Jan Savage: Don’t forget voters with learning disabilities

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PEOPLE with learning disabilities are Scotland’s forgotten constituents, says Jan Savage, and that has to change.

POLITICAL rhetoric pre-election has left us with a forgotten group of constituents – the 120,000 people in Scotland with a learning disability and their families.

That’s more people than the total electorate in central and north Edinburgh and Leith at the last Scottish election in 2011.

Would any of the parties forget almost half of Edinburgh? People who have learning disabilities are being left out of mainstream debates on policy which affects their lives adversely, for example, education and social security. Not all of the main parties will produce an accessible, easy-read manifesto.

Key election issues for people with learning disabilities are rarely debated and many politicians don’t really know how these things impact on people’s lives. We are trying to change that with our #ENABLEtheVote hustings, asking parties to produce accessible manifestos, and calling on them to #BeTheChange by delivering our ten key changes in the next parliament.

For example, in the pre-election debate we hear a lot about the attainment gap and educational reform – these conversations very often focus on rich and poor. But there’s another attainment gap in Scotland between those young people who have learning disabilities and those who don’t.

Our National Conversation on life in school for those who have learning disabilities has already found half of young people who have learning disabilities have been informally excluded from school.

It also found out that the level of support available to them is already woefully inconsistent. This all adversely affects their life chances.

We also know that welfare reforms have left households with disabled adults and children facing total income reductions of £1900 a year – this is three times the reduction experienced by other households.

In the case of employment, while around 75 per cent of the Scottish population is in work, only seven per cent of people who have learning disabilities have a job, despite more than 65 per cent of them wanting to work.

Scotland has the opportunity to do things differently and to really make a difference to the lives of disabled people. That debate should be led by the voices of experience – disabled people and their families.

Earlier in April, we held the first of eight special hustings in Edinburgh for people who learning disabilities, where they grilled candidates. High on the agenda were social security, education, employment and being truly included in politics – a pattern repeated at subsequent events throughout the country. That’s why ENABLE Scotland is calling on politicians to Be the Change for Scotland’s too often “forgotten constituents”.

• Jan Savage is executive director of campaigns and external affairs at Enable Scotland