Tag Archives: Election

Disability hustings 2017 – Making sure disabled people are heard this election

On Tuesday we attended the national disability hustings in Westminster where 170 attendees had the opportunity to question the three main parties on their disability policy ahead of next week’s General Election. 

We organised this with a number of other disability charities because there are 13 million disabled people in the UK and we think it is important their voices are heard in this election.

A hustings is a meeting where candidates in an election meet potential voters, the disability hustings focused on some of the issues important to disabled voters.

The audience heard opening statements from the Minister for Disabled People, Penny Mordaunt, former shadow Women and Equalities Minister, Kate Green and President of the Liberal Democrats, Baroness Sal Brinton. They set out what policies they have included in their manifestos for disabled people and what their priorities would be if their party was elected.

The audience then had the opportunity to ask questions on three main areas agreed for the event; benefits, social care and employment. A number of questions were around the assessment process for both the Work Capability Assessment and Personal Independence Payments where people shared their experiences and thoughts on where change was needed.

Social care has been a big issue at this election and many disabled people aren’t getting the care and support they need. All three panelists recognised the problem and agreed that the social care system needs more funding.

Finally disabled people spoke about their experiences of looking for and being at work. Audience members and panelists discussed how employers can play a bigger role in recruiting and supporting disabled employees. Many people agreed on the importance role the Access to Work scheme plays.

What did we think?

We attended with three Scope storytellers, Michelle, Will and Jessica. We asked them afterwards why they came and what they thought of the hustings.

Will

Will is a games developer from London. He created parody of Channel 4’s Superhumans advert calling for better access, which went viral.

I came today because I really wanted to get a first-hand take on what the leading parties are saying around disability. It was a really interesting day.

I think a lot of the practicalities of being disabled maybe weren’t looked into but obviously so much of it is about money. It’s difficult to shy away from that. If you don’t have the resources, to start to talk about mindsets and attitudes is difficult because it feels like an ideology as opposed to a pragmatic task.

Jessica

Jessica is a vlogger and blogger who lives in Brighton.

I wanted to come today because it’s not always clear what each party thinks about disability issues. Those aren’t the topics that are generally covered on the nightly news, it’s not something they always debate or talk about very openly so we don’t generally know where all the parties stand on specific things.

I would have liked them to talk more about social issues. We talk a lot about social care but not about how each of the parties are going to be changing the rhetoric they use in order to combat social stigma.

Michelle

Michelle is a young campaigner who took part in Scope’s Scope for Change programme.

I struggle to work. It’s the whole idea that you almost become someone’s burden. I think that benefits should always be assessed on the person themselves and not on the surrounding situation.

I think they need to work a bit harder, so far so good, but they need to do more. Employment would be most important to me because I’m finding hard to look for a job.

There was lots of debate online about the hustings and you can look at the hashtag #disabilityhustings to find out more.

Find out what we’re calling on the next Government to do for disabled people and their families.

Employing disabled people isn’t just about building ramps

Abbi was born with a genetic bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as ‘OI’ or brittle bones. In this blog, she talks about some of her own experiences and what she thinks needs to be done to support disabled people in and out of work.

I was very lucky to get a job straight out of university. I work in a large advertising agency in London which can afford things like a wheelchair accessible office, ergonomic furniture and any software I might need. My physical access to my office is faultless, but employing disabled people isn’t just about building ramps.

Having the confidence to ask for what you need

When I started my job, I was never given the opportunity to explain what my impairments are and what effect they have on my life. As a junior employee, I didn’t feel comfortable asking for that conversation.

After a year of working 10 to 12 hours a day, five days a week, when I could no longer disguise my illnesses my employer didn’t know how to respond. I ended up having to take an entire month off work for reasons which could have been avoided had I felt comfortable explaining my conditions, and asking for a little flexibility, earlier on.

My agency is now working to make changes to my role but it’s been a real knock to my confidence in the workplace and has had a real effect on my mental health.

