Action must be taken to prevent discrimination against disabled people who want to become parliamentary candidates, and provide them with financial and practical support, according to a committee of MPs.
The historic Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation was set up to find ways to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.
In its final report, it says only “a handful” of MPs identify themselves as disabled, while 80 per cent are men, and there has never been a female Asian MP.
Among its 71 recommendations, the report says all political parties should publish regular online reports on the candidates they select to fight seats, including whether a candidate self-identified as a disabled person. All three main party leaders have agreed in principle to publish such reports.
Parties should also detail how many of their MPs are disabled people, women and from an ethnic minority, along with targets for 2015 and 2020.
And parties should publish clear access policies, and provide campaign documents in alternative formats and accessible websites.
The report says there is “overwhelming evidence” that the cost of supporting disabled people as parliamentary candidates is a “particularly significant barrier”, and calls on the government to set up a ring-fenced scheme – similar to the existing access to work scheme – to support disabled candidates.
And it says there should be another fund to help disabled MPs make reasonable adjustments to support their constituency work.
But the report warns local parties not to use a shortage of funds as an excuse for failing to make proper arrangements for disabled people to play their part in politics.
The disability charity RADAR, which gave evidence to the conference, welcomed the report and urged the government and political parties to implement it in full.
A RADAR spokesman said: “Unless and until disabled people are effectively represented at Westminster, we will not see the wholesale mainstreaming of disability equality that is so vital to our economic and social future or a revived democracy.”
David Stocks, RADAR’s empowerment manager, who has bipolar disorder, particularly welcomed the report’s call for the government to repeal legislation that says MPs must lose their seats if detained under mental health laws for over six months.
And he said the report’s proposals for mentoring or “buddy” schemes to provide support and advice from seasoned politicians for first-time candidates would provide “an excellent first step into politics for disabled people”.
11 January 2009