People living with disability or health conditions bring valuable experiences and insight to elected bodies, and assist better decision-making for all. That is why Disability Rights UK works towards increasing disabled people’s leadership and control. Through our leadership work and the MP Disability Dialogue we aim to empower disabled people to become involved in public and political life. E.g. to date we have supported 450 disabled people through leadership programmes and also co-ordinate a network of disabled people in more senior jobs – Radiate, run in conjunction with Lloyds Banking Group – which has over 200 members, some of whom mentor disabled people earlier in their careers.
We support the Government’s Access to Elected Office strategy. To achieve its objectives, it is vital that the Government fully involves disabled people and disabled-led organisations in the delivery of the strategy, and that the fund is administered in a way that is transparent and respects disabled people’s individual choices for support. We are pleased to publish an article by Lynne Featherstone MP, the Minister for Equalities.
Have you thought about standing for elected office? Becoming an elected representative – for example a local councillor, an elected police and crime commissioner, a mayor or an MP – can be an exciting and often life-changing experience. My own journey to political office started with me simply wanting to make a difference to my local community and to stand up for local people.
But starting on your route into elected office can be daunting, particularly if you feel you face particular barriers in taking part fully in your community.
As Minister for Equalities, it seems obvious to me our democratic institutions make the best decisions when they have a mix of people with different skills, backgrounds and experiences, from right across the country.
But at the moment there are many faces missing - disabled people are currently under-represented in public life. Less than 5% of public appointments are currently held by disabled people, despite around 20% of the population having some form of disability.
A strong democracy is an inclusive one. We need everyone’s contribution. This is why Government is committed to providing extra support to tackle the particular obstacles faced by disabled people who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials.
We ran a public consultation from February to May 2011, seeking your views on a range of policy proposals designed to provide additional support for disabled candidates running for elected office. You told us what was important to you – and we are now working with political, disability and other stakeholders to make these proposals happen.
These include setting up a dedicated fund to help individual candidates with disability- related costs, new training and development opportunities, raising awareness, and working with political parties to share good practice on disability and explain legal obligations.
You told us that it was important to tackle the negative perceptions that people might have about disabled people in political parties and encourage the political parties to include disabled people fully.
So we are launching new online guidance to support political parties make reasonable adjustments for disabled people [http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/equalities/equality-public-political]. We have developed this with the help of political parties and Disability Rights UK.
You also told us that training and development opportunities were important to support disabled people achieve elected office.
I am pleased to announce that we have appointed BYG Systems Ltd to deliver an online training package aimed at disabled people wishing to access elected office. BYG will be working closely with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations in order to develop this training package and you will hear more about the training soon.
These policies are just the start of what we are doing to make Parliament and councils more representative of the people they serve. Who knows, you could be one of those whose contribution we are currently missing in our council chambers or even in Parliament itself.