Hello I'm Ian Hamilton and welcome along to a webcast election special.
According to the last senses, there are one million disabled people in Scotland, so if all of them turn up on May the 3rd they could make a significant difference to the make up and shape of the Scottish parliament and our local authorities.
So, are the political parties doing enough to attract this section of the electorate?
We have representatives of the parties and we'll be hearing from disabled people and their organisations.
The disability rights commission also join us to tell us how accessible the manifestos are for people with disabilities.
Who's on the panel?
DAVENA RANKIN - Scottish Conservative candidate standing in Cathcart and also number 2 on the regional list.
SANDRA WHITE - SNP candidate for Glasgow Kelvin and Equality Spokesperson for SNP
MARGARET SMITH - Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh South
DES McNULTY - Labour Candidate for Clydebank and Milngavie.
Our first caller was Mairi Marshall who asked "what do the main political parties intend to do for Carers if they are elected? Carer's Allowance currently pays the princely sum of £48.65 (for 35 hours caring per week, which is one of the rules of claiming.) As you will see this equates to only £1.39 an hour, yet Carers in Scotland save the Executive over 50% of the total Health Service Budget."
Margaret Smith, Lib Dems said: "I think, for us, we would have a real focus on people being able to live independently so we would have a user-led centre for independent living in every area that would be working with careers and with people with disabilities in terms of advice on direct payments and training and so on. We would also increase the amount of respite services which I know are important to people's families as well as the people with disabilities themselves. We would continue to monitor whether or not careers are getting a fair deal. We think there should be more use made of carers' assessments and generally speaking we should have stronger minimum statutory requirements for the delivery of services. We think we really do need to strengthen that."
Sandra White, SNP, said: "One of our main points of concern regarding careers is that I don't think the money they're paid is enough. We think there should be a real shake up of the root-and-branch system of the benefits system - it just doesn't go far enough for carers. Another area which we'd like to see is; there's a lot of fuel poverty there within disabled families and I think careers should be looked at similarly to what the elderly are getting in that respect. Independent living, individual budgets, and direct payments - we have to look at that so that people are actually directly responsible and are able to have an independent living allowance. Also, carers are predominantly women and it's not just at this moment you're affected - it's later on when you look to your pension, so that needs looked at. The whole benefits system needs a desperate shake-up and I think carers get a very raw deal at the moment, but the policies I've outlined are part of our manifesto and we would hope to implement them and speak to carers to see what they want too."
Davena Rankin, Conservatives, said: "We have to recognise a carer's role is a 24-hour-a-day duty - I don't think that's recognised often enough. More has to be done to give respite care for the carers because they're putting their own health at risk to look after their relatives. We would do more to implement better respite care in a way in which more carers and patients can access. We'd also look at how we fund our health-related social services. We'd re-unite the budget for social-health related care and health care so it's coming out of one source.
Des McNulty, Labour, said: "It's about family support and how we can make it better in terms of its interface with the various authorities. All too often carers find themselves fighting with different branches of authorities and finding it difficult to get their way through the bureaucracy. We need a more personalised service for the person who's being cared for and personalised support for the carer. We need to look at how we can minimise the disadvantage that many carers suffer as a result of the caring relationship (educational opportunities etc) can we provide more targeted support that allows them to carry on with other aspects of their life. It's not just about more money 0- it's about making it more individualised/personalised - the needs of that person and providing them with the support they require."
Mairi (caller): "There are 480,000 carers in Scotland currently, and for every 85 carers forced to give up caring because if health problems it costs the executive £1million in revenue. Now the current minimum hourly rate is £5.35 per hour and the carers allowance pays the equivalent of £1.39 an hour so there's a huge discrepancy. Many carers live in frustrating circumstances because of the caring they do. There needs to be more shake up of direct payments. The bottom line is that no-one has said they will address this issue directly."
Colin Jardine is our second caller:
Colin: "My question for the parties is do you intend extending free personal care to the disabled or is it only a vote catcher for the elderly electorate?"
Sandra White, SNP, said: "That's a very good and valid point. Free personal care was one of the flagship policies of the Scottish Parliament and it's basically working very well in most areas, but some people have been left out - it's not just the elderly that need free personal care. It should be looked at. It was mentioned in the Equal Opportunities inquiry. I would be very very interested at looking at that aspect of it."
Davena Rankin, Cons, said: "I could never understand why you had to pay for certain aspects of personal care when others were provided because it was provided as a health service. There has to be a full inquiry. I'd like to see it extended correctly and in one go."
Margaret Smith, Lib Dems, said: "It has come down to a funding issue. Although we have 50,000 older people who've benefited from it, we still do have issues about the funding of this. Within our manifesto, we're committed to a review of funding and to a review looking at the disparities across the country. I'd be happy to see that review being extended to look at whether or not this could be extended to people who are disabled rather than just the elderly."
Des McNulty, Labour, said: "Rather than talk about extending the free personal care system as it applies to the elderly, we should look at what kinds of categories of disabled people are being required to pay for costs and should they be paying for it? It's more about an analysis of how the current system is working and are there anomalies that need to be resolved?"
Ian: "If you want to try and make a decision on who to vote for come May 3rd you're going to have to look at the parties' manifestos. Are they accessible to people with disabilities? Chris Oswald from the Disability Rights Commission has been looking to see if they're any better than they were four years ago. Have things improved?"
