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Government fails to empower disabled people

This opinion piece is almost 8 years old
 

Tressa Burke, chief executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance, explains why her organisation is objecting to the community empowerment bill.

Tressa Burke, chief executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance
Tressa Burke, chief executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance

“They want to know what disabled people think about community empowerment but they won’t enable us to read it,” said a Glasgow Disability Alliance member during our recent consultation for disabled people on the proposed community empowerment bill.

Disabled people were shocked when the Scottish Government told us there would be no easy read version of the consultation because it is too detailed. Not only is this a fundamental misunderstanding of accessible communications (anything can be easy read – that’s the point), it also breaches Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, and the Equality Act.

Unfortunately, this exclusion of many disabled people from the consultation process itself is a very apt metaphor for what’s in the bill, or for that matter, what is not. Disabled people in the most disadvantaged and marginalised communities in Scotland struggle to see much of value for themselves.

I fear that this legislation will only serve to entrench and widen inequality in Scotland. As we made clear in our consultation response, this is regression for the most marginalised and deprived communities in Scotland, not empowerment

Some of the original ideas focused on empowering and renewing communities: this could have been transformative. We know that culture change cannot come from legislation alone. However, we can legislate to empower communities to help make change happen. We would almost certainly never have greater equality without legislation, such as the Equality Act or the Equal Marriage Act.

As the Christie Commission made clear, we have to transform our public services and invest in preventative spending. That’s not just about saving public money, but building the social infrastructure which enables human rights and independent living. More important than our rights existing in law is that they are intrinsic to humanity. Our lives have value because we live them, not just because we work or add to GDP. After all we don’t just live in an economy, we live in a society. And we want to contribute in so many ways which would have been enabled by a stronger bill.

The community empowerment bill could have been a vehicle to enable real, progressive change. But, a right to request to participate in property allocation or the planning of a service is not the same as genuine co-production between public agencies and the communities they serve. Community Planning Partnerships do not guarantee the interests of communities of place or interest will be actively served. This was a lost opportunity to revive the National Standards for Community Engagement, designed with the input of over 500 people which put local people and communities of interest into the heart of public service delivery.

Over my 20 odd years in community development, I’ve learned a lot and was excited to be asked to share some of this with the reference group for the bill. Along with many others who are at the heart of real community empowerment in Scotland we contributed ideas and voices of those who are not usually heard. Sadly, these are not reflected in the bill, and I fear that this legislation will only serve to entrench and widen inequality in Scotland. As we made clear in our consultation response, this is regression for the most marginalised and deprived communities in Scotland, not empowerment.

 

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