A new campaigning organisation – named after one of Manchester’s “finest civil rights campaigners” – will fight to remove the barriers to elected office faced by disabled people in the city.
The Trust Lorraine Foundation (TLF) was launched in Manchester on Saturday by Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and Breakthrough UK.
It is named after the late Lorraine Gradwell (pictured), who helped found both organisations and played a significant role in putting Manchester at the heart of the disability rights movement in the 1980s and 1990s.
The new organisation will work with disabled people in the Manchester area who aspire to elected office, for example as members of parliament or local councillors.
It plans to push political parties to commit to “true diversity”, and campaign for the government to re-open the Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF).
AEOF, which provided grants of up to £40,000 for disability-related costs for disabled people standing for the UK parliament and in other English elections, has been closed since the 2015 general election, supposedly while the government evaluates its success.
The new foundation plans to monitor progress towards increasing the number of disabled people in elected office, and to campaign for voting to be more accessible to disabled people.
One of its first steps will be to seek support from the new mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and Manchester City Council, and ask them to consider alternatives to AEOF, and to commit to providing support such as opportunities for would-be disabled politicians to shadow councillors or to take part in internships.
Jackie Driver, Breakthrough UK’s interim chief executive, said the immediate focus would be to find local disabled people who want to stand for elected office and provide them with the materials and experiences they need in “navigating and challenging the barriers to office” they will face.
But the campaign will also push officials “to recognise and remove disability related barriers” to standing for office and to voting.
Gradwell, who died last September, was a specialist adviser to the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation, which was set up to find ways to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs, and reported in January 2010.
The Speaker’s Conference called for action to prevent discrimination against disabled people who want to become parliamentary candidates, and to provide them with financial and practical support, but many of its recommendations have yet to be implemented.
One of the key areas that has not been implemented, said Driver, was for political parties to commit to “openly and transparently” monitor how many candidates and elected politicians are from particular protected groups, such as disabled people.
TLF was launched on Saturday by Driver and Gradwell’s daughter Jenny, at Manchester’s Walk for Women, which celebrated 100 years since some women gained the right to vote for the first time.
Jenny Gradwell told the crowd that her mother had been a “phenomenal presence”, a “force of nature” and “one of the city’s finest civil rights campaigners”.
She described how some disabled people were preventing from voting at polling stations in last year’s general election, an exclusion which she said was “simply unacceptable in a modern democracy”.
She added: “It’s bad enough being treated as a second-class citizen, an experience that is all too common.
“But if you’re denied the vote, in effect you have your citizenship stripped from you.”
Driver said that the unequal representation of disabled people in public life “reflects and accentuates inequality”.
And she told the crowd: “This foundation has a clear purpose – to develop the strong representation and fair leadership vital to a democracy by removing the barriers to elected office that disable people.”