Chris Oswald (DRC): "Marginally. There has been some improvement - heartening to see. We've been looking at the websites and there have been some reasonable adjustments made by different parties, but it's not comprehensive across all of them. We'd like to see information available in big print or as audio files or as word documents and not PDFs, but it's very patchy across the parties. We see the provision of information about your party's policy as being a service. Very simply - it's take 20 mins to load up a word doc and hear what the proposals are. The DRC has issued a lot of guidance to the parties - at the last election. Some of the parties have taken this on board, other haven't. If you can't access the information about what a party is proposing, how can you make a choice about voting?"
Ian: We have Liz Rowlett on the line
Liz (caller): "Of the Scottish population, nearly one fifth are defined as being disabled, and if you add the carers to that, that's a good chunk of the population. Given the large proportion of people affected by disability - why are the needs of this large group being neglected? Disability wasn't put as a priority for most of the parties. They seemed to think disabled people were passive and the strategies were too piecemeal."
Davena Rankin (Cons): "Well, one of the main things we're doing is going out and speaking with disability groups to make sure we can understand what they need from us. It's all very well for politicians to sit in Edinburgh and come up with policies and schemes when they don't actually relate to day-to-day lives. I was very interested in the need to use plain English - there's nothing more off-putting than getting a manifesto through that's double Dutch. I think we have t look at the language we use as politicians to make sure everyone is included. One policy I'm particularly proud of is our commitment to increase funding for the mental health services by ten million pounds because we recognised mental health issues are often the hidden disability and often ignored in manifestos. Recently it's been under funded and it's seen as a Cinderella service within the health service. We need to try and ensure that the rights created under the Disability Discrimination Act and Disability Equality schemes are actually enforced."
Margaret Smith, Lib Dems, said: "We have a section which is covering just disability which includes things like the user-led centre for independent living and carer centre sand so on. And issues about housing and employment specifically for disabled people as well as some other issues. But we're committed to legislating in terms of hate crime against disabled people; you'll find that in the crime section. There are load of other issues about accessible transport - you'll find that in the transport section, because it's not just about disabled people - it's also about women with buggies and so on. If we're committed to mainstreaming these issues and seeing that for disabled people to live in freedom, what they have to do is they have to have these barriers taken from them. Those are barriers that affect other people as well - whether women with buggies, or elderly people, etc. There are issues about tackling poverty in terms of employment rates for young disabled people and for people throughout their lives. Those are issues which are much more of a mainstream issue we for a ,lot of other people rather than putting in a section to make sure the DRC are happy - that's not good enough. It's about making sure when we're looking at the full range of services that we're constantly taking on board - and thinking what does this mean for disabled/young/old people."
Sandra White, SNP said: "My idea of civil rights and liberties is that everyone is treated exactly the same. The SNP manifesto touches on various areas in transport/crime, etc -not just one section on disabilities. Mainstream equality is the best way forward. The most important thing is to listen to disabled people but also to get feedback from them. We should look at issues altogether. I was at a meeting and a disabled person said to me, "It's not me that's disabled, it's society that's making me disabled" and I think we should remember that. WE should endeavour to have equality in society."
Des McNulty, Labour, said: "New colleges and school are going to be barrier free so disabled people are hopefully not going to encounter that in the future. Lots of the new housing we're building in Scotland now - is designed for people with different kinds of needs whether they be disabled or elderly and frail people but we're also constructing a lot of housing specifically geared towards the needs of people with particular types of disability. SO at the planning stage we're taking on board people's different requirements and recognising people will have different needs as well as special needs. That's a change in a mindset which is desperately needed. We also need to make sure disabled people's interests/view/needs fully taken on board when we're planning schools/hospitals/ everything."
Ian: We have one more caller - David Griffiths.
David (caller): "I'd like to know how they deal wit the issues around joined-up government. For example, we had a campaign to tackle the problem of a bicycle rack that blocks a wheelchair space on trains. The matter was resolved by the Dep for Transport in London - who ruled the rack had to be moved when not in use. That was implemented in England, but not in Scotland because transport is a devolved issue. A year later disabled people in Scotland are still suffering because of this. We can't seem to get an agreement between the Dep of Tran and Transport Scotland."
Ian: "It's this clash about what's a Westminster and Edinburgh issue for disabled people - transport, work, etc."
Margaret Smith, Lib Dems, said: "We think there are needs for more powers for the Scottish Parliament and two areas are specifically involving people with disability- extension in equality and human rights legislation. And the other - strategic planning of welfare services. There are a number of grey areas and even if we didn't do anything else there can be a strong argument for joined working between Scottish Parliament and Westminster. We should have better joint working to cover these."
Sandra Smith, SNP, said: "Scotland should be independent and have the powers there to put plans forward we have to have joined up thinking. If we do have independence, then obviously we can have control over these aspects. But surely a few heads can be knocked together to give this power to the Scottish Parliament. It's crazy the SP doesn't have control over that."
Des McNulty, Labour, said: "I don't accept the view there should be a fundamentally different approach in Scotland from elsewhere in the UK where disabled people are concerned. Disabled people north and south of the border deserve equal treatment. I don't think that's really something which should be in doubt."
Davena Rankin, Conservative, said: "It's silly there is this split and the resulting grey areas. I'd like to see a more joined-up government approach, I agree that regardless of where you live you should be treated the same - with respect and dignity. We need to make it easier for things to be fixed - for example - the bike racks on trains. The Scottish Parliament should have the power to tackle those things."
Ian: "Thank you to all my guests. If you want more information on the other parties' manifestos you can get it from our website at bbc.co.uk/scottishelections."