In my experience, many disabled people at the moment have a real fear of appearing as a financial burden to employers. That’s wrong, but it’s a position with which I can only empathise.

Abbi, a young disabled woman in a wheelchair, smiles and poses for a photograph

Everyday Equality by 2022

We live in an increasingly technological world, yet many employers consider employment to mean being physically present in a place of work, nine to five, five days a week. That’s something that for many disabled people is simply not possible. It’s something that I’m not going to be able to maintain forever and it’s not necessary to do a good job.

The key is flexibility. We need to create a culture in which disabled people feel confident asking employers and potential employers for what extra flexibility they need to do a good job. Whether that’s working four days a week, reduced hours, working from home or just taking a lie down once a day, a little flexibility can make all the difference for disabled people, especially those with fluctuating conditions.

Tell us what would help to improve your work opportunities

Scope is calling on the next government to improve disabled people’s work opportunities.

You can read more about Scope’s priorities for the next government and how you can register to vote in this election.

What would help to improve your work opportunities? Email the stories team and tell us your experience – stories@scope.org.uk 

You can also join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #EverydayEquality.

Paying extra to live my life

Jean has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which means her joints dislocate easily and she is in a lot of pain. In this blog she talks about her experience of extra costs and shares her hopes for the next government to bring about everyday equality for disabled people by 2022.

I came home from work one day, fell over, was taken to hospital because I couldn’t get back up. I came out of hospital a week later in a wheelchair. I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome several years ago. Since then I’ve been trying to get on and live my life, but I face a huge range of extra costs which makes things harder than they should be.

The things I need to live my life

Many of them aren’t obvious. Things like adapted cutlery and kitchen equipment are vastly more expensive than an ordinary set. I’m supposed to have specialist knives to help me with preparing veg and things like that – with the handle at a 45 degree angle – but they are about £15 a blade. They are not covered by the NHS, you have to pay for them yourself, and we can’t afford them.

I’m a careful budgeter, tracking what I spend down to the penny, but I can’t scrimp on the things I needs or it can take a big toll. I have to eat a particular diet because my condition affects my gastric system, and if I am not very careful with what I eat then my gastric system will start going downhill. Our shopping bill comes to about £120 a week.

We had a situation a couple of years ago where we were living on essentially £50 a week, so we were buying the really, really cheap basic stuff. We managed to make sure we had enough to fill us but I was really ill. I was bed-bound for a year because I was having so many problems with my stomach and lower back and with pain in my hips and my pelvis. I couldn’t move.

I have all kinds of other costs. Some are really big. For example, I get a basic wheelchair provided for me, but I really need an ergonomic one to reduce stress on my joints, which is very expensive. You expect that any equipment you need you’d get from the NHS (you get for free), but you only get the very basics. It’s around £1,200 to £1,500 to get a wheelchair that suits my needs, and we couldn’t afford that.

Jean sitting at a desk with an open laptop in front of her
Jean struggles to pay for essential equipment that she needs to live

Everyday equality by 2022

People think that because you are disabled you shouldn’t be allowed to have a normal life – to do the same things that they do. I’m just trying to have a normal life.

My future vision for disability equality would be that all buildings and public spaces are built with disability in mind from the outset. Anyone can use accessible facilities but disabled people cannot use all facilities.

I would also like attitudes to change so that disability was seen in the same way as race, sex or gender – just an everyday difference rather than an inconvenience that has to be managed by companies, corporations and institutions.

I want disabled people to be involved (not represented but representing themselves) at all levels of responsibility. The old adage of “nothing about us without us” still isn’t utilised enough in my opinion.

Tell us what being financially secure means to you

Scope is calling on the next government to improve disabled people’s financial security.

You can read more about our priorities for the next government and how you can register to vote in this election.

What does being financially secure mean to you? Email the stories team at Scope and tell us your experience – stories@scope.org.uk

You can also join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #EverydayEquality

If I became Mayor of London

Voting is in full swing as the people of London decide who will be the Mayor of their city. This time tomorrow, the decision will have been made and the new Mayor of London will be ready to make their first moves. We asked some of the Scope For Change campaigners what they would do if they became Mayor of London.

