Over a million disabled people contribute to Scotland's communities and add talent, diversity and richness to our society. Yet so many people are still unable to make their contribution or live their lives as they would want because of the barriers in their way. Our homes, our transport, our workplaces, our public services and our local environments are all too often designed or operated in ways that can exclude disabled people. Inaccessible communication, negative attitudes, low expectations, discrimination and inequality impact in ways which interact and affect the chances of disabled people - even to have social connections and human interaction. This can lead to isolation and loneliness. And too often, unless we face these barriers ourselves, we do not notice they are there or understand the impact they can have. So our job is to work together to remove those barriers. That is what this Delivery Plan is focused on doing.
This is a job for all of us. It also matters to all us because a fairer Scotland can only be realised when we secure equal rights for everyone. When we do that, the lives of each one of us will be richer, more fulfilling and more secure. The Scottish Government recognises that we can only find effective solutions to the problems and barriers faced if we draw on the lived experience of disabled people, and work with disabled people to develop our policies and approach to find ways of solving problems and dismantling barriers.
We are not starting from scratch. There have been significant advances in areas such as Self-directed Support, in supporting people with autism and dementia, in strengthening Building Standards and in our recognition of British Sign Language. We also continue to support important measures such as concessionary travel, tackling social isolation and building capacity and resilience. But it is still not nearly enough. We need to increase the pace and depth of change if there is to be a real transformation in the lives and experiences of disabled people.
Many of us will develop impairments through ageing or accident or ill-health and there is much that can be done to support people to continue to live their lives to the full. We want to ensure that all disabled people can be supported to live and work in a place and in a way they choose.
The UK Government has embraced austerity economics, abolished the Independent Living Fund, cut employability programmes, and pursued changes to our welfare state which have resulted in the UN declaring in November 2016 that there was evidence of 'grave or systematic violations' of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - articles 19 (independent living), 27 (work and employment) and 28 (social protection).
The Scottish Government has already taken action to respond to these harmful policies. We are mitigating welfare cuts with funding of £100 million a year. This includes fully protecting households from the bedroom tax - 80% of which have a disabled adult. We set up our own Independent Living Fund to ensure disabled people would not be disadvantaged and went further to open the Fund to new applicants. And we have stated our strong commitment to support disabled people through a social security system based on dignity, fairness and respect. The new 'socio-economic duty' too will require strategic decision-making by public authorities to take account of, and take steps to address, the economic disadvantage experienced by particular groups, including disabled people. And while we do not have all the powers or levers in our hands to address all the unfairness that has been created, we must do more with the resources and the powers we do have.
Set out in this Plan are the steps we believe we need to take towards realising the five longer-term ambitions. It reflects our consultation and engagement with disabled people about how to reduce barriers, tackle inequalities and secure equal enjoyment of their rights as set out under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have high ambitions for the changes we want to see. We make no apologies for this. Disabled people have the right to no less. But we also know that the scale and extent of change necessary for real transformation in the experiences of disabled people will take concerted action over this Parliamentary term and beyond. And it will need all of us working together over the long term. Working with disabled people and the organisations that represent them, we have identified the specific actions we will take over the next five years to make significant progress towards these longer-term ambitions. The direct involvement of disabled people is essential as we implement these changes and we will continue our strong collaboration, with early engagement around priorities and timing.
We need to make our principles come alive in all that we do and couple them with our determination to make a real, positive difference to disabled people's lives. Our goal is nothing less than for all disabled people to have choice and control, dignity and freedom to live the life they choose, with the support they need to do so. As the First Minister said:
'We need to redouble our efforts to tackle inequality head-on, and ensure everyone has the chance to realise his or her full potential.'
Minister for Social Security