Making a difference

It is important that public offices, from the UK Parliament to local government, reflect the diversity of the UK population.

Currently, though, the number of disabled people in elected positions is not proportionate to the one in five in the general population; the LGA’s 2018 councillor census found 16 per cent of councillors had a long-term health problem or disability that limited their daily activities.

Ahead of last May’s local elections, the EnAble Fund –  provided by the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and administered by Disability Rights UK and the LGA – aimed to level the playing field for disabled people, at least during their election campaigns, by providing grants for ‘reasonable adjustments’.

These adjustments included help with delivering leaflets; companions or assistants to help with canvassing and knocking on doors; British Sign Language interpreters; specialist equipment; and banners to help with ‘static’ canvassing at community events or outside train stations.

The EnAble fund helped 31 disabled people from across the country, with a range of political affiliations, with their election campaigns. Of those, 19 were successfully elected on 2 May, and you can read some of their stories on the facing page.

The funding from the GEO – which also leads work on policy relating to women, sexual orientation and transgender equality, and is responsible for a range of equalities legislation – will also be available to help disabled candidates campaigning next May to become police and crime commissioners.

I am a 41-year-old and I am registered blind. I felt that it was time for a new challenge in my life and decided to stand in the 2019 local elections.

The first challenge I was going to face would be my election campaign. I looked at the cost of getting a flyer designed prior to sending to a printer and then the cost of getting leaflets delivered to residents, which were two things I was going to struggle with because of my disability.

I heard about the EnAble Fund and made enquiries. With the help of Anna from Disability Rights UK, applying for the fund was easy and the money could be used to overcome both of my initial challenges. The challenges for me include not seeing trip hazards in people’s gardens or being unable to locate letter boxes.

My application to the EnAble Fund was approved and the costs to overcome these issues was granted, so I stood for election and I was successfully elected as a councillor.

Councillor Richard Cunnington, Independent, East Lindsey District Council

Earlier this year, I was selected as a candidate in the borough council elections despite being only able to walk short distances. The run-up to the election is always hectic, involving door knocking and leafleting my entire ward street by street.

Without the help provided by the EnAble Fund, this would have been an impossible task given my limited mobility – there simply would not have been sufficient time to allow me to get round to everybody. The fund provided with me with a mobility scooter, which greatly reduced the amount of walking.

I was able to ride the scooter along each street to each resident’s gate. From there, I was able to manage to walk the short distances to front doors and engage with my prospective constituents. I am pleased to say I was duly elected after a tense day at the count. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been successful without the help and support from the EnAble Fund. Its help made it all possible and for that I am truly grateful.

Cllr Mary Stirzaker, Labour, Wyre Council

We all look forward to local government elections with mixed feelings, as they can be a time of great excitement, but also a time of very hard work delivering leaflets, wearing out the shoe leather by knocking on doors, and canvassing support in an attempt to get elected into office.

This is made much more challenging when you face the additional hurdle of doing all this with a life-changing disability, especially a significant physical disability such as cerebral palsy, which I suffer from and have done since experiencing a complication at birth.

At election time, we need all the help we can get; logistically and psychologically, it’s never easy standing for election.

Having the benefit of the EnAble Fund helped me enormously with the logistical nightmare of how to run an election campaign, and just how the hell you deliver literature to 3,000 or so homes when you can’t walk!

The fund is a valuable way to ‘pay’ for additional support, whether it be specialist equipment, extra office space or, in my case, enabling me to purchase stamps to stick on letters in order to get my message out.

In case you were wondering, I won my election to the newly created East Suffolk Council and was appointed by the new leader as a member of his cabinet – wow! It doesn’t get more exciting than that. None of this would have been possible for me without the help and support I received from Disability Rights UK and the LGA. Thanks guys!

Councillor Stephen Burroughes, Conservative, East Suffolk Council

Many politicians, both local and national, take on delivery rounds and door-to-door canvassing as an essential part of the election campaign.

As a blind candidate, now councillor, with a guide dog, I have had to adapt to doing things a little differently, while at the same time trying to share the workload with the other successful Liberal Democrat candidates in the Torquay ward we were elected to represent.

The EnAble Fund permitted me to fully participate in the 2019 local elections. Although my guide dog Pepsi is excellent, she is not able to assist me visually.

The fund allowed me to have a companion when out canvassing, informing me of the little things that make all the difference – such as identifying if an adult or child answers the door, whether they are male or female, whether they are smiling and welcoming or exuding aggression.

Additionally, the EnAble Fund allowed me to arrange delivery of leaflets, which is something I cannot do. As a candidate, I always felt a little guilty that my fellow candidates were having to “carry me” with this activity and that it put more on their shoulders. It was fantastic that I was able to take on my full share of delivery during the campaign.

I believe there is no greater satisfaction when knocking on doors than to be met with the words: “You don’t need to introduce yourself, we know who you are, we have seen you around and seen your leaflets”. None of this would have been possible without the EnAble Fund which, in essence, makes it a level playing field for those with disabilities alongside those without.

Councillor Mandy Darling, Liberal Democrat, Torbay Council

To apply to the EnAble Fund for help to become a candidate in the 2020 police and crime commissioner elections, please contact Disability Rights UK (DRUK) on 0330 995 0400 and selecting option 1 or emailing enablefund@disabilityrightsuk.org. Users of British Sign Language can use the text-to-talk service through the ngts.org.uk app or by dialling 18001 followed by 0330 995 0400 (option 1) and the handler will relay between the caller and DRUK.

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