Becca

“I would endeavour to make all modes of transport accessible for wheelchair-users. I say endeavour, because I realise that this could be quite expensive, all things considered, and the term ‘disabled-friendly’ has a habit of being quite subjective. Therefore, a consultation for disabled people would be vital to get opinions on what needs changing. The fact that only 25% of tube stations on the Underground are accessible is a big issue that needs to be dealt with.

With more ramps and spaces for wheelchairs (which is also required in rail services), this will also benefit those with small children in buggies. ”

Becca, a young woman, smiles in a power chair

Jack

“I would establish a new free of charge emergency helpline for disabled people who are victims of disabilist attacks on the streets. I’d also ensure extra training is provided for police officers to effectively support those who are disabled or are vulnerable individuals generally.

A new Deputy Mayor will also be appointed with a specific portfolio in ‘Wellbeing and Inclusion’, incorporating the needs of disabled people and ensuring the emotional wellbeing of the population remains high on the agenda.

Lastly, I will work closely with TfL to make sure the process of fully accessible underground stations is accelerated, with the busiest stations taking priority.”

Jack, a young man, smiles at the camera

Becky

“I would  make sure that all of London’s transport system is accessible for everyone. The same with all of the attractions.”

Becky, a young woman in a power chair, smiles at the camera

Gabi

“As humans we are unique, we’ve travelled different paths and experienced different pain. I’d want to introduce methods to help people recognise difference positively; putting an end to stigma, discrimination, bullying and years worth of irreversible emotional damage.

Disability, ethnicity, sexuality, status, class, age, gender, religious and cultural beliefs will no longer be attacked or ridiculed. Having identified in my life as an openly disabled, gay, catholic, homeless woman, I feel best placed to head the ‘celebrating diversity’ campaign and hope to make this a citywide priority.

Challenge the stereotype, not the person!”

Gabi, a young woman, smiles at the camera

There’s still time to vote in today’s elections. Read our blog on voting to make sure you’re clued up on your rights and options. 

“You have to fight being pigeon-holed”

Guest post by Tom Garrod, an events manager, public speaker and councillor in Norfolk who has ataxic cerebral palsy. Here he shares his experience of being a councillor and what being a disabled person in politics can mean.

I was elected as a councillor when I was 19 and I have been a councillor for six years. People are still surprised when they meet me as their councillor, they’re surprised I’m the bloke from the leaflet! I think this is equal parts my age and my disability.

You have to fight being pigeon-holed because of your age, your disability and your label. I’ve been asked “Tom, you’re very young for a councillor, do you think the council should be run by teenagers and young people?” And I said no, of course not. You couldn’t have a Tom Garrod, a councillor for Norfolk smiles at the cameragroup of 60 or 70 year olds running the council. They would be missing a different perspective. You need a mix.

Sometimes I have the same issue with my disability. A role relating to disabilities came up in the council and someone said “Tom that’s a perfect role for you! You know what disabled people are like.” And I said , what do you mean? I have cerebral palsy. I don’t have autism or Down’s Syndrome. I’m not blind and I don’t have hearing loss. I have no idea about lots of disabilities. But there was the assumption that I’m part of that label and we’re all the same.

Don’t make assumptions

I think being disabled can give you that perspective. My experiences have taught me not to make assumptions. I don’t know what it’s like to be a blind person but I know that I don’t know. I know I need to go and find out about these experiences. When you commission services, you’re not treating a disability. You’re treating the effects.

I remember being really nervous when I gave my first speech to the council as a councillor. It was budget day so the full council was sitting. I was nervous not only about the politics of what I wanted to say but also how I was going to say it. Would I be listened to?

