Disabled people who want to become councillors or MPs will have access to a fund to help them overcome the barriers they face, under proposals published by the Government today.
The fund is just one part of a planned £1 million package aimed at improving access to elected office for disabled people. Proposals also include the creation of new training and development opportunities and the introduction of a mentoring programme that will allow aspiring disabled politicians to learn from people who have already made it to the top.
Home Secretary and Minister for Equalities Theresa May said:
"It's not fair that someone who has the right to take an active role in our democracy is prevented from doing so simply because they are disabled. If political representatives at all levels - from Downing Street to district councils - are to truly represent the views and needs of the communities they serve, they need to better reflect those communities. Disabled people are under-represented in politics, and this package of support will help remedy that."
Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller said:
"Far too often disabled people still encounter outdated attitudes that prevent them from doing the things everyone else takes for granted. A recent survey showed that nearly four in ten people thought disabled people could not be as productive as non-disabled people and three quarters of those surveyed thought disabled people needed care for all or some of the time.
"Attitudes like this show that there is still a long way to go to break down barriers and challenge prejudices. By supporting more disabled people who want to take leadership positions in politics we can help change those perceptions and make people see that when it comes to disability it's not what someone can't do but what they can."
Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform Mark Harper said:
"Diversity of talent and experience is vital in politics, where important decisions are made that affect everyone. This is why we're committed to identifying and tackling barriers that prevent under-represented groups from participating in political life. No-one should be denied the opportunity to participate in our democracy just because they are disabled, and addressing this is an important part of our commitment to reforming and restoring trust in our politics as a whole."
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope said:
"We are delighted the Government is proposing to introduce more financial support to help disabled people who want to take part in public life. Disabled people want to enrich our political debate but continue to be under-represented in public life due to a range of barriers they face, including negative attitudes and increased costs if they require specific equipment or support. With the localism agenda progressing, and the Government considering ways to devolve more powers to local communities, it is even more imperative that we readdress this under-representation."
Liz Sayce, CEO of disability charity RADAR, said:
"We strongly welcome this strategy to increase the numbers of disabled people who work in public office. RADAR has supported several disabled people to stand for election and to successfully become local councillors or mayor through our Leadership Programme. We know the talent and experience disabled people can bring as well as the barriers they still face. We need more initiatives to give disabled people the confidence, the practical support and the flexibility to become a local councillor or MP. Having more disabled people included in decision making means local and national policies are created which reflect what everyone wants and needs in their communities."
Full details of the plans are contained in a consultation that was published today. The Government is seeking views from across the community, including disabled people and those involved in the political process at all levels.
The consultation, which follows a coalition agreement commitment to introduce extra support for disabled people who want to become MPs, councillors or other types of elected position, will run for three months, with the scheme expected to launch in late 2011. It is a joint project being run by the Government Equalities Office, the Office for Disability Issues (part of the Department for Work and Pensions) and the Cabinet Office.
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The proposals will apply to candidates who are applying to the following list of elections; UK Westminster elections, English local elections, Greater London Authority (GLA) elections, English Mayoral elections and Police and Crime Commissioners.
2. The access to elected office scheme is being funded from the Government Equalities Office's budget.
3. Full details of the consultation can be downloaded from the Government Equalities Office website at http://www.equalities.gov.uk
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