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he Government’s equalities strategy recognises that there are physical, fi nancial

and cultural barriers that can prevent talented disabled people from getting as involved in politics as they could.

Following a detailed consultation with disabilities organisations, equality groups and political parties in 2011, the Government has now launched its Access to Elected Offi ce Strategy, which includes a fund to which disabled people can apply for fi nancial aid in standing for offi ce.

People wanting to stand in this November’s election for the fi rst Police & Crime Commissioners will be the fi rst eligible to apply for grants, ranging from £250 to £10,000, which could be used to cover transport, sign language interpreters, or extra transport or accommodation costs for a carer.

It will also be available to people standing in elections or by-elections to the House of Commons, to councils in England, including the GLA,

and mayoral elections. Parish

elections, European Parliament elections and elections to the devolved administrations and local authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not covered.

‘That could be me’

PSE spoke about the strategy and the fund with equalities minister Lynne Featherstone, who told us: “Everyone should be able to participate, end of.”

She explained that there are a number of drivers 12 | public sector executive Jul/Aug 12

down barriers T

behind the decision to offer fi nancial support.

“One very important reason is role models,” she said. “If you don’t see it as being something you could do, whichever disability you have, then you may not relate it to yourself being able to do that. We’ve seen with other groups – with black and ethnic minorities, and women – if there’s a role model in place, then you think ‘that could be me’. If there’s no-one there like you, it’s not even necessarily in your mindframe.

“I’m a woman, and sometimes when I raise issues about women, I fi nd things that may be forgotten if there are no other women in the room. It’s important to raise it: it would be lovely if everyone who didn’t have a disability raised all of the aspects, but because they don’t know that intimately, in the same way as someone who actually has a disability, then when decisions are made and issues are debated, you haven’t got that permanent voice.

“One would love to think that everyone raised it every time, but just in case it gets missed, then real representation is in the room. When you’re making a decision, the more brains, and the more types of people, the more experience you have in the room, the more likely the decision you make is to be right for everyone.”

The strategy also includes other elements, such as online training and paid internships for disabled candidates on the Speaker’s Parliamentary Placement scheme.

Opening up a closed world Disability charity Scope had a big role in

shaping the strategy, and its chair Alice Maynard welcomed the fund, which she said “marks an important step forward in increasing disabled people’s visibility and participation in society”.

She added: “The key challenge facing all candidate offi ces across local authorities and political parties is how we can use this fund to attract more disabled candidates and diversify the often ‘closed’ world of local and national politics.”

Featherstone agreed, telling us: “There are those people who have been around politics, or have had a desire to stand, who may have found that the extra cost involved in standing for election when you have a disability has been off-putting. This will encourage them to take that step that they have never quite taken before.

“If they have taken it before, it will help them too; maybe they couldn’t afford it, and therefore it wasn’t as good an experience of participating in politics as they had hoped for.

The Home Offi ce has launched a £2.6m Access to Elected Offi ce fund to give fi nancial help to disabled people wanting to stand in elections. PSE discussed the initiative with equalities minister Lynne Featherstone MP.

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