Today the SNP held the Disabled Members Conference in Glasgow – the first event of its kind for any political party in Scotland.
Over 170 members came together for a day of workshops, keynote speakers, and vibrant discussion. We heard from a range of speakers, including the SNP’s Women’s and Equalities Officer Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh, as well as Councillor Sheila Hands and Dennis Robertson MSP who both spoke about their experience of being a representative with an impairment. Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Mental Health, set out the Scottish Government’s commitment to improve mental health services in Scotland.
In her closing speech, Nicola Sturgeon talked about her desire to see more disabled people in politics – at all levels – and some of the action the SNP is taking as a party to deliver this. Last year the SNP signed up to the 1 in 5 campaign to improve representation of people with disabilities and, in government, is also providing funding to Inclusion Scotland to offer support to disabled candidates standing in this year’s election – and prospective candidates for next year’s council elections too.
This builds on a range of actions the SNP Scottish Government is taking to support people with disabilities, which, to name but a few, includes: mitigating the effect of Westminster’s damaging welfare reforms, which disproportionately affect and undermine the human rights of disabled people; establishing the Scottish Independent Living Fund, which provides support for over 2,800 disabled people across the country; protecting the Disabled Students Allowance from Tory cuts, and recognising British Sign Language as a language.
Nicola Sturgeon also spoke about the SNP’s work to make the Living Wage a reality for social care workers across Scotland. As part of the Local Government spending package, Deputy First Minister John Swinney is offering councils across Scotland £250 million to invest in the integration of health and social care, which includes a commitment to pay a living wage to all social care workers. This will require support from Scottish Labour councillors, and Nicola called on Scottish Labour to work with the SNP to tackle low pay in the care sector.
This landmark policy will cover all social care workers – those who are employed by the council, an independent provider or the third sector – and will benefit an estimated 40,000 staff. Our social care workers play an invaluable role in society, and so it is more important than ever that the very best staff can be attracted and retained.
When it comes to making Scotland more equal and inclusive, good progress is being made, but we’ve still some distance to travel when it comes to improving participation of disabled people in public and political life. Today’s conference was an excellent opportunity to look forward. For many people the conference was their first political gathering, and by sharing experiences we were able to encourage each other to become more politically active, and in doing so expand the definition of activism itself.
Some members are now looking forward to attending their first branch meeting, some have taken away tips for social media engagement and a few are considering becoming a Councillor in 2017. Who knows, one or two may have new aspirations of becoming Scotland’s next First Minister!