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GCU researchers find that people with learning disabilities lack referendum information

04 September 2014

The team undertook focus groups with people with learning disabilities to explore issues around voting in the referendum

The team undertook focus groups with people with learning disabilities to explore issues around voting in the referendum

Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) and the University of Glasgow have warned that people with learning disabilities may be missing out on their right to vote in the referendum.

The team found that people with learning disabilities may not have enough accessible information to allow them to make an informed choice.

Lecturer Mark Gallagher and Clinical Academic Isla McGlade from the BN Learning Disability Nursing programme in GCU’s School of Health and Life Sciences, together with Diane Willis of the University of Glasgow’s School of Nursing and Health Care, worked with ENABLE Glasgow to undertake focus groups with people with learning disabilities and their paid and family carers to explore issues around voting in the referendum.

People with learning disabilities make up around two per cent of the UK population, with most living in the community. All of them are entitled to vote but participants expressed uncertainty about whether individuals were registered on the electoral roll and about access to the support necessary to enable them to vote.

Some paid and family-carers raised the issue about the capacity of people with a learning disability to vote in a meaningful way. Their main concerns were around the potential influences that might sway people with learning disabilities.

For those without capacity, such as those with severe and profound learning disabilities, it was felt that alternative arrangements may be needed to ensure their vote is not abused.

The researchers found that all groups raised concerns about the limited amount of information available in an appropriate format relating to the referendum and politics in general.

Only three sources of information on the referendum could be found, while for a variety of reasons the White Paper on Scotland’s Future was not made available in an accessible format until June 2014.

Mark Gallagher said: “The people with learning disabilities who were involved in our focus groups were concerned with the same issues in the event of a Yes or a No vote as the general population: currency; Trident; the NHS and travel.

“However, given that people with learning disabilities, for the most part, need some day-to-day support, they are potentially one of the most vulnerable groups who may lose out when changes in welfare, social care and health funding occur. These issues lie at the heart of the referendum, which makes it even more important that members of this group are included in determining Scotland’s future.”

ENABLE Scotland, the leading charity representing people with learning disabilities and their families in Scotland, has been working with its members to encourage them to think about what matters most to them as they decide how to vote in the referendum. Mark and Isla were invited to an ENABLE Scotland hustings event on Wednesday, August 27, where this topic was discussed and explored in more detail.