New access fund helps nearly 20 disabled politicians win council seats

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A new fund to support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office helped 19 disabled people win seats on local councils at this month’s elections.

The EnAble Fund for Elected Office only went live in January, handing out 42 grants to help disabled candidates in England with the disability-related expenses of standing for elected office.

The fund, administered by Disability Rights UK (DR UK) on behalf of the Local Government Association (LGA), is only a temporary replacement for the Access to Elected Office Fund, which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years.

The Government Equalities Office has provided funding of £250,000 for the temporary fund, covering expenses such as British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares, but it is not clear what will happen after it closes in March 2020.

Disabled politicians have previously warned that the temporary fund was only a “first step” and was a “drop in the ocean” of what was required to provide a long-term solution to allow disabled politicians to compete on a level playing-field with non-disabled candidates.

The Scottish government has set up its own fund for disabled candidates for local and Scottish parliament elections, delivered by Inclusion Scotland.

Anna Denham, DR UK’s project manager for the EnAble fund, said: “Feedback from participants, including from several who were not elected, is that the fund enabled them to participate equally, which both they – and DR UK – view as a success.

“We would of course like to see funding continue beyond March 2020 and be available to candidates standing in any (local) government election in England.

“We therefore recognise the EnAble fund as a first stepping-stone towards that goal.

“Being a UK-based charity, we would also like to see similar programmes launched in Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Above all, we would like to see disabled candidates and councillors receive better reasonable adjustments at all stages, from pre-selection through to serving in elected office.

“However, we acknowledge that these goals are long-term and not within the remit of the current EnAble Fund.”

DR UK was unable to say whether there have been any applications for funding for this month’s European elections, which are only taking place because of parliament’s Brexit crisis, or how much funding has been allocated so far.

It has also been unable to say if parliamentary candidates will be able to apply for funding if a general election is called before March 2020.

But disabled candidates for next May’s police and crime commissioner elections can apply for support from the fund.

Cllr Peter Fleming, chair of LGA’s improvement and innovation board, said: “It is vital that the make-up of councils reflects their communities and their experience.

“The LGA has been constantly working with councils towards increasing diversity and inclusion, including running our Be a Councillor campaign.”

He added: “Councils want to see more disabled people, parents and carers stand for election and to step up to leadership roles in local government to create a working environment which is attractive and supportive for people from all groups and backgrounds.”

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