A cross-party group of MPs have called on the government to reopen a fund that provided financial support for disabled people who want to stand for election to parliament or local councils.
The Access to Elected Office fund – which offered grants to disabled people to pay for their additional impairment-related costs in standing for election as a councillor or MP – has been lying dormant since the general election last May while the government reviews its effectiveness.
But now Green MP Caroline Lucas – with backing from Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Labour, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs – has written to Caroline Dinenage, the minister for equalities, asking her to reopen the fund in time for May’s local and regional elections.
Last September, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), in its submission to a UN inquiry into the rights of disabled people to participate in political and public life, called for the fund to be reopened.
The MPs say in the letter: “We see no good reason why the government should not follow the EHRC’s recommendation, and urge you to complete the evaluation process as a matter of urgency, so that disabled people planning to stand in May’s local and regional elections can access much-needed financial support.”
The letter was signed by Ben Howlett (Conservatives), Kate Green (Labour), Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cymru), Angela Crawley (SNP) and Alistair Carmichael (Liberal Democrats).
Their call was backed by Lord [Chris] Holmes (pictured), the disabled Tory peer and EHRC’s disability commissioner, who said the fund should be reopened and extended across Britain.
He said: “We made this call last year and are pleased that it is being supported by MPs.
“Twenty years on from the first Disability Discrimination Act, progress towards ensuring disabled people’s equal participation in political life to date has been disappointingly slow and may even have gone backwards.”
He also called for the government to collect data that monitored the number of disabled MPs, one of the measures agreed by parliament six years ago through the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation but not yet implemented.
Lord Holmes said: “It is also disappointing that there continues to be an information black hole about the number of disabled people in politics – we want the government to implement the measures parliament agreed in 2010 to improve transparency on this issue.
“Efforts to support disabled people seeking a role in political life should be redoubled to ensure their voices are heard and they are not excluded from the political arena.”
Only last month, the Scottish government announced £35,000 funding for a short-term project to support disabled candidates standing in the 2016 elections to the Scottish parliament, and prospective candidates for the 2017 local government elections, by assessing their access barriers and support needs, providing advice on appropriate adjustments, and offering support and mentoring.
A UK government spokesman said in response to the MPs’ letter: “An evaluation of the Access to Elected Office fund pilot is currently being undertaken and will include the views of disabled applicants on the effectiveness of the scheme.”
He added: “This government is committed to making sure disabled people can fulfil their potential and participate fully in society.
“It is important that this extends to political participation so that disabled people are involved at every level in the decisions that affect how they live their lives.”
When asked whether the fund would be reopened in time for the May elections, and why the evaluation had taken so long, he said: “We have nothing to add.”