As part of the Scottish Government's programme for a fairer Scotland, A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People (hereafter referred to as the "Action Plan"), was published in 2016. At its heart, the Action Plan set out the Scottish Government's commitment to usher in the real tangible change needed to ensure that all disabled people are valued as equal citizens, and that they are further provided the ability to live their lives in as independent a manner as they wish.
The Action Plan
The Action Plan, which was written with direct involvement of disabled people and Disabled People's Organisations, is primarily concerned with the social model of disability, as opposed to the medical model (which focuses on the actual impairment(s) of the individual). The social model of disability recognises that many of the barriers faced by disabled people are not caused by disabled people or by impairments, but instead by factors out with the control of the disabled person, such as through prejudice, ignorance and thoughtlessness by others.
Through the Action Plan, 93 practical actions were set out in order to steer the direction of Scottish Government during the lifetime of the current Scottish Parliament (being the five year session between 2016 and 2021). The 93 actions identified in the Action Plan were built around five longer-term ambitions, with both elements considered key steps in taking positive action towards equality. These five longer-term ambitions are as follows:
- Ambition 1: Support services that promote independent living, meet needs and work together to enable a life of choices, opportunities and participation;
- Ambition 2: Decent incomes and fairer working lives;
- Ambition 3: Places that are accessible to everyone;
- Ambition 4: Protected rights; and
- Ambition 5: Active participation.
The Progress Report
On 22 March 2021, the Scottish Government published a progress report in relation to the Action Plan (the "Report"). The Report provides commentary in relation to each individual ambition. It recognises that there is still a substantial amount of work to be done in this area, despite the evident progress that has been made through implementation of the Action Plan to date.
Unsurprisingly, but crucially at this time of recovery and reflected learning, the COVID-19 pandemic is identified as a factor that has disproportionately affected disabled people, and has also created new and exacerbated issues for disabled people. More positively, however, the Report also notes that in some circumstances, the pandemic has resulted in a greater public awareness and appreciation of the inequalities that exist.
In addressing the Action Plan, and displaying the progress and findings to date, the Report includes an annex that contains each of the 93 practical actions, and the Scottish Government's corresponding response in relation to that action. This section outlines a number of different consultations, pilot schemes, strategies and funding initiatives that have been deployed by the Scottish Government, in an effort to adequately tackle each practical action.
The Report stands as evidence of a clear commitment to promoting change in Scotland where legislation remains with Westminster (the Equality Act being non-devolved legislation) and where detailed innovative thinking is required to make a difference. The next Scottish Government, when formed, will likely be tasked with ensuring that the Action Plan is taken forward and progressed. It will be interesting to monitor, if not encourage, action in the private sector to further change the way in which disability is perceived and removed from thought, to be a barrier.
In many sectors, technology and enforced working from home has proven to be a game-changer and has the potential to make a positive change to the workplace, ensuring people can have as flexible and accommodating a work pattern and working environment as possible (within operational reason). Positive changing attitudes to issues that may have impacted on access to work for some disabled people are beginning to be more clearly seen. With the appreciation across society of the impact on mental health of sustained lockdowns and economic challenge, not to mention the loss of loved ones, there may be stimulus and impetus for wider change to occur.
Businesses and organisations moving forward through 2021 will face multiple challenges. If the plan to meet those challenges could factor in even small steps and actions to be taken to help remove challenges and barriers for disabled people in the workplace, and in joining their workplace hopefully a big change could occur, with positive benefit for all. After all, Scotland is a small place; taking positive steps to benefit many in society can only be for the good of all in our society.
You can access the Progress Report here:
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