Three would-be disabled MPs have called for an urgent meeting with a minister after the government broke its promise to publish the long-awaited review of a fund that supported Deaf and disabled people with the extra costs of standing for election.
The Government Equalities Office had said it would publish its evaluation of the Access to Elected Office Fund and announce its decision on the fund’s future by 11 May.
But by 10am today (Thursday) the review of the fund had still not been published and no decision had been announced.
Now the trio want to meet Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary and former minister for disabled people who is also the women and equalities minister.
The government made the promise to publish the review in a letter to the lawyers of three disabled politicians – Labour’s Emily Brothers, Liberal Democrat David Buxton and the Green party’s Simeon Hart – who are taking a legal case against the government.
They say the government has breached the Equality Act by failing to complete the review and reopen AEOF – which ran from 2012 to 2015 – and that they have effectively been unable to stand as candidates in a general election since the government froze the fund in 2015.
They are being supported in their campaign and judicial review by the cross-party campaign group More United, which is funding the legal action.
AEOF was set up in 2012 and offered grants to disabled people to pay for some of their additional impairment-related costs in standing for election as a councillor or MP, such as the costs of British Sign Language interpreters, support workers or assistive technology.
Buxton said: “We implore the equalities minister to meet with us in the next three weeks.
“The delay is inexplicable: we are simply asking her to restore a fund to support deaf and disabled candidates to compete in elections on a level playing field.
“I wanted to put myself forward as the Lib Dem candidate for the Lewisham East by-election but the cost of British Sign Language interpreters for a solid month is unaffordable without the support of the fund, and that’s even before all the other logistical hurdles that all candidates face, like how to fit in the campaigning with work.”
Brothers said: “In less than two months the UK is set to host its first ever Global Disability Summit in July, yet it is failing to put its own house in order.”
She said the government “must listen” to disabled activists, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and cross-party MPs, who say it should keep to its international obligations under article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to “ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others”.
Hart said: “Public support for our campaign continues to grow.
“MPs from major parties, and some of Britain’s most prominent disabled public figures are all sending a clear message to the government that the fund must be restored to create a level playing field.
“We’re determined to keep up the pressure in the coming weeks in order to get the right decision.”
A Government Equalities Office spokeswoman declined to say why a decision on reopening the fund had not been announced or the review published by 11 May.
She told Disability News Service that the review would be “published in due course”.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com