The leader of the council helped me with my speech and afterwards I asked him what he thought of how I delivered the speech? He said what was interesting was that five councillors spoke before me and there was the usual chatter as they talked with people whispering, making comments. But when I stood up to speak you could tell everyone was nervous about not understanding me, so everyone stopped and really listened to every word. I thought I was the only one nervous!

Because of my disability, I make a conscious effort to only speak if I have something to add. With my disability, I have a subconscious instinct of thinking, do I need to say what I want to say? How can I say this as effectively as possible? Of course, I do enjoy the sound of my own voice but only when it makes difference. Otherwise, what’s the point?

It’s time to get involved

Now is a brilliant time to be involved in politics. When I was elected, during the first round of budget cuts, people said, “Tom, you could have chosen a better time to get elected. Maybe when there was more money about!” But I see it as now being an important time, with real decisions being made at a local level. If you’re a young person or a disabled person and you want to be involved in politics, just ask. Don’t take no for an answer.

With approaching local council and London Mayoral elections, as well as the EU referendum, we want disabled people to have a clear understanding of their voting rights and options. Read our blog about voting and elections for more information.

Header image: Norfolk County Hall, Martineau Lane (Graham Hardy) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Voting and Elections: know your rights and options

With the EU referendum approaching, we want disabled people to have a clear understanding of their voting rights and options.

We know that in the past disabled voters have struggled to cast their ballot. We want to make sure all voters, disabled and non-disabled, have the right to vote independently and in secret. If you are registered to vote, you cannot be refused a ballot paper or the chance to vote on the grounds of mental or physical impairment.

How to vote

In-person

You can vote in person at your local polling station. Before an upcoming vote, you will be sent a polling card if you are registered to vote. This card will tell you the location of your local polling station. Don’t worry, you don’t need to bring your polling card with you on polling day.

Your polling station should be  open from 7am to 10pm.

All polling stations should be wheelchair accessible and support disabled voters. If you need assistance on polling day, you can ask a member of staff, called a Presiding Officer.

If you need to use a disabled parking space, these should be clearly visible and monitored throughout the day.

Proxy

Can’t get to your local polling station? You can register to vote by proxy. Voting by proxy means that you appoint someone you trust to vote on your behalf.

Voting by proxy can be useful if you are worried that you won’t be able to get to a polling station on polling day. For example, you may have an on-going illness. You can complete and post a Proxy vote form, which is available online.

You and the person you nominate to vote on your behalf must be registered to vote.

Postal

Voting by post means that you will be sent a ballot form to mark your vote via post.

Voting by post can be useful if you are worried that you won’t be able to get to a polling station and would rather keep your vote secret.

You will need to complete and post a Postal vote form, which is available online.

Additional support

Presiding Officers

If you are voting in person at a polling station, there are a number of ways the staff, called Presiding Officers, can support you to vote.

Don’t worry if you can not mark your ballot paper, Presiding Officers may mark your ballot paper for you. You may also attend the polling station with someone who you would like to mark your ballot paper on your behalf.

Polling stations should be accessible for everyone wishing to vote. If for whatever reason your local polling station isn’t accessible, Presiding Officers should provide you with a ballot paper and allow you to vote outside of the polling station.

Tactile Voting Devices

Polling stations should provide tactile voting devices.

The tactile voting device attaches on top of your ballot paper. It has numbered flaps (the numbers are raised and are in braille) directly over the boxes where you mark your vote.

A Presiding Officer or someone you have attended the polling station with can read out the list of candidates. You can then use the large numbered flaps to find the part of the ballot paper you wish to mark with your vote.

Large Print and Magnifying Assistance

Polling stations should provide large print versions of ballot papers.

Polling stations should also provide magnifying assistance. These magnifying sheets can be placed over standard and large print versions of ballot paper to make them easier to read.

Presiding Officers should be able to provide these aids on request.

What if my polling station isn’t accessible?

If you visit a polling station and find it inaccessible, you can complain to your local authority. You can find out the contact details of your local authority online.

You can also contact your local Electoral Commission office to find out more information.

