By Simon Sansome
When a person with a disability goes for a job interview, by law the employer must make certain arrangements to make sure the whole interview process does not discriminate, which is the way it should be. If that person gets the job they are usually referred to Access to Work Fund, this is a fund a business can apply for to make reasonable adjustments for the person with a disability.
Now what happens if the person in questions has a disability and wants a career in politics? They want to stand for election in local and national elections.
I am in a very unique situation, I have been involved in local and national politics for about 10 years and have just recently retired following my spinal injury. Not because I have lost interest in politics but because there is absolutely no support for people with disabilities in local or national elections.
Ask yourself this? When was the last time you saw a disabled candidate in a wheelchair running for office? It simply does not happen. When was the last time you saw a disabled Member of Parliament? It does not happen. Leaders of the major parties standing by a disabled candidate on the election trail during a general election. Today there is a total of just 1% of MP with a disability in parliament.
People with disabilities are underrepresented in every community, in every job at every level in every local authority as councillors and national government. All you have to do is look at Number 10 Downing Street, there is no front disabled access, I am guessing they are not expecting a disabled Prime Minister or any disabled Cabinet Minister entering Number 10 any time soon.
I have been a parliamentary candidate twice (2015, 2017) campaigns manager (2010), local Councillor (2014), stood for local council a number of times and been heavily involved in local politics for a decade. I know full well that to win an election you need to knock on doors, deliver leaflets and get you message out there. I was elected as a Councillor before my disability and as a campaigns manager in the 2010 election I know the importance to been seen and heard. But after I was injured I got no support from the local council which I served, no support from the government to stand for general election and no support from the national party for which I was the parliamentary candidate to fight an election as a disabled candidate, giving my opponents a massive advantage.
I do not know if the political parties are unintentionally being discriminatory against people with disabilities or they are going to continue to ignore the situation. But if a disabled person wants to stand for public office they have to rely on volunteers and family members to deliver leaflets, to knock on doors, and just ring a door bell if the candidate is in a wheelchair, which puts the candidate on the back foot straight away.
During the coalition the government brought in a scheme to help candidates with disabilities to stand for election. It was called the Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund which had over 60 applications.
Former Minister of State for Disabled People Mike Penning said: “Well, not only are they wrong on a basic equalities level, but perhaps more importantly they are wrong on a purely practical level too. That is why this initiative is imperative to get a broader, more representative electorate in office, which reflects the needs of everyone – including the 11 million disabled people in the UK.”
Sadly, this scheme was closed down under the Conservative government. It should not be a disadvantage that because you can’t knock on doors or deliver leaflets, there should be a system in place for people who want to serve their community no matter what their ability.
The only way to make changes is to have people with different circumstances who have been in a different situation than the previous councils and governments otherwise everything just stands still and refrains from moving forward.