle the barriers faced by disabled people who wish to take on leadership positions, empowering more people to fulfil their potential.

As members have mentioned, our social security system plays an important role in this matter, and it must treat people with dignity and respect. The involvement of disabled people in the redesign that Marie McNair mentioned was therefore critical. Early next year, we will pilot our new adult disability payment as the replacement for the personal independence payment. The new initiative will be trialled as part of our transformation of disability assistance, during which we will transfer the entitlements of nearly 700,000 existing disability and carer benefits clients from the UK Government’s systems to Social Security Scotland in what will be a massive undertaking. As a first step, we launched in July our new child disability payment in three pilot areas, providing vital support to 38,000 children and their families in the next financial year alone. Of course, we will also double the Scottish child payment next April.

As well as building people’s economic resilience, we must ensure that, as a number of members have said, disabled people have access to the right support and care. We know that there is a lot more to do to ensure that everyone can rely on having access to the right care in the right place at the right time, and we will continue to engage with disabled people’s organisations as we start to build our groundbreaking new national care service, which has the potential to revolutionise the delivery of support to people when they need it most.

Monica Lennon mentioned the issue of accessible toilets and, as she pointed out, we are investing £10 million in increasing the number of changing places toilets across the country, including mobile facilities at events and outdoor venues. Facilities that meet our needs are something that most of us take for granted, and fully accessible toilets are important for dignity, confidence and peace of mind. There is more to do in that area.

I want briefly to mention young people, particularly the young persons guarantee. We want to ensure that disabled young people can access the guarantee and we want to help connect more than 1,000 disabled young people to fair work, education and other activities. We have also made a commitment to introducing in this parliamentary session Scotland’s first national transitions to adulthood strategy to ensure a joined-up approach. In that respect, I note Pam Duncan-Glancy’s proposed bill on disabled children and young people’s transitions to adulthood. We share the same ambition for improved outcomes and are supportive of the bill’s intentions. As a result, we are engaging with Pam Duncan-Glancy on the bill; indeed, we met just yesterday as part of that work.

I want to end with a couple of reflections. In his very powerful speech, Daniel Johnson recognised that there are many people in Scotland who are living with unseen or hidden disabilities, including autistic people and people with a range of other disabilities. They face particularly stark inequalities, which is why we have committed to a dedicated programme of work as detailed in our “Towards Transformation” learning and intellectual disabilities and autism plan. Part of that commitment includes our work over this parliamentary session to introduce a dedicated learning disability, autism and neurodiversity bill.

I will close by taking a moment to appreciate the crucial role of our allies in the journey to disability equality, including all those who have shared their lived experience and colleagues in the Parliament, in creating for all disabled people the much-needed societal change that Christine Grahame talked about and in acting as real role models and inspirational leaders. We thank them for their work.

That concludes the debate.

13:56 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—