By Henry Foulds, Nether Edge and Sharrow youth officer (Sheffield Central CLP)
It’s a fact that disabled people are woefully underrepresented in public life. There are only five openly disabled MPs but 19% of the UK population describes themselves as disabled.This means a representative House of Commons would have 125 disabled MPs.
This underrepresentation occurs for a number of reasons, but one significant barrier is finances. Average living costs are higher if you’re disabled and disabled candidates face extra costs like employing a sighted guide or BSL interpreter, or obtaining specialist equipment.
That’s why it was so good to see the introduction of the Access to Elected Office Fund – a surprising step forward for disability rights from the overwhelmingly ableist Coalition Government – which covered such additional costs in candidate selections and local and national elections.
Some people will say it’s unfair that disabled candidates get taxpayer funding to help their campaigns, but the fund helped to level the playing field. It meant, for example, that Emily Brothers, who is blind and hearing impaired, was able to stand for Parliament in the 2015 General Election and not have to worry about how she would pay support workers to help her get around and access otherwise inaccessible aspects of campaigning.
Sadly, in 2015 the Access to Elected Office Fund was effectively closed when the government failed to review it at the end of its trial period. Since then, there has been no additional support for disabled candidates but I’m hopeful this might soon change. Emily, along with disabled candidates from the Greens and Liberal Democrats, are challenging the government’s decision to effectively close the Fund and have begun proceedings to seek a judicial review.
Whatever the result of the judicial review, we all have a part to play in fighting for equal representation of disabled people. DEAL (Disability Equality Act Labour), a group of disability rights activists in the Labour Party, have published a guide on ensuring the Party at all levels meets its obligations under the Equality Act, which you can read, along with other resources, at disabilityequalityactlabour.org
It is so important that everyone — members, activists, officers and elected representatives — know and understand the rights of disabled members so that we can collectively push for a more accessible party.
Abled people should also seek out and listen to the experiences of disabled people. Does your branch or CLP elect a disability officer?
Like other liberation officers, disability officers can help make sure the way you organise is accessible and doesn’t exclude disabled people. Does your local council represent the 13.9 million disabled people living in the UK? If not, support disabled members to gain experience and encourage them to apply for selections. Do you engage with local disabled people’s organisations when formulating policy?
Can you build relationships to ensure disabled voices are heard, both inside and outside the Labour Party?
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