The two newest disabled MPs in the House of Commons have backed a call for the government to reopen a fund that helped politicians meet the disability-related costs they face when campaigning for election.
Labour MPs Marsha de Cordova and Jared O’Mara have both sponsored an early day motion (EDM) which demands that the government reopens the Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF).
For both de Cordova (pictured) and O’Mara, the EDM was the first one they signed after becoming MPs.
Another disabled MP, the Liberal Democrat Stephen Lloyd, who was re-elected after losing his seat in 2015, has also signed the EDM, which was drawn up by the Green party co-leader and MP Caroline Lucas.
The fund, 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 EDM notes that disabled people are under-represented in the House of Commons, despite the election of O’Mara, de Cordova and Lloyd, and calls for more to be done to “encourage a diverse mix of local, regional and national election candidates that better reflects the society we live in”.
There are currently only about six MPs who self-identify as disabled people, including the Tory MPs Robert Halfon and Paul Maynard, and Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marie Rimmer, although others have spoken of having long-term health conditions, such as the prime minister, Theresa May, and Labour’s shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, who both have diabetes.
O’Mara, who has cerebral palsy, had to fund his own taxi fares during his general election campaign – which cost him a couple of hundred pounds – and pay for another £1,000 in taxi fares during his much longer election campaign for a seat on Sheffield City Council last year.
He said he had signed the EDM “without hesitation”, and that reopening the fund was “not much to ask”, particularly when many other candidates have more complex needs than he does.
He said: “There’s not a flood of disabled candidates for councils and parliamentary elections. It’s a minuscule expense.
“We need to be moving to a lot more disabled people in parliament, in council chambers, in the interests of representative democracy and diversity and equality.”
He added: “The costs arising from having any impairment should be no barrier to taking part in democracy and restoration of this fund is very much inexpensive and of utmost importance to our shared goal of true equality in the United Kingdom.”
He said he was “very keen” to campaign for greater diversity of MPs, and not just for more disabled MPs and councillors, but “all under-represented cross-sections”, such as transgender people, younger people, Roma, Sikhs and Poles, so there is a “truly representative democracy”.
Lucas said: “Though the representation of disabled people in Parliament is improving, there’s still a huge amount of work to do.
“The government’s prevarication on this issue is bewildering.
“We should be doing all we can to help people with disabilities stand for office, but instead ministers have refused to reinstate this scheme.
“Our democracy is enhanced when MPs reflect the communities they represent and we should be doing all we can to increase the number of disabled MPs to reflect the levels of disability in Britain.”
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, welcomed the EDM.
She said: “The Access to Elected Office Fund needs to be brought back now.
“Disabled people are not heard enough in the corridors of power. The Commons is not representative of the UK population. It will make better quality decisions when it is.”
Two years ago, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), in its submission to a UN inquiry into the rights of disabled people to participate in political and public life, called for the fund to be reopened.
And some of the disabled candidates standing in last month’s general election described how the government’s failure to reopen the fund had damaged their chances of election.
Meanwhile, a Scottish version, the Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland), which is run by Inclusion Scotland and funded by the Scottish government, has been providing financial support for disabled candidates for Scottish local and devolved elections.
It provided support for a total of 44 potential candidates in this year’s Scottish local elections, with 39 of them going on to be selected as candidates and 15 being successfully elected.
The Government Equalities Office, which was responsible for the AEOF, has refused to comment.