Scottish Government launches £200,000 fund to help disabled people stand for election
Disabled door button - Image credit: Press Association
A fund aimed at encouraging more disabled people to stand as councillors in next year’s local elections has been launched by the Scottish Government.
The £200,000 Access to Elected Office Fund Scotland (AEOFS) fund will give grants to help cover the extra costs that disabled people face in running for election such as accessible transport, a personal assistant or a sign language interpreter.
However, it cannot be used towards campaign costs.
Scotland’s social security minister Jeane Freeman said the extra financial support was about “levelling the playing field” and would help to break down barriers that stop people with disabilities standing for office.
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“Representing my constituents is a tremendous honour and something that everyone should have the opportunity to do, whether they are disabled or not,” she said.
“We know disabled people often find it difficult to access elected offices due to the many barriers that exist and the additional cost of being disabled can be one of them, but it is vital for society that all our groups are represented in politics and elected offices at all levels.
“This funding will help break down some of those barriers and comes as a direct response to one of the key demands from disabled people’s campaign organisations, who all highlight that funding is a major barrier for disabled people to even consider accessing politics.
“This is not about giving anyone an advantage in seeking election but rather levelling the playing field to make it fairer for everyone.”
She added that the funding underlines the Scottish Government’s commitment to equal opportunities for under-represented groups.
Disabled people are significantly under-represented in politics, with an average of one in five people thought to have some sort of disability, but only one disabled MSP was elected in this year’s Scottish Parliament election.
The new fund has been welcomed by campaigners and two formers MSPs with disabilities.
Former SNP MSP Dennis Robertson, Scotland’s first blind MSP, said: “Disabled people can face many barriers when coming into politics.
“Money should never be one of these, so I am absolutely delighted that the fund is available and hope that it helps more disabled people to put themselves forward as candidates in the 2017 election.”
Former Labour MSP Siobhan McMahon, who has hemiplegia, said: "During campaigns I often challenged myself to do more than I was physically capable of.
“The pressures on disabled people can leave us feeling like we need to prove ourselves. For many there are financial barriers to entering politics.
“I hope this fund will break down those barriers for disabled people seeking election in 2017. We now need action from all political parties to help disabled people be more equally represented in politics."
The fund will be administered on behalf of the Scottish Government by disability body Inclusion Scotland.
Sally Witcher, CEO of Inclusion Scotland, said: “Inclusion Scotland has long worked to help ensure that policymakers take into account disabled people’s views when making decisions that directly affect our daily lives.
“The new fund allows us to go further – to help ensure that disabled people actually become those policymakers. But we cannot do it alone.
“Any party that takes disability equality seriously needs to take action, not just because it is important for our politicians to be representative of the electorate they serve, but because disabled people understand through their lived experience what needs to be done to achieve that goal.”