Firstly I’d like to apologise I’ve not been the disability champion you deserve and I apologise that in 2017 people with disabilities in Guernsey still do not have rights. It isn’t, as some have suggested, because there is a block in the system that would be removed should I resign. I would resign straight away if I thought it would make a jot of difference to the strategy. I know I’ve disappointed you and I will resign if there is someone more experienced who is willing to take up the role, but I won’t just walk away because social media trolls say, ‘spectacular failure as disability champion.’ But until that deputy comes forward, I will continue to do the best I can.
What I would like to let you know is that I have been made aware that the Disability Champion isn’t an official States’ role. This means that there are no resources, no civil servants or support dedicated to the role. Although there is a small team of volunteers who have done their best, it is not supported or given any protection like the role of a deputy on a committee. We need all the resources we have concentrated on the implementation of the Disability and Inclusion Strategy, so I don’t think it would be appropriate to ask for extra resources for my role. I will continue without them, even if it does mean I can’t be the Champion you want and will continue to receive criticism.
I know that my not being vocal in the States has let you down, but it’s in my nature to want to make things work and help move things forward. In order to do that I asked myself whether making public displays and criticising those who are actually finally implementing the strategy would help move it forward, or whether I could ask, how can I help make this work? In retrospect I could have been more vocal in the States, so I apologise that you felt you didn’t have a voice. I have been working behind the scenes trying to help move it forward and get the strategy to a point where we do actually start to feel the changes on the ground.
So what actually has been happening behind the scenes?
After the shock announcement that the deadline of November 2017 for disability legislation was going to be missed, and no replacement date. I’ve highlighted to the Committee for Employment and Social Security (the committee who took over responsibility for the Strategy from the Policy Council in the last States) that it is vital that a new deadline is provided so that we feel that there is a real commitment to implementing it. I asked whether they had enough resources to actually get the legislation through and what has come from that is an acknowledgement from Policy and Resources that they don’t have the resources. Work has been done and this has now gone out to tender with the resources needed to speed up the process.
Although the legislation is important, we’ve said all along that the States, the community, businesses shouldn’t wait for the legislation, but should be preparing and changing their practices to make Guernsey accessible to all and truly inclusive.
Looking back at the Disability and Inclusion Strategy Policy paper that was passed back in 2013, there were clear guidelines to follow to take us along this path. I can’t speak for the last assembly and knowing what I know now, I would have been asking questions of the previous Policy Council in the last assembly. Now we are moving forward on some of the fundamental parts of the strategy. There are numerous smaller work streams and areas which are being actioned, but there are two important areas that I believe will have the biggest impact. These are areas where we should start to feel a difference. They are recommendations straight out of the policy letter, the setting up of an Equality and Rights Organisation and the auditing of the States with action plans.
The Equality and Rights Organisation, as set out in the policy paper, will be there to promote, remove barriers, improve, monitor and empower islanders. When the legislation is in place there needs to be a body that acts to ensure that the legislation is upheld. The Equality and Rights organisation will be this organisation.
Work on this has accelerated in the last few months and good progress is being made with an officer in post and resources allocated. One of the most important functions the ERO will carry out is to administer the ‘reasonable adjustments’ fund. Reasonable adjustments are adjustments that businesses, employers, schools, landlords etc can make to make Guernsey accessible to disabled islanders.
The second area is ‘the States leading by example’. I know you are all probably sick of just hearing this tag line uttered over and over. But when is it actually going to start happening? Surely if the States, as one of the biggest employers on the island, were to act on its intentions and show businesses how to operate an inclusive workplace, this would send a powerful message to the rest of Guernsey and start to make a real difference? And as one of the biggest service providers and the organisation with the biggest interface with disabled islanders, if the States of Guernsey were implementing the principles across the board it would also make a huge difference.
Well that’s the talk, where’s the action? Again, mentioned in the Disability and Inclusion Strategy was a recommendation to audit all States of Guernsey services and practices and, crucially, create actions plans. This has finally been done this year. The Business Disability Forum audited the States of Guernsey and recommended action plans for every department. They are processing these recommendations and I’m looking at all departments to sign up to these action plans.
It’s important that you know that it isn’t just one committee that is implementing the strategy but the whole States has to pull their socks up and show they are truly committed to inclusion in every department. So as these action plans are evolving I will be looking at all areas of the States and asking questions of all committees to demonstrate how they are making a difference.
Awareness is another key part of the Strategy. No organisation has done more than the GDA in raising awareness, but it shouldn’t just be up to the charities and the third sector, but also the States to raise awareness. Free awareness and equalities training has been up and running for almost a year. It is easy and simple for people to sign up and complete, there shouldn’t be a single deputy who hasn’t completed it. And I’ll be challenging all of the media outlets in the New Year to get their journalists to complete it. I said on the radio it was a start and it is, but I’m hoping that we can get more of you involved in face to face Equalities Training, actually delivering the training.
I know it’s a big ask after all the disappointment, but the ball is actually rolling. Let’s make 2018 the year that we move beyond the start and actually see a real change in Guernsey.