Speech on Equality and Diversity : Scottish Parliament 28th. November 2007

Johann Lamont : I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
I also welcome much of what the minister said in his comprehensive capturing of the range of areas in which discrimination and inequality feature in our society.
I am particularly proud to lead for the Labour Party in this debate, because, of course, the Labour Party was founded on an understanding of inequality, injustice and exclusion and a recognition that to tackle those things we need people who are discriminated against to shape the political process.
To tackle inequality and respect diversity, we need to open up the political process to those who most need its protection.
My colleagues will address a range of the critical issues that are part of the equality and diversity agenda.
In speaking to the amendment in my name, I indicate that we are happy to support the motion. However, we believe that, although the sentiments in the motion are easy to express, the challenge is to ensure that the means are willed to deliver on those aspirations.
That is what we seek from the statement to the Parliament that we call for in our amendment. We need properly to assess—and to use the equality impact assessment tool to deliver that assessment—and we need to ensure that rhetoric is matched by resources.
We know that striving for equality and celebrating diversity should be the core of Government business.
A society that seeks to release all the talents and abilities in our communities is a safer, more secure and better society for all.
That is what we are seeking from the Government in a statement.
To state the obvious, for example, a straight budget increase for individual services may, ironically, disproportionately benefit those who are already strong in our communities.
We might therefore want to ask how the budget presented by the Executive, driven as it is by tax cuts, can benefit the most vulnerable and excluded in our communities.
Stewart Maxwell: Will the member give way?
Johann Lamont: I want to make some progress.
I will focus on disability and, more specifically, on children with disability, both as a means of illustrating the challenge of delivering equality through the budget and to raise with the Executive grave concerns about its budgeting priorities.
I have come to the issue most sharply because of the experience of a number of my constituents who have children with disability and special needs, but the issues that they raise are the common experience of many families.
I recognise the courage, persistence and moderation of those parents in pursuing the issues, but the reality for them is that to have a child with a disability is, it seems, always to be engaged in a battle, struggle and fight to secure for their child what they need to thrive.
It is harder to access services, child care, after-school care and holiday clubs and to secure
for their children their independence and happiness in adult life.
As a small example, we know that three out of four blind or visually impaired people are unemployed.
We know, too, that disabled young people make up 8 per cent of all 16 to 34-year-olds, yet in 2005-06 22 per cent of all young Scots who were not in employment, education or training were disabled.
We have concerns about the language of the Executive on regulation.
I ask the minister to reflect that one person's excessive red tape is another person's job opportunity.
When talking about employment, we also have to challenge employers.
I hope that the minister can confirm that any benefits to business that come through the budget will be attached to conditions in relation to those whom businesses seek to employ.
We know that supporting disabled children puts pressure on parents; pressure is also put on siblings and on their parents' capacity to give them the attention that they need.
Members may be aware of the powerful every disabled child matters campaign, which sought to get the UK Government to understand more fully the challenges faced by families and to engage in creating change for them.
As a consequence, a group was set up, chaired by Tom Clarke MP, to review and hear evidence and to make recommendations to the Government.
The group took evidence from across the UK, including Scotland, and the report that the group submitted highlights critical issues for families.
The UK Government responded with the document "Aiming high for disabled children: better support for families" in May 2007.
This may not come as a huge surprise, but the report highlighted the critical need to empower disabled children and their families, provide more responsive services and support, and improve the quality of support.
With the response came a £340 million package, £280 million of which was a grant to cover the cost of delivery of improvements in the provision of short breaks for children, allowing a change of environment for the child and respite for carers and siblings.
As a direct consequential from that funding, the Executive received £34 million.
In response to a parliamentary question, the Minister for Children and Early Years, Adam Ingram, confirmed that the money had been received but that it was for the Scottish Government to determine how it was spent.
Will the Minister for Communities and Sport confirm today that that £34 million will be spent on meeting the needs of disabled children and their families, as outlined in the UK Government's response, with a particular focus on short breaks and respite?
Technically, of course, the Minister for Children and Early Years was correct, but I am
sure that the Minister for Communities and Sport will agree that it would be an outrage if families in Scotland did not benefit from the funding, given the groundbreaking work that was done by the families and campaigning groups to create understanding of the issues and pressure for the funding.
We seek the minister's reassurance that the £34 million is not a windfall that the Government will use to fund its tax-cutting priorities but is recognised as critical funding to change the lives of vulnerable children.
It would be a bitter irony if there were no beneficial consequences to vulnerable children of the hard work of families of disabled children and the support of disability groups.
In the summing-up speech, will the minister commit to making a statement to Parliament, as requested in our amendment, on how the budget, shaped by the equality impact assessment tool, will meet the aspirations in the motion?
Will he guarantee that that statement will identify how the £34 million will be spent to meet disabled children's needs, as identified in "Aiming high for disabled children"?
Will he resist the red-tape argument and ensure that any employability strategy challenges employers as well as employees?
Will he consider how business tax cuts can be a means of creating support in the business community for employing people with disabilities?
Further, will the minister confirm the commitment to localised funding for excluded groups, to address their experience?
They know the problems, but they also know the answers.
Will he meet representatives of disability groups in particular to pursue the agenda of how the fruits of their campaigning labour will be delivered to families with disabled children?
As for local government spending priorities, will the minister guarantee that equality groups will be involved in the development and monitoring of single outcome agreements, to ensure that some of the most vulnerable in our communities do not bear the cost of the new change in funding?
Like all other members, Labour members recognise the broader agenda.
We also recognise the progress that has been made by the former Labour-led Executive and—critically—by the current Labour Government, which is willing to take courageous action on the equality agenda.
We all like warm words, but the people in our communities who are most sharply aware of inequality and discrimination, which pepper and shape their every day and every waking moment, deserve from all of us the Executive's unequivocal commitment to putting its money where its mouth is.
It is a privilege to participate in the debate.
I trust that the minister will respond to some of the sharp points that I have raised.
I move the amendment , to insert at end:
"further recognises that equality impact assessment tools should be used in determining and assessing policy priorities and spending allocations, and calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward a statement to the Parliament detailing how the above commitments on equality and diversity will be delivered through the Scottish budget."