What the General Election means for us

(Image copyright Michael D Beckwith 2013)

Parliament returns on Monday with a new Conservative Government and a new Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP.

In the run up to the General Election, we called on the next Government to improve the lives of disabled people by:

  • protecting the value of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) / Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
  • halving the disability employment gap
  • investing in social care so that all disabled people have the support they need to live as independently as possible.

Halving the disability employment gap

We’re really pleased the Conservatives identified halving the disability employment gap as an important part of realising their objective of full employment. Their manifesto said ‘We will aim to halve the disability employment gap; we will transform policy, practice and public attitudes.’

The BBC have reported that as part of the Government’s plans to achieve full employment, there will be an Employment Bill within the Queen’s Speech that aims to create two million new jobs over the next five years.

We know that disabled people want the same opportunities to work as everyone else, and nine in ten disabled people are in work or have worked in the past. Yet only 48 per cent are currently in work. We will be looking for the Government to ensure that disabled people are at the heart of employment strategies and regional growth plans.

This week we have seen a welcome rise in the number of disabled people in work but the disability employment gap has remained largely unchanged over the last decade, at around 30 per cent.

We have made a number of recommendations on how the Government could increase the disability employment rate by:

  • creating more flexible workplaces
  • ensuring disabled people are connected to regional growth
  • ensuring that all disabled people receive effective and personalised support.

There is also an important economic case for addressing the disability employment gap. A recent report by Scope found that a 10 percentage point increase in the disability employment rate would increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by £45 billion by 2030 and also result in a £12billion gain to the public purse.

It’s vital that the Government continues to see addressing the disability employment gap as a key part in achieving full employment, so that disabled people who want and are able to work are supported to find a jobs, stay in work and progress in their careers.

Extra costs payments

Life can cost more if you are disabled and the extra costs faced by disabled people can have a significant impact on disabled people’s living standards. Scope research shows that disabled people spend an average of £550 a month on costs related to their disability. PIP and DLA are payments that are designed to contribute towards these extra costs.

During the election the Conservative Party announced they planned to make £12billion worth of cuts to welfare and there was much speculation on their welfare spending plans.

Last year in his speech at the Conservative Party Conference the Chancellor said that a future Conservative Government would protect DLA and PIP in any freeze on benefits, a commitment that was also in their Manifesto.

We’ll be looking to the Government to protect the value of extra costs payments.

Independent living

Working age disabled people are a third of all social care users. Social care supports disabled people to live independently, work and play an active part in the community.

However levels of unmet need within social care are high, with 97,000 disabled people who would have received social care five years ago, now receiving no support. That is why Scope has called on the Government to introduce a new sustainable funding settlement for social care.

During the General Election there was considerable focus on the conservative party’s commitments on NHS funding, but it’s crucial though that investment in the NHS is not looked at in isolation from social care funding.

Earlier this year the Care and Support Alliance published the findings of a survey of over 800 English GPs which found that almost nine in ten believe reductions in social care services have contributed to pressures in their surgeries.

When the Government sets out their priorities within the Queen’s Speech, we hope to hear about increased and ongoing investment in social care, so that the ambitions of the Care Act, to promote independence and well-being, can be realised.

Find out more about Scope’s campaign to improve living standards (PDF).

Being a part of the ‘Battle for number 10’

RosemaryI’ve often watched political programmes such as Question Time and thought, ‘What sort of people apply to be in the audience?’ Well last night I found out at the Battle for Number 10 event on Channel 4 and Sky News.

I applied and was lucky enough to get chosen and got to put a question to David Cameron.

The audience were all gathered together a couple of hours before the programme began and we were all quite nervous and excited. I had many great conversations with people discussing our particular issues and sharing our views.

Why did I want to take part?

Despite there being 11 million disabled people in the UK, we hardly ever see disabled people in the media and our issues are seldom discussed by politicians.

As we head towards a General Election it is vital that all candidates are aware of the issues of concern to their disabled constituents. Jobs, good social care and support, access and improving attitudes are key concerns for all disabled people and we must see improvements in all of these areas if disabled people are to play our role in British life.

