Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have welcomed the Scottish government’s decision to open the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new claimants for the first time since 2010*.
The decision by Scotland’s new first minister, Humza Yousaf – which will only affect disabled people in Scotland – was announced on Tuesday as part of his first Programme for Government.
It came a day after seven Scottish DPOs** wrote to the first minister, calling on him to prioritise disabled people and “reset” his relationship with them.
They warned in the letter that disabled people in Scotland were facing “a human and social catastrophe” and that “successive policies have not only failed to tackle disabled people’s poverty, inequalities and poorer life outcomes” but had widened them.
They said that a “lack of focus and attention, combined with no accountability or political leadership and a genuine gap in disability competence politically and in your Government” had led to disabled people and DPOs feeling “dehumanised and deprioritised”.
They also told Yousaf: “As Scotland’s leading DPOs we urge you to intervene, using your leadership to stop more disabled people dying and instead create conditions which enable officials to focus on disabled people’s equalities cross Government.”
The DPOs have been working with the Scottish government for six months on an Immediate Priorities Plan, and Yousaf’s programme confirmed on Tuesday that the government was working with DPOs to implement the plan, which would recognise “the disproportionate impact the cost of living crisis and the pandemic has had on this group, setting out clear actions for change”.
But Scottish DPOs that signed the letter stressed this week that these actions now needed to be resourced, measured and monitored.
Tressa Burke, chief executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance (GDA), said her organisation was “absolutely thrilled” by the decision on ILF Scotland, which helps disabled people with high support needs to live independently.
Yousaf referenced a visit last month to GDA in his speech to the Scottish parliament, telling MSPs that the “very moving testimony” of GDA’s Purple Poncho Players had helped persuade him to open ILF Scotland to new claimants next year, with an initial investment of £9 million.
Burke said: “We feel as though we have been heard. He has listened and he has acted.
“There is no better demonstration that he has acted on lived experience than reopening the ILF.
“That is an absolute win, it is a re-setting of the relationship that DPOs have with the Scottish government.”
She also welcomed the commitment to the Immediate Priorities Plan in the Programme for Government.
But she said: “The really important thing that’s missing from it is we need resources and we need measurable actions. That is incredibly important.
“The real devil will be in the detail: can we get actions that are resourced and that are measurable and can we set up a government structure with political oversight and disabled people’s involvement through the DPO movement in Scotland.”
She said there needed to be action across government on “disability equality competence” – understanding the barriers disabled people face and how to overcome them, while all policies – such as those on child poverty, welfare rights and employment – needed to be accessible to disabled people.
Lyn Pornaro, chief executive of Disability Equality Scotland, which also signed the letter, said it had been “a welcome change to have disabled people mentioned specifically in the Programme for Government for the next year.
“It was also encouraging to hear the commitment to re-opening the Independent Living Fund Scotland.”
But she said the government had also committed to ending social care charges, and that had not yet happened.
She said: “As DPOs we have been working with Scottish government around the Immediate Priorities Plan and therefore welcome the finalising and publishing of this.
“However, it has been stressed over and over that this plan, and the wider Disability Equality Strategy, needs proper resourcing.
“For our members, and all Deaf and disabled people across Scotland, we hope that the first minister and his government take their commitments fully and act quickly to reduce the ongoing disparity between us and non-disabled people.
“For too long, disabled people have had their human rights systemically eroded, been discriminated against, and been ignored.”
Bill Scott, senior policy advisor for Inclusion Scotland, another of the DPOs to sign the letter, said the ILF announcement was “very much welcomed”, as was the pledge to increase the Scottish child payment in line with inflation, as families including disabled children or disabled parents are more likely to qualify.
But he said the depth of disabled people’s poverty in Scotland was “now endangering their lives”.
He said: “Both the Scottish and UK governments need to do much more to provide targeted financial support to disabled people to help them cope with the cost-of-living crisis.”
He added: “The real issue is that changing laws is one thing but making housing, transport, health, education and other services more accessible to disabled people is another.
“That will cost money and there’s no mention of extra funding for that in the Programme for Government.”
Responding to the DPO letter – before Yousaf announced his Programme for Government – a Scottish government spokesperson said: “The Scottish government remains committed to advancing equality for disabled people, who we recognise are disproportionately impacted by the UK government’s welfare cuts and current cost-of-living crisis.
“We are working closely with disabled people’s organisations to develop actions that combat the effects the crisis continues to have on disabled people’s lives.”
*The Independent Living Fund has been closed to new applicants since 2010. It closed completely across the UK in June 2015, but the Scottish government established ILF Scotland, which provides funding for former ILF recipients through the Scottish government, and administers funding for former recipients from Northern Ireland
**Disability Equality Scotland, Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living, Glasgow Disability Alliance, Inclusion Scotland, Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living, People First Scotland and Self-Directed Support Scotland
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