Disabled people are likely to face greater costs when seeking elected office because of their disability. The EnAble Fund, provided by the Government Equalities Office and administered by Disability Rights UK and the LGA, aims to level the playing field by providing grants for reasonable adjustments. This could include items such as British Sign Language interpreters, assistive technology, a personal assistant to help with specific tasks, mobility scooter hire or taxi fares, and paid leaflet distribution.
The fund was designed to help more disabled people stand for elected office in this May’s local elections. Early results show that a promising number of candidates were able to access funds to assist with canvassing and campaigning – with many successfully elected, representing four political parties and Independents.
The fund will also be available to offer similar support for disabled candidates in next year’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections, and the application process will be similar.Candidates apply via Disability Rights UK and undertake an informal interview with a specialist team who help work out what reasonable adjustments can be requested.
An independent panel of disabled people anonymously assesses applications. Disability Rights UK’s recommendations and quotes for the goods or services requested are then presented to the relevant LGA political group to consider and to give final sign-off.
For the 2019 local elections, the fund received applications from across England – including Devon, Hampshire, Essex, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Durham, North Yorkshire, West Midlands, East Midlands, Lancashire, and many counties in between.
Several applicants said they found the informal interview aspect of the process to be helpful, as they knew what barriers they faced but could not think of ways to overcome them. In addition to the expert advice that Disability Rights UK could offer, a suggestion based on what other applicants had requested also helped generate creative new solutions.
For example, some applicants had tried door-to-door canvassing but, as wheelchair users, often found this type of activity difficult.
Applications to overcome this included requesting funds to hire a local hall to do indoor ‘static’ canvassing, or to buy fold-up tables and parasols to enable outdoor static canvassing at community events.
This suggestion gave another applicant the idea of asking the fund to help purchase a customised pop-up banner. As the candidate lived near a railway station, they could catch the daily commuters rather than attempt door-to-door canvassing. This candidate reported that the banner was a real asset, and being able to canvass residents at the local station was a good alternative to door-knocking.
Several applicants reported that support from the EnAble Fund gave them peace of mind that, regardless of whether or not they were elected, they could participate equally with their fellow candidates – something which both they and Disability Rights UK view as a success.
Looking ahead, it is essential that support for disabled candidates seeking elected office continues in an effective and long-term way. The Government Equalities Office is currently working with political parties to support their efforts to put in place sustainable long-term plans for supporting their disabled candidates.