A disability should not exclude anyone from society - Jeremy Balfour
With everything going at the moment, you could be forgiven for not realising that it is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Thursday. Introduced by the UN in 1992, there is much progress to celebrate in terms of disability in the UK.
However, there is still much work to do. There remains a great disparity between employment levels and opportunities between the disabled and non-disabled and unfortunately, I remain alone as the only member of the Scottish Parliament who openly defines themselves as physically disabled.
Just think about that. Out of the 129 MSPs people across Scotland elect to represent, there is only one who has a physical disability, and only a further two with hidden disabilities. That is a far cry away from ensuring that those with disabilities are fairly represented in our political system in Scotland.
We are now a quarter of a century on from the Disability Discrimination Act which was introduced by William Hague, who was the Minister responsible for disability at the time. This was a positive move to address the concerns of disabled people who had been protesting against their lack of rights in the workplace. The Act certainly changed the narrative surrounding disability from vulnerable and helpless, to capable and equal and we have continued to build on this significant piece of legislation to reduce discrimination within the workplace and in our education system.
However, as we approach the end of 2020 we still have much to do. I consider myself one of the fortunate ones. I have been to university, I have more than one degree, I have never been unemployed long-term and I am currently in a well-paid job. Unfortunately, this is not the experience of the majority of disabled people across Scotland.
Across the UK, there are only 53.2 per cent of those living with a disability are in employment, almost 30 per cent lower than the rate for non-disabled people.
In Scotland, the situation is even worse. Fewer than half of disabled people are in employment. With one in five people in Scotland defining themselves as disabled, the number of disabled people is stark as a percentage of our overall population.
The SNP government – which has been in charge for more than 13 years – constantly talks itself up as a government of inclusion and doing things differently so this record is simply not good enough. Disabled people are being left behind, and the effects of Covid-19 pandemic are only likely to make this worse.
This is true both within the workplace and within everyday life. This pandemic has brought to light the discrimination that disabled people, particularly those with invisible disabilities, regularly have to face. Being unable to wear a face mask has left many people with hidden disabilities on the receiving end of verbal abuse.
Ahead of the Scottish Parliament election in May, my party and every other party seeking office must strive to do everything we can to guarantee a fairer representation of disabled people within Holyrood.
However, the SNP – as the party of government – have a responsibility to ensure that changes are being made across the whole of society that make Scotland more inclusive of disabilities.
Jeremy Balfour is a Conservative MSP for Lothian region