A Deaf candidate in last week’s general election is planning to take legal action against the government after he had to raise thousands of pounds to cover the cost of sign language interpreters during the campaign.
Liberal Democrat David Buxton, who came second to Tory Damian Hinds in East Hampshire, believes he faced discrimination because of the government’s refusal to meet the impairment-related costs of disabled election candidates.
He also believes that this failure was a breach of his rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Buxton (pictured) calculated that he would have needed about £20,000 to pay for all the British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters he needed for a full election campaign, and to challenge his Tory opponent on a level playing-field.
But he was only able to raise about £5,000 and so had to cut back on his campaign plans, restricting his ability to meet and communicate with local voters.
Because of the government’s refusal to ensure this level playing-field, disabled parliamentary candidates like Buxton were forced to pay for costs such as BSL interpreters, personal assistants, assistive technology and taxi fares.
Although the Liberal Democrats were able to provide some financial support for Buxton, he had to meet most of the costs himself and through contributions from family and friends.
He told Disability News Service this week that he now planned to take legal action against the government.
He has contacted the same legal team that represented him and two other disabled politicians in their successful case against the government’s decision to close the Access to Election Office Fund (AEOF) in 2015.
They forced the government to set up the temporary EnAble fund after their lawyers warned that its failure to reopen AEOF breached the Equality Act.
AEOF was set up in 2012, following Liberal Democrat pressure on their Tory coalition partners, and it funded disability-related costs for candidates in parliamentary and other elections, before it was closed by the Conservatives after they won an overall majority at the 2015 general election.
The EnAble fund, which runs out in March, was not open to candidates standing in last week’s general election.
Buxton, who has been campaigning for a fund to support candidates with disability-related costs since 1990, said this week: “I have the right to campaign to be a Member of Parliament without oppression or restriction, without being forced to feel humiliated, the same as any other non-disabled candidate.
“I do not feel I was able to achieve my potential due to the lack of financial support and understanding.”
Another Deaf candidate, Labour’s Kerena Marchant, is also likely to be left thousands of pounds out of pocket after coming second to Tory Maria Miller – a former minister for disabled people – in Basingstoke.
Marchant received some financial support from a Labour party bursary, but the campaign is still likely to have cost her thousands of pounds in payments to BSL interpreters, while the funding uncertainty restricted her campaigning.
She backed Buxton’s decision to take legal action, although she said she could not afford to do so herself.
She said she believed the government had discriminated against her and other disabled candidates, although she was still determined to run again at the next election.
Marchant said: “My other worry is that this will prevent disabled people running for parliament and other public offices and force disabled people out of public life at a time when they most need this.”
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “Disability Politics UK strongly supports legal action to ensure the government complies with the UNCRPD.
“Disabled people’s access to elected office is vital to make sure that politics is truly representative. I hope the courts will grant an effective remedy in this case.”
A Government Equalities Office spokesperson said: “We do not accept that the UK government is in breach of the UNCRPD or the Equality Act in its management of the EnAble Fund.
“We have always been clear that this is an interim fund, intended to give political parties room to establish their own processes.
“They were fully informed that the fund was for a limited period, and strongly encouraged to put support for their candidates in place.”
GEO said political parties were told this more than a year ago and that in April 2019 the then minister for women and equalities, Penny Mordaunt, wrote to them asking what processes they had put in place.
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…