The three main political parties have all backed a proposal to set up a fund to make it easier for disabled people to become MPs.
The proposal was a key recommendation of the speaker’s conference on parliamentary representation, which reported in January on how to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.
In its final report, the conference said there was “overwhelming evidence that shortage of money and the necessity of additional expenditure to support disabled people through candidacy, make finance a particularly significant barrier to elected office for disabled people”.
In their official responses to the report, all three parties backed the idea of a ring-fenced fund to support disabled parliamentary candidates, an idea first proposed by the disability charity Scope.
The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said it would consult widely on the proposal and other measures to support the development of “talented individuals from under-represented groups”.
There was slightly weaker support for proposals for each party to publish regular reports on how many of their potential parliamentary candidates identified as disabled people, as well as information on their gender and ethnicity, and possibly their impairment and sexual orientation.
Although all three parties backed the idea, the Liberal Democrats and Labour raised some concerns about right to privacy and data protection, while the Conservatives said they did not believe information on sexual orientation should be published.
The GEO said an amendment it had added to the equality bill committed it to discussing how this proposal would work with political parties, the Electoral Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
There was also cross-party backing for proposals to publish a statement after this year’s general election on how many of each party’s MPs were disabled, female or from an ethnic minority.
But the Conservatives suggested they might not favour going further and publishing targets for how many of their MPs they would like to see in each category by 2015 and 2020, as it was “impossible to predict accurately the future make up of any parliamentary party”.
The Liberal Democrats said it was far more difficult for them to make “commitments” on future representation because they had no “safe” seats.
But the Labour Party said it believed targets were “important benchmarks against which to measure progress and provide an incentive to faster, more effective action”, although it suggested it would only publish them if other parties also agreed to do so.
Abigail Lock, head of advocacy and campaigns at Scope, said: “It is very encouraging that all the main political parties recognise the need for extra financial support for disabled people wishing to enter public life.
“Scope first recommended an access to public life fund three years ago – to help cover the additional costs faced by disabled candidates. We hope all parties will work towards introducing this much needed support as soon as possible.”
17 March 2010