Higher limit for elected office fund is ‘fantastic opportunity’


theweek120by150Deaf and disabled people seeking elected office have welcomed new rules that have doubled the potential financial support they can claim from a government fund.

The £2.6 million fund, open for applications until the end of March 2014, helps to meet the additional costs faced by disabled people seeking election, such as taxi fares and British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters.

The fund was previously offering grants of between £250 and £10,000 to disabled people who wanted to be selected as candidates, or who were standing for election. But the upper limit has now been doubled to £20,000 per person per year.

The Government Equalities Office said the decision to double the £10,000 limit was taken because it was “creating a barrier for people with expensive costs such as BSL interpreters”.

David Buxton, chief executive of the British Deaf Association, campaigned for 20 years for the fund to be set up, because of his own experiences in being elected as a Liberal Democrat councillor and standing twice for parliament.

He said the new £20,000 limit was a “fantastic opportunity” for Deaf candidates, although he said the government should “seriously consider” increasing it for the next general election campaign, because the estimated cost of two interpreters for a five-week campaign could easily reach £20,000.

He said: “After 20 years of campaigning for this, I am still very pleased to see this happen now and also that the government is keen to encourage disabled and deaf people to stand for the election.”

Greg Judge, who hopes to be selected as a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in 2015, said the increase in the upper limit would be “a tremendous help” to all Deaf and disabled people standing for elected office because of the “vast amounts” of money spent on campaigning.

He said: “Personally speaking, being a wheelchair-user has an impact on transport, access and event planning, all of which are extremely expensive.”

Judge read Deaf studies at university and said he was “acutely aware of the costs of BSL interpretation and the limitations in needing to normally hire two interpreters, to allow for rest-breaks”.

He said the increased upper limit would be of “significant assistance in securing the right of any candidate, Deaf or not, to communicate with members of the public”.

Helen Grant, the Conservative women and equalities minister, said: “A strong democracy is an inclusive one. We need everyone’s contribution.

“This is why [the]government is committed to providing extra support to tackle the particular obstacles faced by disabled people who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials.”

The government has also worked with disabled people and their organisations to develop an online training course, which details the skills needed in standing for office and includes advice and tips from disabled politicians.

And last April, it published guidance to help political parties meet their own obligations under the Equality Act.

The measures are just some of those to come from the three main political parties in the wake of the cross-party speaker’s conference on parliamentary representation, which reported in 2010 on ways to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.

7 March 2013