Weekly Poll – Disability Commissioner Bill: Aims (Week Beginning 4 July 2022)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 4 July 2022, we asked a question about the proposed aims of the Disability Commissioner Bill.

Please note that this is a snapshot of the views of our membership and does not reflect a policy stance of Disability Equality Scotland. If you plan to reference the findings featured in this report, please contact us in advance so that we are aware of this.

Results

Question 1. How supportive are you on whether there is a need for a dedicated Commissioner for disabled people in Scotland?

  • Fully supportive – 89% (102 respondents)
  • Partly supportive – 2% (2 respondents)
  • Neither supportive nor unsupportive – 3% (3 respondents)
  • Not very supportive – 1% (1 respondent)
  • Not at all supportive – 4% (5 respondents)
  • Unsure – 1% (1 respondent)

Question 2. How supportive are you on the suggested aims to consider in establishing the role of Disability Commissioner?

  • Fully supportive – 83% (95 respondents)
  • Partly supportive – 4% (5 respondents)
  • Neither supportive nor unsupportive – 4% (5 respondents)
  • Not very supportive – 1% (1 respondent)
  • Not at all supportive – 5% (6 respondents)
  • Unsure – 3% (3 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Disability Commissioner Bill

A consultation has been launched by Jeremy Balfour MSP on a draft Bill to establish a Disability Commissioner for Scotland. The purpose of the Disability Commissioner is to work independently from the Scottish government as a “voice for the disabled community”, and to monitor the policies that are introduced to support disabled people in Scotland.

Supportive

The results of the poll revealed that 89% (102 respondents) are ‘fully supportive’ of the need for a dedicated Commissioner for disabled people in Scotland. Respondents who are supportive of the Commissioner reflected on the barriers that society creates that prevent disabled people from participating fully in daily life.

“We need a voice where our worries and fears are passed over. We need a voice to tell the government about ALL the problems we face whether it be housing, bullying, access, etc. We need to tell the government that we are not second class citizens and we matter. I am fed up living in a country where we have to plan our journeys and days. It is virtually impossible for us to be impulsive and just go somewhere.”

“We as a disabled group are not represented well. it’s like we don’t exist or are shoved under the carpet no one wants to acknowledge us, which is totally shocking in this year 2022.”

“I have been trying to find part-time employment to no avail. It’s not for lack of experience, professional and academic qualifications. I wonder if ticking the disabled box on the application form had an influence? Disabled people come in all shapes and sizes, yet we are continually put in a box. Lots of good work by a variety of people have meant that our whispers can be heard. However, we need to be heard loud, we need an advocate with clout. Therefore, I strongly support establishing the role of a Disability Commissioner.”

“It is long overdue to have a person who will have a voice in the highest level of the land – they can start by reducing the negative changes that we are having to endure with streetscapes under active travel!”

“We would be ecstatic if such a person existed. Perhaps there wouldn’t be so much disability hate crime around, which we are sufferers of right now. I don’t think it should be just down to the carers to speak up on behalf of disabled people. Far more power is needed to protect disabled people.”

“Having a Disability Commissioner will give people living with a range of different disabilities and long-term conditions a person to contact or look to for advice and support when they think something is being overlooked or forgotten. An example might be having issues with access to transport in a local area. The Commissioner would also be a good way for people to obtain information and advice on issues related to benefits and health issues.”

Not Supportive

The minority of respondents who do not support the introduction of a Disability Commissioner shared their concerns about the proposed Bill.

“The idea of a Commissioner came out of nowhere. If all existing Commissioners were doing their jobs – Children’s Commissioner, Older Persons Commissioner, etc in representing the needs of disabled people then a Commissioners role wouldn’t be required. Particularly in relation to a Neurodiversity Commissioner, for too long people with lived experience have had things decided for them and not by them. The Commissioner role would be a further extension of this.”

“These aims are weak and not worth pursuing, it would be a waste of money. If we aren’t going to actively give people a way to enact our rights, then it’s just window dressing that we don’t need. We have the Equality Act but it’s too hard for individual citizens to make it useful, this would just be another layer of fluff.”

“Cart before the horse again. Our current ‘disability legislation’ is farcical and needs, teeth, mandatory reporting and action, before I’d support the creation of a Disability Commissioner.”

“It would be better to work improving the attitude of the DWP and dealing with the aggressive attitude in the present Westminster government against disabled people in Britain.”

