September saw us hosting our annual Scotland conference, once again sponsored by our good friend and Partner, Royal Bank of Scotland. Our title was Disability: Let’s Talk About It and we were focusing on just that – how we talk about disability and make sure it is on the agenda in this ever-changing world we live in.
At the end of July, the UK Government launched the long-awaited National Disability Strategy. We welcomed the launch in putting disability higher on the political agenda, and many of the measures within it announced by individual Government departments. But more needs to be done to turn this from a one-year plan into a strategy that truly transforms the life chances of disabled people, and which takes a whole-life approach to disabled people’s lives. Disabled people have raised concerns about the consultation process, which need to be addressed going forwards. And, to have long-term impact, the strategy must also be accompanied by financial investment. Much of the funding announced in the strategy is not new and we hope that the imminent autumn Spending Review will include much more on long-term, additional funding for the strategy.
The National Disability Strategy included a statement of support from the Scottish (and other nation) government too. Indeed, the Scottish Government plan “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” was published in 2016 as a five-year delivery plan to 2021 and the final progress report was published earlier this year. So, we were pleased to be joined by Andrew Busby, from Scottish Government who updated us on Scottish Government’s current work, the next steps for refreshing their Action Plan, and progress made in reducing the Disability Employment Gap.
Of course, it’s not only through Government policy that we can affect change. We see time and time again the critical and powerful role of business in driving this agenda. Indeed, many of our Partners and Members already go way beyond the minimum that they are required to do by law and are keen to do more. During the conference, I was very pleased to be joined in conversation by our sponsor, Oliver Holbourn from the Royal Bank of Scotland who shared his own experiences as the new Executive Sponsor for Disability at the Bank and why this is an issue that is so important to him.
But you don’t have to be a big business to make a difference. Even the smallest business, or individual, can make a difference. Starting small is better than not starting at all; if everyone started to take some action towards improving disability inclusion collectively it could add up to big change. We also know that it can be challenging to work out where to start! So, over the course of the two days, we hosted a series of interactive workshops to enable delegates to ask questions and explore subjects in detail in a safe space. Specifically, we wanted to provide the opportunity to explore business and disability related questions that commonly arise at work but are not often discussed in depth. These included disability and the law with “Everything you ever wanted to know about the Equality Act 2010 but were afraid to ask”, neurodiversity in the workplace (Members and Partners may find our neurodiversity toolkit helpful if they haven’t used it already), having difficult conversations and of course the ongoing impact of Covid-19 which provided a thematic backdrop to much of the two days. We were very pleased to be joined by BBC Scotland reporter Ian Hamilton, who joined us to share his experiences of the trials and tribulations of life during the pandemic as a blind person and by Alison Carmichael of NHS Scotland who shared the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare.
It’s fair to say we are living in turbulent times: from the legacy of COVID-19 and living with the pandemic, its lasting effects on the health service and all of us to the challenges of Brexit and the effects of climate change with COP26 coming up in Glasgow later this year. But it isn’t a case of either/or. All these issues affect disabled people too; in some cases – needing to shield or reliance on Europe for medical supplies – more so than their non-disabled peers.
Brexit is now showing its impact with skills shortages from HGV drivers (I am writing this blog on the day when the army starts to be deployed to deliver petrol) to construction to care. This is particularly pertinent for the tourism and hospitality industries – well represented in Scotland – which have historically been very dependent on a migrant European workforce. No business can afford to exclude a significant proportion of its talent pool and I hope that one tiny silver lining of this time will be that more businesses grasp the opportunity to reach out to and attract disabled talent – “homegrown disabled talent” to paraphrase the UK Government.
For our part, Business Disability Forum will continue to work with our Partners and Members to keep disability at the top of the agenda, to push for the change that needs to happen and ultimately, to create a disability smart world together.