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9 July 2012
Disabled candidates one step closer to a more level playing field in civic life
Disabled people who have been prevented or put off from running for elected office are one step closer to a more level playing field, thanks to a new Access to Elected Office fund launched today by the Government.
Scope has been campaigning on the underrepresentation of disabled people in civic life for many years now. As well as the negative attitudes and assumptions many disabled candidates face, many also incur significant extra costs in their election campaigns as MPs and councillors as a result of their condition or impairment.
A representative portion of the population should place the number of disabled MPs at around 65, yet there is no exact figure because the data has never been collected.
At a last count, 14.1% of councillors indicated that they had a long term illness, health problem or disability. Whilst this figure might sound fairly high, few aspiring candidates would be able to identify a disabled councillor who they look up to as a role model.
The launch of the fund, will be open to receive applications from prospective candidates who face additional financial costs such as additional transport costs or interpreters until the end of March 2014.
Scope hopes that more disabled people in elected positions will go some way to increasing visibility and familiarity of disabled people in everyday life and tackle a deterioration of attitudes towards them.
The latest findings from Scope's snapshot survey with ComRes found:
Alice Maynard, Chair of disability charity Scope commented on the launch:
"Disabled people face huge extra costs in everyday life as a result of their impairment and these extra costs can be amplified for those who want to run for elected office, meaning they are woefully under-represented.
"We are therefore delighted that the Government has launched the Access to Elected Office fund which we believe marks an important step forward in increasing disabled people's visibility and participation in society.
"Yet for Scope, the launch of this fund marks the beginning of this journey to tackle the barriers disabled people face and give them more confidence to stand for office, rather than the end.
"The key challenge facing all those working with candidates across local authorities and political parties is how we can use this fund to attract more disabled candidates and diversify the often 'closed' world of local and national politics."
Karen Bellamy, a disabled Councillor at Waltham Forest Council said:
"The launch of this fund is incredible.
"I have mobility impairment and suffer from severe arthritis which makes getting out and about really difficult. I knew I had the skills to make a difference to my local community but spent 15 years worrying about how I would be able to cope with the extra costs I'd incur if I ran for office.
"Being able to apply to this fund to help pay for the extra costs I faced as a disabled candidate would have made a significant difference to me and I hope will do so for prospective candidates.
"I know vast numbers of talented disabled people in my local community who have a huge contribution to make but are prevented from doing so because of the barriers they face. "It's vitally important that we take the steps we need to open politics to everyone not just men in grey suits.
"Disabled people are invisible in a lot of their communities and a role in an elected position will help them become more visible.
"There is significant stigma associated with disabled people. We must put an end to it."
David Blunkett, Member of Parliament for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough said:
"Overcoming barriers and setting aside disability requires sensitive and practical support. This inevitably means additional cost as well as appropriate action to integrate mainstream activity with the needs of those who have specialist requirements.
"There is no question that I could not have done my job on equal terms as a Member of Parliament of the last quarter of a century without that support. In my early years in seeking election to, and serving on, a major city council, the struggle was enormous as I was breaking new ground. I don't want anyone now in the twenty first century to have to do that all over again because of lack of thought or finance.
"We should be able to get this right whatever the pressures of the moment, not just in terms of basic equality but also proper and full representation of the people of this country."