Trio of disabled politicians welcome ‘partial victory’ on Access to Elected Office Fund

0

Three disabled politicians are welcoming a “partial victory” over the government, after a minister announced 12 months’ worth of new funding to support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office.

Women and equalities minister Penny Mordaunt announced that the government would provide “up to” £250,000 to assist disabled people with the additional impairment-related costs they face in standing for election in the next 12 months.

The funding will be the first to help with such costs – although a new fund has been set up in Scotland by the Scottish government – since the UK government froze its Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF) in 2015.

Despite the announcement, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) has still not published a long-awaited review of AEOF, which ran from 2012 to 2015.

A GEO spokeswoman said the publication of the review was now “imminent”, and that “arrangements” for the new funding would be announced “shortly”.

But she stressed that the funding did not mean AEOF had been reopened but that it was “a new arrangement drawing on lessons from the fund”.

Lawyers for Labour’s Emily Brothers, Liberal Democrat David Buxton and the Green party’s Simeon Hart had written to the government to warn that the government had breached the Equality Act by failing to complete the review and reopen the fund.

They say they have effectively been unable to stand as candidates in a general election since the government froze the fund.

More United, the cross-party campaign group which is supporting them, said the legal action had not been withdrawn because it had not yet received a formal letter from the government.

Buxton said initially that it was “a partial victory” while Brothers said she was “delighted” with the new funding but that there was “still a good way to go to secure a long term solution”.

Buxton, Brothers and Hart later called on political parties to adopt all-disabled shortlists in target parliamentary seats “so that disabled candidates can make as much progress as possible in the next 12 months”.

AEOF offered grants to disabled people to pay for some of their additional impairment-related costs in standing for election, usually as a councillor or MP, such as the costs of British Sign Language interpreters, taxis, support workers or assistive technology.

Buxton said the funding was “so important as major parties are already engaged in selecting candidates for target seats ahead of the next general election” and it would “allow disabled candidates to compete in elections on a level playing field”.

He called on all political parties to use all-disabled shortlists in some target seats “and to tackle other barriers that disabled candidates face”.

Brothers said: “I hope that all political parties will engage in the 12-month programme of work to tackle barriers facing disabled candidates and through that process recognise that the right of disabled candidates to participate in elections at all levels can only be guaranteed whilst a central government fund exists to support disabled candidates with the additional costs they incur.”

Hart said public support for the campaign had been “fantastic”, and he added: “MPs from major parties, and some of Britain’s most prominent disabled public figures have all sent a clear message to the government that the fund must be restored to create a level playing field.

“We’re determined to keep up the pressure in the coming months in order to secure a long-term solution.”

Mordaunt told MPs that the representation of disabled people in the country’s parliaments, assemblies and councils was “far too low”. 

But she said the task of supporting disabled candidates was ​“primarily political parties’ responsibility… just as they must also support disabled employees”.

She said GEO was to take part over the next 12 months in “a programme of work to help political parties to best support their disabled candidates and to consider how independent candidates can be supported, too”.

While this is taking place, she said, the government would provide “up to a quarter of a million pounds to support disabled candidates for elections in the forthcoming year”.

Picture: (From left) Eleanor Lisney, David Buxton, Simeon Hart and Emily Brothers outside 10 Downing Street with a petition calling for the fund to be reopened