By Chloë Trew, Policy and Research Assistant Manager, Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability
The Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability has been supporting a group of people with learning disabilities to contribute a shadow or parallel report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the progress of implementation of the CRPD. Over the last year, group members from across Scotland have been meeting together to understand and discuss the Convention, including their views of how real the Convention rights are for people with learning disabilities. You can read the group’s report to the UN Committee here.
Ronnie from West Dunbartonshire explains why the group wanted to write the report to the UN Committee. “We’re the voice of experience; we know what it’s like to have a learning disability, so we’re the best people to tell the UN Committee what we think is happening.” Like other members of the group, Ronnie is concerned that there are many people with learning disabilities who don’t get the chance to speak up about their lives, and views the reporting process as an opportunity to act as an advocate.
Members of the group have come together 8 times over the last year, beginning by discussing the Convention as a whole and then choosing which articles they wanted to discuss in more detail. These included the right to equality (Article 5), awareness raising (Article 8), the right to accessibility (Article 9), the right to live independently in the community (Article 19), the right to work and employment (Article 25) and the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 28).
Key messages from the group are that while there have been significant strides forward for people with learning disabilities in Scotland, much remains to be done, not least building awareness of the Convention itself. Group members felt that neither people with learning disabilities, nor public authorities, demonstrated high level of awareness of the Convention. Although the group were very pleased that the UNCRPD is mentioned in the new Scottish Government learning disability strategy ‘The keys to life’, they were also disappointed that there has been no systematic attempt at making the UNCRPD rights real through this vehicle. Perhaps the central message from the group is the power of working together with public authorities to bring down some of the barriers to the fulfilment of human rights, but that such work needs to be meaningful and truly inclusive in order to achieve the desired effects.
With regard to specific rights, the group were very concerned that people with learning disabilities and other disabled people were not getting the right support to enable them to live independently in the community. For one member of the group, Donna, there was a very real tension between the rights set out by Article 19 and her experience of moving from a group home to her own tenancy. “I didn’t get to choose where I lived or who with. I wasn’t included from the start and I had to get some support from advocacy to make sure this happened. I think it’s really important to be able to choose where you live and who you live with.” Other members of the group Mark, Linsay and Ashley are worried about people with learning disabilities living in non-community settings and want to be able to find out more about how many people might be in this type of situation, and what the barriers are to supporting people in the community.
Changes to welfare benefits, eligibility criteria and charges for services combined with the barriers to employment mean that people with learning disabilities often experience poverty and hardship, further placing the right to live independently in jeopardy. However, there is some positive news following the Scottish Government’s recent decision to create a Scottish Independent Living Fund, which will safeguard payments to existing users and open the fund up to some new users.
Sandy from Oban wants to highlight the inequalities experienced by people with learning disabilities in work and employment. Current statistics show that fewer than 10% of people with learning disabilities known to Scottish local authorities are in employment. Sandy says “I feel that it’s not right that sometimes people with learning disabilities don’t get a fair crack at interviews and good support and information to get a job.” Ronnie agrees and points to the importance of good personalised support to secure employment. “People are like tortoises – they have all these skills and they need them brought out, by working with the person. Find out what they like doing and what their skills are get them a job that way.”
The group have also been involved in the development of the Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights and are pleased that many of the issues they have raised during the project chime with the themes and actions set out in the plan.
Chloë, who facilitated the group on behalf of SCLD, wishes that there had been more time and funding available to discuss the Convention in even more detail. “It’s challenging because there is so much depth to the articles in the Convention and you have to make sure that people have as much time and support as they want to understand what the Convention sets out. So we didn’t get a chance to speak about all of the rights, including for example Article 12, which is obviously at the forefront of the current debate around supported decision making. I would have really liked to be able to get the group’s perspective on the Committee’s recent General Comments on this issue. But although we have only been a small project, I feel that we have tried to work really hard to capture the inclusive spirit of the UNCRPD and I hope that comes through in the report.”