Community Reporter, Kevin Gallagher followed-up the Long Term Conditions Alliance conference with a visit to Hollyrood for a reception titled ‘My Skills, My Strengths, My Right to Work’.
One of the highest profile issues of the moment for people with lived experience of mental health conditions is self-management or self-directed support.It’s a subject I know next to nothing about and expect many others won’t either.Being a champion of the Scottish Parliament, I jumped at the offer of a place at this reception promoting the coming changes. That’s nice for me you might say -wine and canapés in The Garden Lobby are lovely but what good comes from events like this?
The Parliament itself is a brilliant working space with a professional and accommodating staff. What better way to learn a few things about the subjects of employability, good working practice and personal rights? After all, it’s a debating chamber accessible to everyone.
While celebrating the achievements of LT CAS, this reception looked at the pressing question of how to deal with the impact of welfare reform, cuts to public services and increased poverty. It addressed the concern that the rights of disabled people are not eroded under the guise of helping them.
Hosted by Fife MSP John Park, who is also a member of the cross-party group on Epilepsy, he lodged a motion in the parliament to coincide with the event recognizing the inequality experienced by the disabled (including people with long-term mental conditions)and welcomed the work being done by LT CAS.
It was a chance for service users to directly engage with politicians such as John Park, Andrew Jackson and Claire Baker. Iain Gray MSP also attended the reception and was seen networking with a number of delegates for Building Healthy Communities. When asked about his involvement (apart from supporting the great work his daughter is doing for the Alliance) he stated his interest went back to before the formation of LT CAS. When he first became an MSP he was Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care. Because the formation of policy is a slow process work started then is only appearing as self-directed support legislation now.
The Social Care/Self-directed Support Bill is currently going through its first stage of committee scrutiny which gives everyone an opportunity in writing to influence its future shape. LT CAS has already submitted a written welcome for the legislation proposed. (The organisation is a third sector body with the stated aim to be the voice for the two million people in Scotland with long-term health conditions including those involving mental health. They are grant funded strategic partners of the Scottish Government.)
In the end the event provided some comfort to those service users in attendance hit by the current fiscal squeeze. It made them feel more part of the normally unseen process. By networking and building stronger tribes, peoples can invent solutions. With politicians on their side they can do so much more. I still don’t know enough about self-directed support, but I’m more confident that if authorities listen to those most affected by the changes proposed they can be implemented in a way that empowers individuals to shape their lives the way they wish.