Laura Chapman, aka ‘Mole’ was an intern with Christina McKelvie MSP for the SNP from January to April 2018. She did parliamentary research on Universal Credit, speech writing and worked on a parliamentary bill about domestic abuse. Below, Mole tells us about what the internship has meant to her. Hope you enjoy the read, we certainly did!
It was so wonderful to be the chosen candidate of Inclusion Scotland’s internship programme and get to work with Christina McKelvie MSP at the Scottish Parliament. I have learned so much, and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity. I feel privileged and blessed to have had a wonderful time, and will be very sad to leave.
I had been underemployed for many years, and was feeling very despondent, hugely frightened and rather anxious. I had lost touch of my worth, as unemployment comes with huge frustration and hopelessness. It was a constant anguish, despite executive roles and a great deal of form filling. My days were endless. If I was not working on my PhD (to get a job), I was filling in job applications (to get a job), or lying awake worrying about debt (because I could not get a job). It has not been the best few years, and with the media coverage implying that disabled people are scroungers the quips and sneers on the street were hard to bear.
I applied for the Scottish Parliament internship with both trepidation and exuberance. I know, it’s a default mode, not exactly matched to my circumstances at the time. But one that made sense in view of a rare opportunity! Admittedly, my eye was drawn to a specific phrase in the blurb: ‘We don’t have an age limit’. While age is just a number, when you feel you are being judged and feel a little vulnerable, it matters! I was so very delighted at the opportunity!
There were many things I feared. Tight schedules, scornful colleagues, strict timekeeping, my body failing, being out of touch, and feeling daft and unprepared. Thanks to the Scottish Parliament, and understanding colleagues, I felt comfortable within hours. The preparation with Naomi Waite and Michelle Fisher helped enormously. I would recommend their knowledge to any organisation seeking to recruit disabled people respectfully. Thank you.
It was a truly life changing experience, I felt wanted and appreciated for the first time in ages. I’ll try and explain why. I was initially struck by how much my existing knowledge was useful. Having has a number of jobs requiring levels of expertise it was a pleasure to dust down the inner bookshelves. Writing speeches was something I had done for myself, but not having to go through the public bit was liberating. I blushed as Christina took to the floor in the chamber. I found a real joy in being able to write about my existing interests, areas I know a lot about. Oh yes, there is a bonus in being older. It was fantastic to have a purpose, to share understanding I really cared about. For example, Adverse Childhood Experiences, having worked in education for a decade, specialising in social justice and wellbeing. I also wrote about the domestic abuse Bill, being informed by an existing knowledge having chaired a charity that supports victims for many years. It felt so rewarding knowing what I had learned over two decades could help others – change laws and affect budgets.
The research part of the job was interesting. I was hoping to get a little light relief from my PhD topic, accountability to the disabled population, which is heavy and complex. However, while looking into universal credit was not a lot more cheerful, it did feel like important work. I felt I was exploring something very tangible, the impact on people suffering through no fault of their own, and being punished by a system unfit for purpose. The juxtaposition of having found happiness in a wonderful job while hearing about hardship did stir up internal conflict. However, I believe this is a good thing – as it proves the job was worth doing. I hope the findings bare that out, as I believe research is worthwhile if it helps shed light on a problem that threatens the human rights of vulnerable communities.
From my perspective, the Inclusion Scotland programme gave me so much more than a few weeks work. It gave me back health and self worth, having my skills appreciated was deeply rewarding, and gave me hope for the future. It contradicted my own internalised oppression, a deeply held prejudice, that I am ready for the bin. More widely, I hope it proves that disabled people should be paid for their contribution to the workplaces in which they can thrive.
It wasn’t plain sailing, there were issues, bumps, and problems. However I was never made to feel ashamed, the kindness and understanding came in abundance. I’m truly thankful and appreciative of the generosity I was showered with. Being part of a team with a democratic purpose was life affirming. I felt proud, and actually went home having played a part in a bigger conversation, I had made a difference, added my bit to the pot!
Inclusion Scotland is funded by the Scottish Government’s Equality Unit to deliver the National Disability Internship Programme “We Can Work”. 30 internships will be created for disabled people per year as per the Scottish Government’s A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People Delivery Plan. You can find out more about the plan by clicking here.