Aims of the Proposed Bill

In the proposed Bill there are a number of key aims to consider in establishing the role of Disability Commissioner. The Commissioner will:

  • be independent from the Scottish government and funded by the Scottish Parliament
  • promote and protect the rights of disabled people
  • keep reviewing the law and assess the suitability of policy and practice relating to the rights of disabled people
  • promote best practice and learning from service providers, including charities that work with disabled people
  • consider the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People
  • encourage the involvement of disabled people in the work of the Commissioner
  • communicate in an inclusive way, paying particular attention to groups of disabled people who require communication support
  • report to the Scottish Parliament on an annual basis

In response to the aims of the proposed Bill, 83% (95 respondents) indicated that they are ‘fully supportive’. Respondents shared their views on the proposed aims.

Independent from Government

To effectively hold the Scottish Government to account, it is proposed that the Disability Commissioner will be independent of government and funded by the Scottish Parliament.

“This individual must be genuinely independent of the Government and all other influencing organisations.”

“They need to have appropriate powers and be independent of Government.”

“This is well overdue in my opinion. We need to have an independent body looking after our rights.”

Engagement with Disabled People and DPOs

The Commissioner will encourage the involvement of disabled people and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) to ensure that their views are being heard and any issues they are facing are addressed. Respondents recognised the importance of meaningful and ongoing engagement with disabled people.

“It is essential disabled people are represented through meaningful engagement and not just paid lip service.”

“I think that the Commissioner should work with groups and individuals as part of their role, on a regular basis at least monthly.”

“It’s about time they started asking disabled people what we think about things before they start imposing things on us.”

“The Commissioner should promote best practice and learn from service providers, including charities that work with disabled people.”

Communication

The Commissioner must have awareness of the importance of inclusive communication to ensure that individuals receive information and express themselves in a way that best meets everyone’s needs. It was noted by one respondent that the initial consultation process for the proposed Disability Commissioner Bill is not available in a range of accessible formats, such as Easy Read and British Sign Language.

“Where are the accessible versions of this consultation document? By not providing this they are preventing some disabled people from giving their views on what they want. It is worrying that when laws are being proposed that will affect the lives of disabled people, they are being excluded from the very discussions about what should be done. The law fails at the very first step.”

Scope

The Commissioner will be able to review any legislation passing through the Scottish Parliament, to ensure that disabled people’s needs, and rights are at the heart of any proposed legislative changes. Respondents supported this aim and believed that interventions by the Commissioner must be listened to and acted upon by the Scottish Government.

“The Commissioner should investigate and make interventions. We don’t want all talk an no action.”

“I am fully supportive of anything that promotes and protects the rights of disabled people. It is archaic that the law isn’t continually reviewed and the suitability of policy and practice relating to the rights of disabled people regularly assessed.”

“The proof will be in the actions of the Commissioner and how they work to help people. Can they make the council treat disabled people properly? Can they make the council adhere to the law? Far too often disabled people’s rights are trampled on in areas of housing, refusing to register people because of disability in dentists and refusing permission to go into places of entertainment. Also, restaurants not providing full ingredients with possible fatal results. The list is endless. If a Commissioner can help with these areas, then I would support them. But if they cannot operate with ‘teeth’ then they will be a waste of money.”

“If the Disability Commissioner is really going to be a “voice for the disabled community” then the Scottish Government must respect his/her/their recommendations and implement them. Rather than this being a “token” position.”

Report to Scottish Parliament

It is proposed that the Commissioner will report to the Scottish Parliament on an annual basis. This will allow the Scottish Parliament to scrutinise the work of the Commissioner and raise any issues at a national level. One respondent believed that the reporting should be conducted more frequently.

“The Commissioner reporting to the Scottish Parliament should be on a more regular basis.”

Criteria

A portion of respondents believed that it must be a requirement for the Commissioner to have personal experience of disability.

“There is a desperate need for a dedicated Cabinet Disability Minister in the Scottish Parliament. A Disability Commissioner would have to have a physical or mental health impairment, giving them a lived experience of what it means to live on a daily basis with a disability. This is where the issues arise as historically there is a tendency to focus on matters relating to their own disability to the detriment of other impairments.”

“This individual must themselves be disabled and have personal genuine experiences of the barriers and prejudices we all are forced to live with.”

Conclusion

The majority of respondents (89%) are ‘fully supportive’ of the proposed Disability Commissioner Bill. Respondents believed a Disability Commissioner has the potential to address the existing barriers which prevent disabled people from being able to meaningfully participate in society. When reflecting on the aims of the Bill, the majority (83%) stated that they are ‘fully supportive’. It was recognised that to hold the government to account, the Commissioner must be fully independent. Respondents also agreed that the Commissioner must be able to review any legislation passing through the Scottish Parliament and engage frequently and meaningfully with disabled people and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs). To help achieve is, it is important to embed inclusive communication throughout all aspects of the Bill. Respondents who do not support a Disability Commissioner questioned the effectiveness of existing Commissioners, the need to prioritise reviewing existing legislation and the impact of UK government policy.