Call for autism and learning disability commissioner

New body would be responsible for upholding the human rights of those with learning disabilities

Tes Reporter

Call for autism and learning disability commissioner

A charity has made an appeal to education secretary John Swinney for a learning disability and autism commissioner to be put in place in Scotland.

Enable Scotland, which supports people with a range of learning disabilities, pushed for the appointment to help shepherd policy to improve lives and foster equality.

The body would be responsible for upholding the human rights of those with learning disabilities.


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Jan Savage, the director of campaigns and membership at Enable, urged Mr Swinney to consider the move, pushing for the Scottish government to “be bold” during a fringe event at the SNP conference.

Ms Savage said: “Let’s make Scotland the most inclusive country for people with learning disabilities and autism.

“Let’s be bold – let’s create a commissioner to uphold their rights and equally cement their position as equal and important members of our society.

“How wonderful and bold and truly enlightening would that be?”

She added: “Let’s make this population visible – let’s make them important. And you, as the party of government, have the power to do this.”

In a direct plea to Mr Swinney on Sunday, Ms Savage said: “Deputy first minister, I know that is a society you wish to see for all people, I know your values.”

Ms Savage said that “tremendous work” had been done to support other marginalised groups in Scotland by the current administration, pointing to the Care Review published earlier this year.

She added: “Please do the same for this population.”

Appointing a commissioner would, Ms Savage said, immediately reassure those with learning difficulties and autism that they matter to the government, while also providing a singular entity with the power to regulate public bodies in their dealings with people in that population.

Ms Savage added: “But most importantly they will drive a change. Knowing what’s not working is the easy part, doing something about it is harder.”

She concluded by saying that people with learning disabilities were “being let down” and a “catalyst for change” was needed.

“We’ve tried everything else, this is now the only option to make human rights a reality and deliver true progress.

“We need the government to partner with us and we need this to become a reality in the next Parliament.

“We need a new body, we need a commissioner to uphold these human rights and, deputy first minister, the status quo just isn’t an option anymore.”

In response, Mr Swinney did not explicitly support the idea of a commissioner but said “my door is entirely open” to working with the third sector to try and find ways to improve the system.

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