Clare spoke in the Scottish Government debate on A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People, highlighting the differences in approach between the UK Government and the Scottish Government when it comes to those with disabilities.
The Scottish Government is active in seeking to support and engage with those with disabilities, and we value their contribution to society. Westminster however is said by the UN to have knowingly targeted those with disabilities with austerity measures.
Full transcript after the video below.
As we have heard, several of the UK Government’s austerity measures “have disproportionally and adversely affected the rights of persons with disabilities”.
Also, before austerity was implemented, impact assessments by the UK Government “expressly foresaw an adverse impact on persons with disabilities”, and the UK Government’s actions have caused “grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities”.
I am not the one who is saying that, and it is not the SNP. Those are the exact words of the United Nations, which was investigating the UK Government.
The Conservative Government has actively targeted our fellow citizens with disabilities. Let us reflect on the fact that one in five of us in Scotland has a long-term health problem or disability. When we in this chamber attack the Westminster establishment for introducing and voting through measures that violate the rights of people with disabilities, it cannot be brushed off by the Tories as party politics. Let us be clear; it is an aggressive, pointed and systemic attack on those with disabilities. The Westminster establishment has colluded under the banner of austerity to wage an attack on the welfare state and to undermine the protections and mechanisms that most people have agreed upon in this island over the past 70 years. Under austerity, traditional values of collectivism, of social security and of helping the less fortunate have been thrown out by the Tories.
In Scotland, where we in the SNP are the largest party, there is a very different picture. Instead of being criticised by the UN, we in this Parliament are actively working to deliver on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with our delivery plan for 2021. Westminster looks to attack and undermine those most in need, whereas here in Scotland, as others have said, we fully recognise not only their rights, but also the value and the contributions that people with disabilities can make to society.
As I have said before in this chamber, I accompanied a friend and constituent of mine to a PIP review meeting that she had unexpectedly been asked to attend in Glasgow. This lady has a degenerative condition, has multiple health problems, takes numerous medications and is under the care of a variety of consultants and medical professionals, all of whom had given detailed outlines of the care that she needed to receive and the conditions that she had. Despite having a PIP award in place, she was called in for reassessment nine months before her award period ended.
Everything about the experience was bordering on the hostile, with my constituent being treated in the manner that we have come to expect from a system run by the Tories and slammed by the UN. Since I last spoke about her in the chamber, her surprise reassessment has had an outcome—her PIP award has been reduced. Her award was reduced from December onwards, not from September, which is when her original award period was due to end. That has, in effect, cut her benefits nine months early, leaving her to face the anguish of having to appeal the decision. Why should people who have lengthy, well-documented health issues need to be reassessed? Once they have been through that stressful assessment process, why should they have to be assessed again? Above all, why should people with serious health conditions live in fear of a fair system? The answer is that the system is not fair—it is designed to be hostile.
Thankfully, the SNP Government has recently announced that, using new powers, we will ban private companies from running benefits assessments in Scotland. Profit has no place when it comes to life and death. Where the Tories have cut the independent living fund, scrapped various employability programmes and slashed entitlements, the Scottish Government has had to use its limited powers to fight a rearguard action against that attack on the most vulnerable in our society. We have had to use our budget to mitigate the bedroom tax, spending money to spare low-income people in Scotland from the grim realities that are being experienced by those in England. Disabled adults live in four out of five households that have been spared the bedroom tax by the Scottish Government, showing that we in Scotland value those that the Tories would rather ignore.
As the Minister for Social Security, Jeane Freeman, says: “Our goal is nothing less than for all disabled people to have choice and control, dignity and freedom to live the life they choose”.
We are committed to the co-production of services for those with disabilities. No one knows better the challenges and impediments that the system throws at those with disabilities than those people themselves. The Scottish Government wants to empower those with disabilities, not target them. “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” is a plan that details 93 concrete actions to improve the everyday lives of people with disabilities. That is 93 more actions than the UK Government has delivered for some of the most vulnerable people in the UK.