The government has sat for more than a year on a report that is set to expose the barriers faced by disabled people in accessing elected office, and the discrimination they face at the hands of political parties.
The report, commissioned by the Government Equalities Office, was completed in December 2019 but has yet to be released.
Mary Griffiths-Clarke (pictured, right), a disabled politician who fought the north Wales seat of Arfon for Labour at the 2017 general election, and who contributed to the report, said she was not surprised it had not been published.
But she said: “I’m really disappointed opposition parties are not pushing for its publication.
“Sadly there doesn’t appear to be an empowering political voice in any party for disabled people right now.
“I believe this is because there is a fundamental perception that disabled people do not have the capacity to be good leaders and bring about change.
“This attitude needs to shift because it’s outrageously wrong and offensive.”
She added: “This could not be more pertinent as we approach leaving lockdown and a post-COVID crisis era, when so many thousands feel the affects of virally acquired disability and the impact of a long-neglected NHS and social services.”
The government has also been sitting on an evaluation report on the temporary EnAble fund that was set up – following the closure of the short-lived Access to Elected Office fund – to support disabled people with the extra costs they face in trying to become local councillors, MPs and mayors in England.
Ministers are refusing to reopen the EnAble fund – which was closed last year – with only two months to go until local council, mayoral, London Assembly and Police and Crime Commissioner elections on 6 May.
This leaves disabled people seeking election in England without financial help to pay for the extra-impairment related costs they face, such as British Sign Language interpreters and assistance with transport.
Griffiths-Clarke said that disabled people had never needed an access to elected office fund more than they do now.
She said: “It can enable the delivery of practical solutions based on lived experience, more ideas and better solutions.
“Parking access to elected office is a tragedy and a missed opportunity to really make a difference. Society is poorer for not having disabled voices heard.”
Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which administered the EnAble fund on behalf of the Local Government Association, wrote to the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, on 18 December, to ask him to reopen or replace it.
It has been told by disabled candidates that knowing the fund was there had encouraged them to stand for election, and that they had had to rely on goodwill and the availability of volunteers if they wanted support from their own political party.
The letter said: “The shocking under-representation of disabled people in Parliament and local government shows that positive action is required. Leaving it to political parties just isn’t working.”
It called for “urgent action” before the May local elections, but it has yet to receive a reply from Tomlinson.
Both Scotland and Wales now have their own funds to provide financial support for disabled candidates for elected office, other than those seeking election to the UK parliament.
This means that disabled candidates for elections to both the Welsh parliament and the Scottish parliament on 6 May will be able to seek financial support for their extra costs, while candidates for the elections in England will not.
Last month, Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith (pictured, left), in response to a written parliamentary question from Mike Amesbury, suggested the government would not set up a new fund, telling the Labour MP that the government “has been clear that the responsibility for supporting disabled candidates sits with political parties”.
She did not explain which organisation was expected to fund the extra costs of independent disabled candidates.
Dr Elizabeth Evans, co-author of the report on barriers to elected office, and a reader in politics at Goldsmith, University of London, said she had been told that the two reports “have been signed off and that they are waiting for a publication date”, but she could not comment further.
The Cabinet Office was asked to comment on Monday morning but had not done so by noon today (Thursday).
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