Since we launched our manifesto we’ve been answering questions from candidates and the public about the content of our manifesto.  We thought it might be useful if we shared the answers to some of those questions here.  If there’s something you’d like to know about disability in Guernsey, just email shelaine@disabilityalliance.org.gg

Question 1: You ask in your manifesto for a senior politician to be responsible and accountable for the Disability Strategy.  Where do you see that politician sitting in the new government structure?

Until now, the Disability Strategy has been the responsibility of Policy Council.

Under the new structure from May 1st 2016, it will move to the Committee for Employment and Social Security.

Our suggestion is that one member of Employment and Social Security is designated as the lead for the implementation of the Disability Strategy, on behalf of the committee as a whole.

In addition, we would suggest that the new Policy and Resources Committee designates one member as the lead for social policy as a whole.  That person would be responsible for Guernsey’s response to UN Conventions.  They would co-ordinate the Disability Strategy with other related initiatives, like the Children and Young People’s Plan (CYPP), Supported Living and Ageing Well Strategy (SLAWS) and Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy.

Question 2:  Guernsey already has a States’ Champion for Disabled People. So why do we need a new senior politician to be responsible and accountable for the Disability Strategy?

The States’ Champion for Disabled People is a scrutiny role, rather than the leadership role we are suggesting.  The States’ Champion represents disabled islanders and their family members in the States.  The Champion speaks in the Assembly on disability issues and also assists individual disabled people who are having difficulty with States Depts.

The Champion looks at everything that comes to the States from the perspective of disabled islanders, supporting initiatives that are positive and questioning those that are not.  The Champion has no department and no power to actually implement the Disability Strategy.

Looking at how disability strategies have progressed in other jurisdictions it is clear that, because such strategies span all government functions, progress will depend on governments as a whole taking ownership and leadership being clear and effective.

Question 3:  What is involved in signing up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

The UN Convention on the Rights of Person’s with Disabilities (UNCRPD) does not give disabled people any new or additional rights.  Rather, it clarifies a government’s obligations to its disabled citizens under existing human rights conventions.

Barriers within society mean it can be difficult for disabled people to have their rights respected.  The aim of the UNCRPD is to set out the steps that jurisdictions should take to progressively remove these barriers.

Guernsey can’t sign or ratify the Convention in its own right.  It can only do so by requesting an extension of the UK’s agreement.  The UK Ministry of Justice has told Guernsey that this will not be possible until the island has disability discrimination legislation in place.

Once that has happened, the States will write a report stating where Guernsey is in relation to each article of the Convention.  Guernsey will then be required to submit a progress report two years later, and further progress reports every four years.

The UN does not expect perfection.  What it is looking for is genuine signs of progress – it calls this “progressive realisation”.

However, with regard to economic, social and cultural rights, the Convention does require that governments take measures to the maximum of its available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of these rights.

Question Four: If Guernsey had signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 10 years ago, how would the island be different today?
  1. Disabled people would be more visible in the workplace, going shopping and at events and would be better able to participate in, and contribute to, island life.  Not just people with mobility impairments – people with autism, visual impairments, learning disability…  Why?  Because the barriers that many disabled people face would have started to come down.
  2. Businesses would be more aware of how to respond positively to customers and employees who have a disability.  To sign the Convention, Guernsey has bring in disability discrimination legislation.  The biggest effect that legislation will have is a substantial increase in training.
  3. The community as a whole would be more aware of disability in Guernsey because the States would have been running public awareness campaigns.
  4. Disabled people and carers would be more confident about asking for what are termed “reasonable adjustments” – a large print menu, flexible working hours, a hearing loop.
  5. Both disabled people and organisations would have somewhere to go to ask for information and advice about equality issues.  This “Equality Commission” would  help educate, resolve issues, challenge discrimination and promote equality.
  6. Disabled people would be experiencing less segregation and isolation and would be leading happier and more productive lives. Guernsey’s wealth, health and wellbeing as a whole would be improved.
  7. Guernsey would be better prepared to deal with the challenges we are now facing in relation to our ageing population.
Question Five: Why doesn’t the States just give the budget for the Disability Strategy to the GDA and let them implement it?

There are certainly some elements of the Disability Strategy that could be commissioned from the third sector.  Some already have been – eg supported employment has moved from HSSD to the Guernsey Employment Trust.

However, there are other fundamental projects that have to be a government responsibility, like disability discrimination legislation. There are no two ways about it, these fundamental projects are not ‘low hanging fruit’ and will require strong political leadership and skilled civil service resource. That civil service resource doesn’t have to be new, could be redeployed.

Achieving this civil service resource depends on the priority that the Disability Strategy projects are given in the ‘Policy and Resources Plan’ that the new P&R committee will draft for approval by the new States.