A guest blog by Ethan Young, Civic Participation Officer at Inclusion Scotland
True and effective democracy must reflect the society it serves. One in five people in Scotland identify as being disabled, yet we are drastically underrepresented in elected office. As a result, society lacks in the absence of lived experience and the breadth of expertise that disabled people can bring.
Research from our disabled interns placed within Scotland’s largest political parties showed that one of the many barriers Disabled People face in running for political office is the additional costs. Additional impairment related costs are a societal barrier that a non-disabled person wouldn’t have to face, and in the past, this is a factor that has been overlooked by those organising the processes involved. Civic participation is a human right, therefore disabled people shouldn’t be expected to fund these additional costs to equally participate, particularly given that disabled people are vastly more likely to experience poverty and additional financial pressures.
In 2016 the Scottish Government announced the creation of the Access to Elected Office Fund to cover these costs and allow disabled people to fight a campaign for public office on a more even playing field. Administered by Inclusion Scotland, the pilot project for the fund opened to disabled people running for the Local Authority Elections in May 2017.
The fund supported 44 candidates, 39 of whom became candidates and 15 were successfully elected. The fund covered a wide range of adjustments to reduce barriers, such as; British Sign Language interpreters, transport, personal assistance support, assistive technology and other forms of communications support. The pilot project was seen widely as a major success and the Scottish Government committed to the fund being available for any Scottish by-elections and up to the next Scottish Parliament election in 2021.
The evaluation of the pilot confirmed that there was still much to do to decrease the barriers that disabled people face in becoming active in politics. It was recommended that political parties could be doing more. We had built up a strong network of cross party disabled activists from our Access to Politics support and advice service and we invited them all to come and help us develop a Charter that would help guide political parties to fulfil their duties of inclusion. Together, we produced the Access to Politics Charter with guidance notes that all the parliamentary parties and their leaders signed up to. The challenge for us now is to make sure that political parties live up to these promises, and to spread these approaches wider to other key forms of civic and political engagement.