The ALLIANCE and four other leading national organisations are calling on the First Minister to convene the summit.
The ALLIANCE, Camphill Scotland, Scottish Care, Sense Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament have written to the First Minister requesting that the Scottish Government hosts, as a matter of urgency, a national summit to address the impact of COVID-19 upon disabled people, including people with learning disabilities.
The organisations represent, and work on behalf of, thousands of disabled people, and are aware that COVID-19 is having a significant, and often disproportionate, impact upon disabled people across Scotland.
They have said they believe there is an urgent need for the Scottish Government to host a national summit to address how the welfare, wellbeing and rights of disabled people will be prioritised and protected by the new Scottish Government in the face of COVID-19, and its ongoing impact.
The group says a summit is vital to address issues such as the impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown restrictions upon disabled people and their families and other carers, on safeguarding, on care and support, including access to day services, on the availability of health services, on access to transport and to other key infrastructure, as well as issues around mental health and wellbeing, and tackling social isolation and loneliness.
In addition, the letter says, the impact of COVID-19 has underlined the need for a commissioner for disabled people to ensure that the rights of disabled people are fully understood and protected.
Emma Walker, director of Camphill Scotland, said: “COVID-19 has highlighted deeply entrenched discrimination-by-design practices across our society, and it has also created new barriers to equal citizenship. The rights of disabled people should have been at the forefront of the pandemic response. Instead we saw the long-term and immediate cancellations of much-needed (and safe) services, a lack of communication between decision makers and disabled people, and severe impacts on disabled people’s mental health and wellbeing.
“A rights-based and inclusive national summit with disabled people at the forefront of decision-making for pandemic recovery is imperative. We must ensure that the rights of disabled people are protected and championed, now more than ever, and we invite the Scottish Government to explore the need for a Commissioner for Disabled People at the earliest opportunity.”
Professor Ian Welsh , chief executive of the ALLIANCE, said: “COVID-19 has had a profound impact on disabled people and on the Scottish health and social care sector. A range of issues have been highlighted and exacerbated, for example the reduction and removal of a significant proportion of social care packages, despite Scottish Government guidance and resources to continue support.
“It is clear that action is needed to safeguard the rights and interests of disabled people, people living with long term conditions and unpaid carers as a result of the issues presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. A national summit taking a rights-based approach, and co-produced with civic society is an ideal first step in addressing these issues, as well as supporting future improvement.”
Dr Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, commented: “As we continue to live with the challenges of the pandemic it has become ever more important that we spend time to focus on the unique experience of those living with disabilities in our communities. As the representative body for many providers of social care support in care home and in homecare we are very aware at first hand of the urgent need to address the ongoing challenges faced by so many of our fellow citizens. A national summit will be an important contribution to enabling people to be heard, priorities to be identified and actions to be started.”
Angela Bonomy, executive director of Sense Scotland, said: “Life under lockdown has been really tough for families, with many at breaking point: they had no chance of respite from their caring responsibilities and no opportunity to give their loved ones the comfort of their normal routine, access to the activities they love or even time with friends. All of this has a very real and lasting impact on the whole family.
“We have recently elected Scotland’s most diverse parliament – one that better reflects the society in which we live. Our hope is that our representatives in parliament not only listen to the voices of disabled people and their families but help amplify those voices in their policy-making and decisions. A national summit would be a positive first step in understanding what matters to disabled people and their families.”
Aaran McDonald MSYP, trustee of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said: “The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have not been felt equally, and many young disabled people have been disproportionately affected. The beginning of the new parliamentary term is an opportunity to urgently address the unequal way in which the impacts of the pandemic have been felt. Holding a national summit will create opportunities for the Scottish Government to hear from those disabled people, their families, and other carers with lived experience and find ways to prioritise their rights in the recovery.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We will always listen to the views of disabled people and Ministers will consider any request made of them. We recognise that disabled people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and lockdown and are engaging extensively with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) to understand and tackle the complex reasons for this.
“We are using the findings of our report into health, social and economic harms of the COVID-19 pandemic, expert advice and lived experience to tackle inequality and barriers faced by disabled people and those with learning disabilities with input from DPOs. Ministers also accepted the findings of the Independent Review of Adult Social Care in February, and are working to implement its recommendations.
“We continue to follow the Equality Act to ensure equality and human rights are considered at every stage of the pandemic response, including through the use of Equality Impact Assessments to ensure policies meet the needs of all of Scotland’s people.
“We are committed to working with disabled people to develop policies and the approaches needed to solve problems and dismantle barriers. The Scottish Government has allocated over £500,000 to DPOs to support their COVID response work. The Social Renewal Advisory Board, set up by Scottish Ministers to focus on tackling poverty and advancing equality as we began to emerge from the pandemic, considered issues experienced by disabled people over this period, taking views from a wide range of individuals, groups and organisations.”