It was great watching Paxman do his usual grilling. I was question five on the list and as I was listening to the other questioners I suddenly forgot what I had planned to ask! Inside I was in such a panic as everything just fell out of my head. Thankfully, as Kay Burley called out my name everything just came back to me.

I was very encouraged by Mr Cameron’s response on employment. He didn’t know I worked for Scope but I was delighted when he adopted our goal of halving the disability employment gap by the end of the next parliament. This means a million more disabled people getting into work! That is such a fantastic goal and a truly transformative measure.

Rosemary listening to David Cameron

The challenge now, for whoever leads the next government, is to make this goal a reality. It’s an ambitious goal. The Prime Minister is right – some of the answer lies in improving attitudes of employers. But we also need more flexible workplaces; more personalised back to work support; and Government programmes to boost jobs and growth must focus supporting more disabled people in work. We’ve set out our policy ideas.

In the coming weeks I would encourage everyone to speak with all their parliamentary candidates and remind them of the key issues affecting disabled people. I got on this programme by simply applying online and I was very lucky in having my question chosen. I would urge more disabled people to apply to be a part of similar programmes where key issues of the day are discussed. Too often disabled people are invisible in the media and our voices go unheard.  We can change that but we have to be willing to play our part and get involved at every opportunity.

So who will get my vote? Well that’s a secret I’m keeping until 7 May  but I’ll certainly be voting. We all should.

Priced out: ending the financial penalty of disability by 2020

Earlier this month Scope released the first in a series of reports that look in depth at the challenges within disabled people’s living standards.

When we talk about improving living standards in the UK, we often think of economic growth, prices and wages. But what is rarely recognised is a problem that affects disabled people’s living standards that pre-dates the recession – one owing to the additional costs of disability.

Today, we launch the second in our series of reports – Priced Out: ending the financial penalty of disability by 2020. The report brings together new research and analysis to investigate the extra costs disabled people face and how to tackle them.

Disabled people pay a financial penalty on life, which can be because of:

  • Having to buy more of everyday things (like heating, or taxis to work)
  • Paying for a specialist items (like a wheelchair or a hoist)
  • Paying more than non-disabled people for same products and services (like insurance)

On average disabled people spend £550 per month on disability related things.

Over 20 years ago – recognising this financial penalty- a Conservative government introduced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to help cover the extra costs of disability.

Yet disabled people still feel their effects and:

Not only is financial instability bad for disabled people, but as people in the UK are living longer failing to address the problems posed by a growing, and significantly under-pensioned segment of the population, will have ramifications for the living standards of the UK as a whole. Tackling extra costs is therefore a policy imperative.

With a general election rapidly approaching, and with signs of economic growth in the UK beginning to show, there is an opportunity for political parties to set out what they will do to end this financial penalty by 2020, and make sure that disabled people are part of fair, inclusive growth.

Protecting crucial extra costs payments

DLA has been crucial for disabled people to lead independent lives, to take up opportunities, increase their own income and contribute to their communities.

But recent and planned welfare reform threatens these important payments.

DLA is being replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP). But PIP assessments do not ensure those who need support get it. 600, 000 disabled people are set lose DLA through its reform.

And in the Budget 2014, the Chancellor announced that starting in 2015-16 an overall limit of £119.5 billion will be placed on parts of social security spending.DLA and PIP are planned to be within the cap and are at risk of being cut because of it.

We recommend:

  • Last week an independent review of PIP assessments was announced. We call on the Government commit to replacing the current assessment of extra costs with a new one that more accurately identify disabled people’s extra costs.
  • The Government protect extra costs payments such as DLA and PIP by taking them out of the cap or ring-fencing them within it.

Making extra costs payments go further

 Extra costs payments do not go far enough. DLA and PIP do not cover all extra costs. Therefore disabled people are still more likely to be in debt and unable to build savings and contribute to pensions.

