Disabled people who want to overcome the barriers they face in seeking elected office will now be able to apply for financial support from a new £2.6 million government fund.
The fund, open for applications until the end of March 2014, will help meet the additional costs a candidate might face, such as taxi fares or British Sign Language interpreters.
It will offer grants of between £250 and £10,000 to disabled people who want to be selected as candidates, or who are standing for election.
Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat equalities minister, said the fund was “an important step towards levelling the playing field” for disabled people, who were currently under-represented in public life.
The first to benefit from the fund will be candidates seeking election in November as one of the coalition’s new police and crime commissioners.
David Buxton, chief executive of the British Deaf Association, has been campaigning for such a fund since the early 1990s, following his own experiences of being elected as a Liberal Democrat councillor and standing twice for parliament.
He had to find thousands of pounds to pay for communication support during his campaigns.
He said: “With the right support, people just see an able person, not my deafnesss. This new fund will empower Deaf individuals with political ambitions to be able to get more involved in their political parties and become prospective candidates at the next election.
“One day we believe there will be a Deaf BSL member of parliament. The only concern is whether the grants made will be enough to cover all the costs. But at last this is a start.”
Abigail Lock, the disabled campaigner who has played a leading role in securing the new fund, said she was “absolutely delighted” by the announcement.
She said: “I think it is going to create a legacy for future generations if we can get more disabled people into parliament, because they have been so woefully under-represented.
“It is fantastic that the government has done this but if nobody knows about it, it is not going to work. Disabled people must go out and apply.”
The fund will be open to candidates for UK Westminster elections, English local elections, Greater London Authority elections, English mayoral elections and those seeking to be police and crime commissioners.
The government has also launched an online training course, which details the skills needed in standing for office, includes advice and tips from disabled politicians, and is aimed at supporting disabled people interested in a political career.
The fund and online training are part of the government’s access to elected office strategy, which includes a small number of nine-month paid internships for disabled candidates on the speaker’s parliamentary placements scheme.
The scheme provides an opportunity to work with an MP and gain experience across different departments in the House of Commons.
The new measures are the latest 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.
12 July 2012