UN day of disabled people: Temporary election access fund ‘must be just a first step’

0

The government has finally launched a new temporary fund that will support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office, but only for the next 15 months.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said the EnAble “interim” fund would provide £250,000 to help cover the disability-related expenses of standing for elected office.

The EnAble Fund for Elected Office (EFEO) will go live in January and will end in March 2020, covering expenses such as British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares.

The funding is likely to be used by candidates for May’s local elections and police and crime commissioner elections in May 2020, although a GEO spokeswoman said that its use by prospective candidates for a general election would also be considered if one was called.

But there has been no guarantee that there will be any further funding post-March 2020, with the department’s focus apparently on working with political parties to make their own policies and procedures accessible to disabled candidates.

The fund is being administered by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which will be paid £75,000 by the Local Government Association (LGA) for about 18 months’ work.

The interim fund replaces the Access to Elected Office Fund, which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years.

The new funding was first announced in May after lawyers for three disabled politicians – Labour’s Emily Brothers (pictured, right), Liberal Democrat David Buxton (pictured, second from left) and the Green party’s Simeon Hart – wrote to the government to warn that the government had breached the Equality Act by failing to reopen the Access to Elected Office Fund.

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

Buxton this week welcomed the launch of the new interim fund, even though it was only open for 15 months, and he said he was glad it would be administered by a disabled people’s organisation, which would be “able to understand the barriers we face”.

But he said there was “still a lot of room for improvement”, with “no long term solution” and the delays in launching the new fund meaning there were now just six months until May’s local elections.

He said the experience in Scotland, where the Scottish government has set up its own Access to Elected Office Fund, showed that the longer potential candidates had to secure financial support with disability-related expenses before an election, the more successful such a fund would be.

Brothers welcomed the announcement as a “first step”, but she said the funding was “insufficient and short term” and “fragmented”.

She said: “I have concerns that EnAble is being set up so close to the next local elections, with selections well in hand and only six months to polling day.

“The LGA and DR UK will need to get their act together very quickly, but for many disabled people it may well be too late.”

She added: “I believe a permanently resourced Access to Elected Office Fund needs to be established to support the participation of disabled people in political and public life.

“The representation of disabled people is woeful, our voices are not being heard and consequently laws, policy and practices persist in failing to meet our needs and aspirations. That has to change.”

Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “The new fund is a drop in the ocean.  

“Funds also need to be made available to political parties and providers of premises where political meetings are held for reasonable adjustments to be made.

“Premises are often inaccessible and this needs to change.

“For example, funding for hearing loops, ramps, sign language interpreters need to be provided through a central fund which facilitates access to the political process as a whole.” 

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of DR UK, said: “Around 10 per cent of local councillors are disabled, but around 20 per cent of adults are disabled.

“This fund will provide practical help and support to try and close that gap. Help with issues like transport, assistive technology or sign language interpreters can make a significant difference on whether to stand for elected office if you’re disabled.

“We hope this is the beginning of something which will see funding increase, and broaden in scope, so that disabled people can get more involved in public life; from being a local councillor to becoming a member of parliament.

“And we hope – and expect – to see political parties do much more to encourage their disabled members to stand for office.

“Political parties across the spectrum have a poor track record when it comes to selecting and supporting disabled candidates.

“They should be doing better, and the establishment of this fund is a reminder of that.”

Announcing the new funding on Monday, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, said: “Everyone has the right to stand and represent their community – and it is vital no-one is held back.

“Empowering people with disabilities leads to better decisions and more effective outcomes for all of us.                                                       

“Unless every one of our citizens can reach their full potential our nation never will.”

 

A note from the editor:

Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.

Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.

Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…