Political candidates attended a hustings organised by charities that work with people with disabilities
A group of charities came together to make sure the voices of people with disabilities are heard during the election campaign.
With the Holyrood elections next week, 80 disabled people, families and carers came together to grill representatives of the major political parties at an online hustings event on Thursday 22 April.
As many as one in five people in Scotland are disabled or have a long-term health condition, meaning they are a sizeable portion of the electorate. Despite this, very little time has been given to debating the issues that directly affect disabled people and families as campaigning has gone on.
Last week’s event was organised by a consortium of nine major charities who are trying to rebalance the debate so the voices of disabled people and families are heard and their views considered.
At the hustings, disabled people questioned candidates from the five main Scottish political parties on a wide range of issues including social care, the impact of the pandemic, social security, employment as well as rights and access. The panel was chaired by award-winning freelance journalist and broadcaster Pennie Taylor, who specialises in health and social care issues and covered by STV on Wednesday.
Rob Holland, external affairs manager for the National Autistic Society Scotland and one of the organisers of the hustings, said: “Around one million people in Scotland have a disability or long-term health condition yet their views are often excluded from the national debate.
"Given the uncertainty about the post-COVID landscape it is more important than ever for political parties to hear from disabled people and families, understand the challenges they face and do something about it."
David Weir, is 31, autistic and from South Lanarkshire. He said: “The event was really important because it gave autistic people like me an opportunity to have our voices heard by the parties. I find that politicians often don’t know much about autism and other hidden disabilities, that really needs to change otherwise we will continue to be left out the debate.
"I always vote and encourage other autistic people to vote. I feel that many politicians don’t listen – so the more disabled people speaking up the more they will understand the challenges we face and hopefully do something about it.”
Cat Johnson, 34 from Edinburgh, was diagnosed with MS at the age of 21 in 2007. She said: “As someone with MS who has acquired disability rather than being born with one, you see both sides and remember how things were before. The way that we view and treat disabled people in society is so far off what is OK and that’s frustrating.
“It’s good to see politicians and their parties engaging at this stage but we need a longer term push for real change to provide better support for disabled people.
“Things like the new Scottish social security system holding on to the 20-metre-rule, which sets a baseless measure for the highest level of mobility support, need to change if we want to build a better, fairer society.”
Kirin Saeed, 52 from Edinburgh is blind. She said: “I as a visually impaired Asian woman believe events like these offer me and others to question the main decision makers, politicians, as well as to create greater awareness in the hope greater change may happen, although we have come a long way there is so much still yet to do. COVID19 has shown the importance in investing in the vulnerable of society to benefit all.
"I am a pragmatic optimist and feel the only way we will have greater say is to be at the heart of the legislative process. And having the chance to question and getting a small response is a positive start. It is what happens afterwards that I really look forward towards.”
Representing the main political parties at the event were: Jeremy Balfour (Scottish Conservatives), Pam Duncan-Glancy (Scottish Labour), Neil Gray (SNP), Gillian Mackay (Scottish Green Party) and John Waddell (Scottish Liberal Democrats).
The charities that organised the hustings were ENABLE Scotland, Health and Social Care Scotland (the ALLIANCE), Leonard Cheshire Disability, MS Society Scotland, National Autistic Society Scotland, RNIB Scotland, Scottish Autism, Sense Scotland and Sight Scotland.