The election watchdog has been accused of delivering an “insult to disabled people”, after it admitted failing to produce easy-read guidance to help self-advocacy organisations avoid breaking new lobbying laws, six months after being asked to do so.
Last week, Disability News Service reported concerns that many disability organisations had been intimidated by the “sinister” impact of last year’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act.
Under the act, non-party campaigners – those that intend to campaign in the run-up to elections but are not standing as a political party or candidate – face tougher rules on the source of their funds and how much they can spend on campaigning.
The period in which these rules apply began on 23 September last year.
The Electoral Commission was asked last August by the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London to confirm that it would produce an easy-read version of the new rules so they could be read and understood by people with learning difficulties and their organisations.
But even though the commission’s official role is to provide guidance and regulate the rules under the legislation, the easy-read version of the non-party guidance has still not been produced, with just two months to go until the general election.
An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said the easy-read format was “currently in the latter stages of production and should be available in the coming weeks”.
Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigning for People First (Self Advocacy), said his organisation was “very angry” with this delay.
He said: “People First (Self Advocacy) is very angry to hear that accessible guidance for non-party campaigners will be arriving so late into the election campaign.
“People with learning difficulties have the same right to campaign as everyone else and therefore need information in an easy-read format.
“People First, other organisations and individuals need information in an accessible format to make choices about how we can campaign in the run-up to the elections.
“Not everyone has access to the internet and most websites are not accessible to us, even as a way of requesting accessible information.”
He added: “It is not just disability issues that we have an interest in and so not being able to access this guidance is a shame to democracy in terms of our right to campaign on all issues important to us.
“It is an insult to disabled people that need accessible information to make a democratic decision.”
Ellen Clifford, campaigns and communications officer for Inclusion London, said the commission’s approach to providing information for people with learning difficulties “smacks of tokenism”.
She said: “We are now well into the regulated campaign period covered by the lobbying act and there is still no sign of easy-read information for organisations run by and for people with learning difficulties to understand the implications of the new legislation on the activities they can undertake in the run-up to the election.
“The attitude from them is very much, ‘If you want to know anything about voting for people with learning difficulties then ask Mencap,’ but why should people with learning difficulties have to go somewhere different from everyone else to find the information out?
“Also, they don’t provide any links or information on who to contact at Mencap.
“Disability equality should be embedded within the work of the Electoral Commission, and not just as an add-on.
“The barriers that disabled people face to voting are well known but the Electoral Commission does not seem to be taking seriously their role in overcoming them.”
The commission spokeswoman said: “We would encourage anyone with any specific needs to get in contact with the commission and we will work with them to identify the best method to provide them with the guidance that they require in the most appropriate format according to their individual needs.
“As part of this, if we receive requests for a specific format then we will consider each request on a case-by-case basis.”