Innovative Policy 2015 on Political Participation
UK’s funding for running for elected office
Kirsten Hearn, who is partially sighted and who was able to run for elections thanks to the Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund, is an elected Councillor at the Haringey Council.
For her it is clear that “as a blind person, there are many barriers put up to stop me from participating in society. This is reflected in how political parties organize and how would-be politicians campaign. Canvassing on the doorsteps and streets is expected of candidates, but this is not easy to do if you are disabled. In order to run a good campaign, I must keep abreast of local issues and research policy areas so I can say what I will do when I am elected. This is hard when information is very inaccessible. If I am to have an equal chance of being nominated and of participating as a candidate, this is the kind of support I need.”
|Responsible body||Government Equalities Office, administered by Convey (Digital Outreach Ltd.)|
The Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund, established in 2012, offers individual grants of between £250 and (only in exceptional circumstances) £40,000 (about €320 to €49,700) to persons with disabilities who wish to put themselves forward as a candidate or for running their election campaign, but who incur additional costs associated with their disability. While the Fund was initially set to run until March 2014, the government decided to extend it until March 2015 and to fully evaluate it by summer 2015.
In 2010 a House of Commons Conference on parliamentary representation stated that there is considerable evidence that the financial barriers facing candidates with disabilities were particularly high; that the necessary extra spending has to be borne by candidates who are often poorer than other candidates; and that social care funding packages limit the area in which persons with disabilities can be candidates. While assistance to Members of Parliament can be provided through the Access to Work programme (Innovative Policy 2013) it is not available to candidates. In response, the disability charity Scope recommended establishing a fund to meet the cost of reasonable adjustments during campaigns. As a result, a Stakeholder Group, chaired by the Government Equalities Office and including the main political parties as well as a variety of disability organizations, developed the Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund, launched in 2012.
Towards a level playing field
By funding the disability-related costs associated with standing for selection and election, the Fund enables candidates with disabilities to better compete with other candidates.
Cooperation with civil society
The fund is an excellent example of a government working with civil society to develop an evidence-informed approach to removing barriers to the political participation of persons with disabilities.
Launched as a three-year pilot project, the Fund is the first of its kind, and its effectiveness will be evaluated in June 2015.
«The Access to Elected Office Fund was a lifeline to me as it enabled me to fund a support worker to accompany me when I went out canvassing and met residents and community groups.»
«I was amazed when I discovered that the Fund not only existed but would support would-be politicians to get nominated as well as when they had been selected as the candidate. Suddenly, a huge pile of barriers fell away.»
«This Fund is a tremendous help to me. It allows me to arrange British Sign Language/English interpreters for meetings with members, group meetings and hustings. This has certainly boosted my confidence and made me feel a more professional and skilled candidate.»
The Fund offers individual grants of between £250 and, only in exceptional circumstances, £40,000 to candidates with disabilities. Grants can cover, for example, the cost of using private taxis if public transport is not accessible, the cost of accessible meeting rooms, or the cost of a sign language interpreter. In order to be eligible, the person with a disability needs to demonstrate that the nature of their condition creates a barrier to standing for election and to provide evidence of their involvement in community activities. The Fund is administered by Convey, which is independent of the government and assesses all applications and pays grants. Convey is advised by an advisory panel, which consists of members – including four with a disability – who have expertise in a range of disability and electoral issues. The monitoring and evaluation is carried out by the Government Equalities Office.
OUTCOME, IMPACT, AND EFFECTIVENESS
• The Fund was initially set to run until March 2014, but the government decided to extend it until March 2015 and to evaluate it by summer 2015.
• 35 applicants have stood for election to date, mainly in Local Authority elections.
• The Fund has received considerable media coverage, and has been promoted through political networks and disability charities to raise awareness of the support it can provide.
Depending on the outcome of the pilot period of the Fund, it could, in principle, be replicated in other countries, depending on their laws regarding limits on electoral expenses for candidates. Start-up costs were approximately £30,000 (€38,000).
Nominated by: Ms. Ruth MARVEL, Scope, United Kingdom