Disabled campaigners have called for action after last week’s general election appears to have left the House of Commons with just five disabled MPs.
Before the election, there were only seven MPs who have at some point self-described as disabled people, but one of them – Liberal Democrat Stephen Lloyd – lost his seat, while another – Jared O’Mara – did not stand again.
It appears to leave parliament with just five disabled MPs – Labour’s Marsha de Cordova, Emma Lewell-Buck (pictured) and Marie Rimmer, and Conservatives Robert Halfon and Paul Maynard – although it may emerge that some of the many new MPs also self-describe as disabled people.
Disabled campaigners were responding to questions from Disability News Service about the future direction of the disabled people’s movement, following last week’s election result.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “The lack of representation of our communities in parliament is shocking but not a surprise – it’s another symptom of our continued marginalisation and exclusion.
“We begin to change this by removing the barriers and addressing the material factors that stop Deaf and disabled candidates being able to stand for selection and campaign during election periods.”
This can include the extra impairment-related costs faced by disabled candidates, such as British Sign Language interpreters, personal assistants and taxis.
Lazard said a first and “crucial” step was for the government to reopen the Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF).
AEOF was set up in 2012, and funded disability-related costs for parliamentary and other elections, but it was closed by the Conservatives after the 2015 general election.
In response to a legal case brought by three disabled politicians, the government was forced to set up a temporary, partial replacement, the EnAble fund, but that runs out in March, and it was not open to disabled candidates standing in the general election (see separate story).
Mark Williams, from Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living, called for training for potential disabled MPs.
He said: “Over the next few years we will have to train disabled people on how to become MPs and at the same time try to knock down barriers within the system, to make it more accessible for disabled people to be in parliament. This will take quite a lot of training.”
Sue Bott, head of policy and research at Disability Rights UK, said: “We will have to wait for the details, but on the face of it, it is disappointing to see so few disabled MPs.
“We will be arguing for disabled candidates to have their support needs met at elections, which was not the case for this general election.”
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, called for a change in the law to allow MPs to job share, which should make it easier for many disabled people to consider becoming MPs.
She said: “The House of Commons needs to examine the terms and conditions for standing as an MP.
“Many disabled people cannot meet the requirement to work as an MP on a full-time basis. Neither can many women, carers or entrepreneurs.
“The tiny number of disabled MPs in the Commons means that disability issues are not given proper consideration, so changing the law to enable MPs to job share is a way of making the Commons more democratic and effective.”
Mel Close, chief executive of Disability Equality North West, said that – in addition to programmes to support disabled people to become MPs – the entire political structure needed to become more accessible, or disabled MPs would “fail when they get there”.
Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said the number of disabled MPs in the new parliament was “very disappointing”.
But she said it was also crucial to have disabled MPs who “support the values and aims and honour the commitments of the [disabled people’s] movement”.
She said: “Sadly, from ALLFIE’s perspective, our experience – other than with Marsha – has been there has been no difference around promoting inclusive education as a result of disabled MPs.
“All the ones we have engaged with, other than Marsha, have supported segregated education.”
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…