For too long the voices of disabled people in Scotland have not been heard.
With one in five of Scotland’s population – approximately one million people – defined as disabled, this voice should be loud and clear and yet disabled people still face many difficulties and discrimination in their day-to- day life, in areas such as education, housing, welfare and employment.
Disabled people are 50% less likely to hold any formal qualification compared with non-disabled people, only 50% of registered working-age disabled people are in employment compared to 80% of their non-disabled counterparts, and 25% of individuals in families with at least one disabled member live in income poverty compared to 16% of individuals in households with no disabled member. In addition, around three in four people believe there is some level of prejudice in Britain towards disabled people.
There can be no doubt that something needs to be done. The Disabled Community in Scotland cannot continue to be ignored. They need a champion who can act as their champion at the highest level of government in Holyrood.
My intention is to bring forward a Member’s Bill to establish a Disability Commissioner in Scotland.
The proposed Bill will follow a similar model to that of the Children and Young People Commissioner that was established in Scotland in 2004. They will act as a Champion for those who for too long have not been given a fair voice and ensure that disability issues are given the attention that they deserve.
The Disability Commissioner will work closely and in conjunction with disabled people and, involve them in policy and decision making, ensuring inclusive communication, and reaching out to those that do not have other adequate means by which they can make their views known.
The Commissioner will also work collaboratively with existing public bodies and organisations where there might be some cross-over in powers, but with the Disability Commissioner being the first port of call and a champion of Disabled rights, where they can decide if they are best placed to act or to liaise and signpost to other organisations that may be better placed to help.
Before my proposal is put forward for parliamentary scrutiny, I am keen to ensure that as many voices as possible are heard during this key consultation period. Hearing from people with lived experience of disabilities, both physical and mental/hidden, those who champion rights and others key stakeholders who have an interest in promoting the rights of disabled people need to be included in this legislative process to ensure this proposed Bill is as effective as possible in its aims and objectives.
You can have your feelings heard by responding to my consultation. By taking around half an hour to answer a series of questions, you can ensure your voice is heard and have your say on what the commissioner’s role should look like.
You can find the consultation survey on my website at: www.jeremybalfour.org.uk/disability-commissioner-scotland
I welcome your thoughts and views on this draft proposal for a Member’s Bill and hope we can work together to develop legislation that will allow the establishment of a Disability Commissioner for Scotland.