The under-representation of disabled people is a widely acknowledged feature of our political landscape. A snapshot of our Parliament shows that we are missing out on diverse and important contributions that disabled people could make to our political life.
A figure that is often quoted is that at least 65 disabled MPs would be needed if the House of Commons were truly reflective of the people it represents. This serves as an all too powerful reminder of the quantum leap we need if we are to come close to delivering the number of disabled MPs that would ensure a representative make-up of our Parliament.
The Speaker’s Conference some years ago offered us a real opportunity to have a serious debate about how the diverse nature of our society should be represented within Parliament. That opportunity helped to shed light on the different hurdles faced by disabled people who set their sights on getting into Westminster or on becoming a councillor.
For a disabled person who wants to stand for election, the barriers they face can be manifold. These include negative attitudes towards disabled people and other practical barriers that discourage disabled people from getting involved. Other barriers can be more expensive and difficult to overcome. We know that the extra costs that disabled candidates face – over and above those faced by other candidates – make standing for elected beyond the reach of many people.
This is why we are pleased that the Government is today launching its Access to Elected Office Fund to help meet those additional financial costs disabled people face – turning a proposal put forward by Scope to the Speaker’s Conference into reality.
The fund is intended to meet the cost, for example, of employing an interpreter or the extra cost of taking a taxi rather than a bus due to the inaccessibility of transport. By meeting these extra costs, the fund could play a crucial role in helping to boost the number of disabled people who make steps along the pathway to get into politics.
Estimating the extent to which the proportion of disabled people in Britain is represented among elected representatives is complicated, as we do not currently have any official figures on that. The fund will help us start building a picture of how many disabled people are putting themselves forward as candidates – it will then be for political parties themselves to further address this paucity of data through better monitoring of their candidates pools.
Alongside ensuring that selection processes for candidates are open and accessible to all, the fund has great potential to help reduce the difficulties disabled people have in ‘breaking in’ to politics. If our goal is to achieve an inclusive society, we should also put concerted efforts into getting more disabled people in mainstream politics.