Accessing politics

by Alasdair MacDonald, programmes director

Published: 18 Jul 2018

‘Nothing about us without us’ is a slogan adopted by disabled people who see it as vital that they are able to shape the decisions or policies that affect them.

Equal representation in public and political life is hugely important. A political system that reflects the diversity of our society leads to improved decision-making and a more responsive, democratic system. 

The Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which the UK government signed in 2007, sets out clearly that disabled people have the right to participate ‘effectively and fully in political and public life on an equal basis with others’.

disabled people are hugely under-represented in politics

But we know that disabled people are hugely under-represented in politics. After the 2017 General Election, media reports stated that less than one percent of MPs have declared that they have a disability. This is in stark contrast to the estimated one in five disabled people across the UK.  

Disabled people face significant barriers when standing for election. Transportation costs and hiring a British Sign Language interpreter are just two of the additional costs candidates face on top of standard election expenditure.  

This is why we’ve long called for the UK government to reinstate the Access to Elected Office fund, which provided funding for disabled candidates standing in local and national elections between 2012 and 2015. A similar scheme has run in successfully in Scotland for Scottish government candidates since 2016.

We therefore welcomed the announcement of Penny Mordaunt, the Minister for Women and Equalities, earlier this year that the UK government would provide interim funding to support disabled people to stand for elected office.

This is an important start. 

everybody should be able to stand up and represent their community

However, the funding will only be available for 12 months, and only for local elections and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England. 

Limiting the fund in this way means that disabled people who, for example, want to stand for a parliamentary seat in Westminster won’t be supported. Selection for seats often takes place four to five years in advance, meaning that some parties will be selecting their candidates now for the 2022 election. The possibility of a snap General Election also can’t be ruled out in these uncertain times.

We are also concerned that after this 12-month period ends, responsibility to support disabled people will revert solely to political parties.

While parties are obliged to make reasonable adjustments for members and candidates under the Equality Act 2010, what might be reasonable for one disabled person won’t be for another. This means that some will remain disadvantaged, and the goal of the original fund to create a level playing field for all candidates will remain unfulfilled.

That’s why we have convened a meeting with political parties, disabled candidates and representatives from disabled people’s organisations to share learning and expectations with government and encourage them to help meet the needs and aspirations of disabled candidates.

We’ll be asking government to ensure that disabled people can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis, because everybody should be able to stand up and represent their community. 

Increasing representation will position Britain as a world leader when it comes to diversity and democracy.