The Access to Elected Office Fund was set up in 2012 to provide vital support to people with disabilities facing financial barriers to getting selected or elected. However, this scheme was put on hold after the 2015 General Election and was not in place for the General Election last year.
Politics should reflect our diverse society and I have long supported efforts to revive the Access to Elected Office Fund.
There is substantial underrepresentation of people with disabilities within the House of Commons and other elected offices. People with disabilities make up less than 1 per cent of MPs, despite 16 per cent of the working-age adult population having a disability. As parliamentarians, it is our duty to increase the representation of under-represented groups in Parliament and at every level of politics. Although this is about fairness, it is also about what sort of politics we want to see.
The delay from the government in reinstating this fund has resulted in many talented people with disabilities being denied the opportunity to stand for public office.
In May, the government announced the introduction of a 12-month interim fund for prospective candidates with a disability. While this is welcome, concerns have been raised about the terms under which the fund will operate and about the fact it has only been restored for one year. I would like to see the fund fully restored without further delay. I also believe it is vital the government finds a long-term solution to improve the substantial underrepresentation of disabled people in public life.
We need action now to help people with disabilities be more equally represented in politics and to remove the barriers in society that restrict opportunities and choices for people with disabilities. While all political parties can do more to reduce barriers facing disabled candidates, the extra campaign costs they incur as a result of their disability should be met by the government and not by political parties.