We recommend:

The Government make extra costs payments go further by committing to an extension of the ‘triple lock’ guarantee on pensions to extra costs payments in the next parliament – meaning they will rise by the highest of prices, earnings or 2.5% each year.

Driving down extra costs

Where extra costs can be driven down, they ought to be. Currently, only the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has responsibility for tackling the problem of extra costs. But in reality, all departments have a role to play. For example, research shows that inaccessible housing can dirve up contribute extra costs.

We recommend:

The Government and all political parties commit ensuring truly cross-departmental policy-making to identify and drive down the root causes of extra costs by placing the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) in the Cabinet Office.

Often things disabled people need to buy are very expensive – such as £3500 for a Lightwriter which turns text into speech. Affordable products to adapt mainstream tablets (which cost between £200 and £600) are not commonly available. And sometimes disabled people have to pay more for things just because they are disabled – for example facing large supplements for travel insurance based on their condition.

We recommend:

The Government, business and regulators re-balance markets so that they work better for disabled people. For example the Government should create a new funding stream as part of the Growth and Innovation Fund (GIF) from the Skills Funding Agency which invites employers in the relevant sectors to apply for investment in skills of their workforce, specifically to innovate for disabled people.

This approach will go some way in ending the financial penalty disabled people pay by 2020. This will raise disabled people’s living standards, and ensuring there is fair, inclusive growth which does not leave disabled people behind.

Later this month Scope will publish the third in this series. It will look at what the Government can do to create better job opportunities for disabled people.

In the Summer Scope will be launching a Commission on Extra Costs to investigate why there is a premium attached to the goods, services and infrastructure (housing and travel) disabled people use and what can be done to bring them down.

Under-representation of disabled people in public and political life

While disabled people have a vital contribution to make to public and political life, they are significantly under-represented throughout our political system. The reality is that Parliament is nowhere near reflecting the proportion of disabled people in the UK, and local government reveals a similar story in terms of the level of under-representation.

The consequence of this is that the quality of our government suffers from the existing lack of representation. As the Government presses ahead with a wealth of reforms that will have a real effect on disabled people’s lives, it is essential that their voices are being heard – now more than ever.

Tackling under-representation of disabled people

The different barriers that prevent disabled people from standing for elected positions have been widely examined by the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation a few years ago. The Government has already acted upon some of the recommendations, for instance by committing to establish a dedicated fund to address the extra costs faced by disabled people in standing for election.

We know the additional financial disadvantage – arising, for example, from the cost of employing an interpreter or from the extra cost of taking a taxi rather than a bus due to the inaccessibility of transport – is a real concern to many disabled people who want to put themselves forward and stand for election. Over the last months, Scope has been working with the Government to help develop the fund.

With the fund set to become operational by later this year, this will no doubt represent a crucial moment in terms of improving disabled people’s participation in public life. In the meantime, we are seeing welcome progress on a number of other proposals.

Following the consultation last year, the Government is now publishing guidance for political parties to ensure that parties are clear about their legal obligations. Many disabled people fear that their reasonable adjustment requirements would not be met if they were to stand for election.

In light of this, the guidance is welcome indeed. All political parties have important roles to play in making sure that disabled people feel confident about seeking support and are provided with the reasonable adjustments they need, thus enabling them to perform to the best of their ability.

In addition, the Government is also currently working with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to develop a training package for disabled people wishing to access elected office – which is due to be launched in the months to come.

We still have a long way to go before there is any prospect of achieving an equal representation of disabled people in public life. More needs doing, but as Lynne Featherstone, the Minister for Equalities, writes, “These policies are just the start of what we are doing to make Parliament and councils more representative of the people they serve.”

What is absolutely clear – and as the Minister acknowledges – is the positive effect this would bring in terms of decision-making: “As the Minister for Equalities, it seems obvious to me our democratic institutions make the best decisions when they have a mix of people with different skills, backgrounds and experiences, from right across the country.”