The government has performed a second U-turn in two months as it finally agreed to extend support to disabled politicians who need help with the extra costs of standing in May’s local elections.
The temporary EnAble fund, which provides support to disabled people seeking election as police and crime commissioners (PCCs) and local councillors in England, had been due to run out at the end of this month.
This meant it would not have been available to those standing for PCC and local council elections in May.
Following concerns raised by disabled politicians and campaigners, the Cabinet Office had told Disability News Service (DNS) in January that it was considering extending the fund for PCC candidates, although not to disabled people seeking election to local councils.
But Liz Truss (pictured), the minister for women and equalities, announced yesterday in a three-sentence response to an oral question from a Tory MP in the Commons, that she had now decided to extend the EnAble fund so that it would support disabled candidates through both PCC and local elections in May. The fund will now end on 31 July.
Truss told MPs: “We want to encourage more people with disabilities to come forward.
“They often face extra challenges and costs.
“That is why we have extended the EnAble fund, to support disabled candidates in local elections and police and crime commissioner elections.”
Her department’s previous position on the EnAble fund had been greeted with anger and concern by disabled politicians and campaigners.
The government had already been accused of breaching the Equality Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities after refusing to allow disabled candidates in December’s general election to seek support from the fund.
It insisted instead that it was the responsibility of political parties to meet the disability-related costs of their candidates.
Because of this insistence, many general election candidates were forced to pay for these extra costs themselves, even if they had high support needs.
In yet another U-turn, the government later suggested that it could offer retrospective payments to disabled candidates who stood in the general election.
DNS also revealed last month that successive chairs of the Conservative party had snubbed a request from their own equalities minister, who had asked them 12 months ago to explain how they intended to support more disabled people to become MPs and councillors.
Penny Mordaunt had told her party – as well as Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens – that she believed “the provision of support for disabled candidates should ultimately be the responsibility of political parties”.
But she never received a detailed reply from any of the parties and her successors in the post – including Truss – failed to follow up her letter.
Mordaunt’s letter was written because the government has refused to set up a new permanent, long-term fund to meet the extra disability-related costs that many disabled candidates face when seeking elected office as councillors and MPs.
It had scrapped the short-lived Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF) in 2015 and eventually replaced it three years later with the temporary EnAble fund in response to a legal action taken by a trio of disabled politicians, who warned that the failure to reopen AEOF breached the Equality Act.
AEOF had only been set up in 2012 following Liberal Democrat pressure on their Tory coalition partners; it funded disability-related costs for candidates in parliamentary and other elections, before it was closed by the Conservatives after the 2015 general election.
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