The government is making it harder for disabled politicians to stand for elected office by failing to renew a fund that paid for their disability-related campaign expenses, according to a candidate in next month’s parliamentary by-election.
Simeon Hart (pictured), who is standing for the Green party in Oldham West and Royton, was the only British Sign Language-user to stand for election in May’s general election.
Hart was able to use support from the Access to Elected Office (AEO) scheme to pay for the BSL interpreters he needed to campaign.
But the 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 while the government carries out an independent review of its effectiveness.
Now Hart is having to rely on crowdsourcing funding to pay for interpreters during the by-election campaign.
He said: “Becoming a candidate in elections and by-elections is supposed to be open to anyone eligible in the UK.
“Yet my experience has been a challenge and I know that many people with a disability will be put off trying to become an elected politician.
“My party and I have a detailed plan for how we can reduce fuel poverty and keep parks public in the constituency and I am unable to articulate my plans as well as the candidates from other parties because of problems finding and paying for an interpreter.
“If the government is serious about making elections a level playing-field, it will reconsider its heartless decision to scrap the Access to Elected Office fund.”
By 10.30pm today (26 November), he had raised £970 of the £3,000 he needs to pay for BSL interpreters during the campaign.
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said she believed the government was in “clear breach” of article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which guarantees disabled people the right to participate in public and political life “on an equal basis with others”.
She said: “The convention expects signatory states to make reasonable adjustments to enable participation in the political process.
“The Green Party and Simeon need to make a formal complaint to the UN about the breach.”
She said that disabled people now had even less representation in the Commons than they did before the general election, after Dame Anne Begg lost her seat, while David Blunkett retired.
King said: “We need to support a new generation of disabled people who want to be politicians.
“Candidates will miss out on funding whilst the evaluation [of the fund] is going on.”
David Buxton, director of campaigns and communications for the British Deaf Association, supported Hart’s call for government action.
He said: “We are disappointed that the government has not yet made a decision about whether this vital funding will continue.
“This delay creates uncertainty for potential Deaf and disabled candidates who wish to stand at elections next year and are currently unsure whether they will get the support they need towards communication and other areas.
“It is imperative that a decision is made immediately, as selection meetings for some areas have already started to take place.
“We now urge the government to prove their commitment to the spirit of the Equality Act by supporting diversity and allocating funds now to any potential candidate, as well as to Simeon, who is now actively canvassing.
“We also expect them to complete their evaluation and review about the future of the fund as soon as possible.”
In September, the Equality and Human Rights Commission called on the government to reopen the fund, as part of its submission to a UN inquiry into the rights of disabled people to participate in political and public life.