Disabled Scots facing major barriers to achieving real equality

Published: 04 Apr 2017

Progress towards real equality for disabled people in Scotland over the past twenty years is at risk of stalling unless a concentrated effort is made to tackle issues in housing, hate crime, mental health, employment and education. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has today published a report into life for disabled people across Great Britain. The report highlights a number of significant inequalities in Scotland including:

  • disabled pupils have much lower attainment rates and are more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded
  • disabled Scots are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people (12.2% compared to 4.9%)
  • on average disabled people in Scotland earn £1.10 per hour less than non-disabled people (£10.30 compared with £11.40)
  • the amount of wheelchair adapted local authority housing has decreased: 17,000 Scottish wheelchair users are inadequately housed (15% of all wheelchair users in Scotland)
  • there are widespread shortcomings in mental health services: the majority of Scottish Health Boards consistently fail to meet their 18 week referral targets for psychological services
  • disabled Scots are less likely to feel safe walking alone in their neighbourhoods
  • reporting of disability related hate crime increased by 20% in 2014 to 2015 compared to the previous year

Across Great Britain there are specific concerns about the impact of UK government employment support programmes such as the uptake of Access to Work and the Work Programme. In particular, non-disabled people are twice as likely to get a job through the Work Programme than disabled people (35% compared to 18%).

More positively the Commission found that:

  • the number of disabled Scots taking up apprenticeships has increased from 0.3% to 7% in the last three years
  • government action to mitigate the impact of the 'spare room subsidy' or 'bedroom tax' has enabled up to 72,000 people in Scotland to claim discretionary housing payments

The report calls on governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised and to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.

Alastair Pringle, Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland, said:

"Today’s report places the disadvantages faced by Scottish disabled people into sharp focus. It raises important issues about the extent to which disabled people are seen and treated as equal citizens.

"As one example 17,000 Scottish wheelchair users are inadequately housed. This stark figure led us to launch a full scale housing enquiry where we have asked disabled Scots to report on their experiences and the barriers they face to living independently. The strength and volume of responses already received indicate concerning signs about the scale of the problem faced by so many who are being denied full participation in Scottish life.

"The Scottish government’s disability action plan, and their commitment to putting dignity and respect at the heart of their new social security powers, are very welcome and I hope they will lead to improvements in the outcomes we are reporting on today. 

"We have a large pool of skilled and talented people who are unable to fully contribute to Scottish society - economically, socially or civically - because of avoidable barriers. This isn’t just a problem for disabled people it’s a problem for all Scots – we need to harness this untapped potential."

The Commission’s report Being disabled in Britain: A journey less equal analyses the latest data on the experiences of disabled people in Scotland and across Great Britain in more detail than ever before, including looking at many different impairments, and sets out areas for urgent improvement.

The report covers six key areas of life (equal opportunities in education and employment; access to transport, health services and housing; and the persistent and widening disability pay gap) and finds that disabled people in Scotland and across Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them. Despite significant improvements in the law to protect the rights of disabled people, they are still not being treated as equal citizens and continue to be denied the everyday rights non-disabled people take for granted.

Notes to editors

The report’s recommendations to the UK and devolved governments for action are:

  1. Reduce educational attainment and employment gaps for disabled people.
  2. Ensure that essential services, such as housing, health, transport and justice, meet the particular needs of disabled people and support their independence and wellbeing.
  3. Promote the inclusion and participation of disabled people in civic and political life.
  4. Strengthen disabled people’s choice, autonomy and control over decisions and services.
  5. Improve existing legislation, policies, frameworks and action plans to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.
  6. Improve the evidence base on the experiences and outcomes of disabled people and the ability to assess how fair Britain is for all disabled people.

The Commission’s recent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities produced jointly with the other equality and human rights commissions across the UK, also highlights the need to do more to protect the human rights of disabled people. It contains 75 recommendations to UK and devolved governments on how they can improve the rights disabled people enjoy across areas such as housing, transport, social care and employment. Work is already underway to make these recommendations a reality, and to prepare for the main public examination of the UK by the UN Committee in August 2017.

Further key statistics

  • The proportion of disabled 16-18 year olds who were NEET (not in education, employment or training) (17.2%) is two times higher than for non-disabled people (6.9%) in 2015 to 2016. For those with mental health conditions the figure was four times higher (28.8%) than for non-disabled people.
  • The disability pay gap persists. On average disabled people in Scotland earn £1.10 per hour less than non-disabled people (£10.30 compared with £11.40) this gap rose particularly for people with mental health problems.
Standard of living
  • Across Great Britain, 59% of households with children which contained a disabled person, lived in deprivation, compared with the average rate of 20% where there was no disabled person. Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty (6.8% compared with 3.3%).
  • Disabled people in Britain were less likely to own their own home in 2012 to 2014 (62.6%) than non-disabled people (76.2%).
Health and care
  • The majority of Health Boards in Scotland have failed to meet the target for all patients of 18 weeks from referral to psychological treatment.
  • On average men with mental health conditions die 20 years earlier than the general population, and women 13 years earlier.
Justice and detention
  • In Scotland in 2014 to 2015, charges reported with an aggravation of prejudice relating to disability increased 20% compared with the previous year, 86% of which proceeded to court.