Access to politics ‘birthday gift’ will ‘strengthen Scottish democracy’


A user-led campaign is celebrating a £200,000 “birthday gift”, after the Scottish government announced funding that will pay for some of the extra costs faced by disabled people who want to stand in next year’s local government elections.

One in Five, a cross-party Scottish campaign which was launched a year ago, said the announcement of the new Democratic Participation Fund for Disabled People – which will be run by Inclusion Scotland on a pilot basis until May 2017 – was “magnificent news”.

The fund will run alongside the Access to Politics for Disabled People project, which is offering non-financial support to disabled candidates standing in May’s election to the Scottish parliament and prospective candidates for the 2017 elections.

The £200,000 funding could embarrass the UK government, as its own Access to Elected Office fund has been lying dormant since the 2015 general election while its effectiveness is reviewed.

Jamie Szymkowiak, founder of One in Five, said the announcement provided disabled people with “plenty of time to consider standing for selection in the 2017 local government elections”.

Marco Biagi, Scotland’s minister for local government and community empowerment, said: “We know disabled people often find it difficult to access elected offices due to the many barriers that exist, and the additional cost of being disabled is one of them.

“I am delighted to announce this funding, which comes as a direct response to one of the key demands from disabled people’s campaign organisations, who all highlight that funding is a major barrier for disabled people to even consider accessing politics.”

Pam Duncan-Glancy, Labour’s One in Five ambassador, said the announcement was “a great birthday present” for One in Five.

She said: “Paying for the extra costs associated with being disabled – like covering the costs of personal assistants or accessible travel – is a huge barrier.

“This fund will make immeasurable difference to disabled people seeking to be involved in politics.  We are proud to have been key to making it happen.”

Inclusion Scotland research has found that less than five per cent of MSPs are disabled people.

Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland, said: “This new fund has the potential to make a real difference, not just to individual disabled people, but ultimately to the strengthening of Scottish democracy.

“Participation in public and political life is everyone’s human right and there is much work to do to ensure that this right can be fully exercised by disabled people.”

Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “The Scottish government are leading the way in helping disabled people become elected politicians.

“The UK government needs to move faster and introduce a larger fund in England and Wales.”

She added: “We also want Scottish politicians to press the UK government to change electoral law to enable job-sharing in elected political office, so that more disabled people and carers can stand for election.

“This is needed in local, regional and national government.”

Members of One in Five and other disabled people’s organisations celebrated the campaign’s first anniversary outside the Scottish parliament this week (pictured).

They called for political parties to make this May’s elections as accessible and inclusive as possible, by taking measures such as producing manifestos in accessible formats, subtitling campaign films, hosting hustings in accessible venues, providing more British Sign Language interpreters, and extending the use of livestreaming of campaign events.

Since its launch, One in Five has signed up more than 40 political organisations and local party branches to its five-point charter.

It has also persuaded the Scottish government to change the rules governing elections to the Scottish parliament so that spending on a parliamentary candidate’s disability-related costs will no longer count towards the legal limit on their election expenses.

Duncan-Glancy said: “The challenges facing disabled people in politics are numerous and we have been quite overwhelmed by the engagement of all political parties in Scotland who have embraced the challenge with open arms, honesty and a thirst to do better.” 

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