On Tuesday 22nd May the Scottish Parliament had a debate about the disability employment gap, and how Scotland could make employment fairer for disabled people. At the moment, 42% of working age disabled people are in work compared to 80% of non disabled people. The Scottish Government recently held a Congress on the issue and what can be done to reach equality. Our Summit report Situations Vacant was launched on the same day, sharing disabled people’s solutions. You can find the report in plain english, easy read and BSL by following this link. the shift in focus to be from disabled people needing to be more “employable” and for employers to be more aware of how to support us. Members gave their opinions on the gap and the many barriers disabled people face. Alex Cole Hamilton MSP for Edinburgh Western said, “We should adopt the idea of “employerability” that has been fostered by Inclusion Scotland”.
Some members shared stories from their personal experience as disabled people and as employers of interns from the Parliamentary Internships we support. Members also reflected on the success of the Access to Elected Office Fund Scotland and how it showed that disabled people can achieve great things more easily with the right support in place. Daniel Johnson, MSP for Edinburgh Southern mentioned his concerns about employers not making adjustments for people with impairments they might know less about. He said:
“Disability is not just about those with a physical disability; it is also about people with intellectual and neurological disabilities, and neurodevelopmental disorders such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. Does he agree that more needs to be done to raise awareness of that and make sure that employers make reasonable adjustments for such people? I note that I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
Jeremy Balfour, MSP for Lothian made an interesting point about comparisons between the public and private sectors. He also touched on the amount of disabled people in senior leadership in the public sector. He said:
“There are a number of myths out there among employers and in the disability community—even among those with a disability. One myth is that the private sector is bad and the public sector is good. We have to be careful that we do not buy into that myth. How many disabled people have made it to chief executive or director positions in a local authority or in the NHS, or even to other senior council positions? From my brief look over the past few days, the answer is very few. The myth that the public sector has got it right is simply not correct.”
MSPs who spoke in the debate have hosted interns in including Rhoda Grant, Jamie Hepburn and current host Oliver Mundell. They shared experiences of working with their intern and realising the barriers that they faced to getting into the jobs they want. Rhoda Grant said:
“I was fortunate enough to be one of the first members of the Scottish Parliament to take part in Inclusion Scotland’s parliamentary internship programme, which pays for interns to be placed with MSPs in order to gain work experience. I had the pleasure of having Ryan McMullan as my intern—some members might have met him; they certainly will not have forgotten him if they did so. Ryan has cerebral palsy, which makes his speech difficult to understand, but he was undaunted and he was a real asset to our office.
I learned more from the internship than Ryan did. Initially, we had to make adaptations and find technology that would enable him to answer the phone, for example. Then I became aware that people who did not know Ryan were sometimes awkward around him—that was very obvious to him. The experience taught me that we simply need to take time to find out how to work alongside a person with a disability and that, if we do that, we all benefit.”
Oliver Mundell is currently hosting Fiona at his constituency office in Lockerbie. He shared his experience of working with Fiona, and how she has challenged perceptions people have of Deaf and disabled people:
“Like Rhoda Grant, I am pleased to have been able to take part in Inclusion Scotland’s We Can Work internship scheme. I have learned a great deal—probably even more than my intern Fiona has learned. During her time in my office, she did a great job not only in challenging perceptions, including mine, but in using her role and her own voice to speak out and campaign on disability issues. This week, she said that she is determined to push forward work on British Sign Language, because she is sure that the next First Minister of Scotland or the person who will find a cure for cancer may be sitting in a school in Dumfriesshire without the support and help that they need to make all that they can of their life. That is the point: there is a huge untapped pool of talent out there on which we are all missing out. If we can get our approach right, it will make a big difference.”
There were also mentions of the Access to Elected Office Fund Scotland, which is delivered by Inclusion Scotland for the Scottish Government. On the subject of “tokenism” in increasing equality for disabled people in work, George Adam, MSP for Paisley said
“Already, the access to elected office fund provides financial support to help disabled people overcome the extra difficulties that they might face in striving to attain and then undertaking an elected position. In the recent local government elections alone, more than 39 candidates were supported through the fund, 15 of whom were elected as councillors. The fund is of personal importance to me as my sister, Councillor Jennifer Adam-McGregor, was one of the candidates who received unrivalled support and is now a proud member of Renfrewshire Council. Jennifer Adam may be many things, but she is not a product of tokenism.”
It is fantastic to see that the disabled people who take part in our employability and civic participation are challenging perceptions in Scottish public life. The next round of Parliamentary Internships is due to recruit in the next few months, and on 14th June we will be launching the Access to Politics Charter at the Scottish Parliament. If you would like to stay up to date with news from these projects, please If you would like to stay up to date with news from these projects, please click here. You can read about how we use your personal details for our newsletters how we use your personal details for our newsletters here..
You can read the debate on the Parliament website here.