Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) - Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents

Supplementary submission from Scope: Access to Public Life Participation Fund (SC 106)


1.1  Scope

  Scope is a national disability organisation whose aim is that disabled people achieve equality. In pursuit of this aim we have a particular interest in improving the representation of disabled people in public and political life. There are certain needs, interests and concerns that arise from disabled people's experience that will be inadequately addressed in a politics that is not reflective of the diversity of our society. Disabled people have an important role to play in enriching and informing political debate, thus helping to ensure that disabled people's experiences are adequately addressed by policy-makers. We are therefore very concerned at the under-representation of disabled people in public and political life.[14]

1.2  Disabled People in Political and Public Life

  Holding political or public office is often highly competitive and many non-disabled people repeatedly try for selection and election without success. Scope recognises that there are key competencies that must be demonstrated by all applicants, regardless of background. We are not arguing for a levelling-down for disabled people, but recognise that inflexible processes and assumptions about what political or public office holders should look like can operate to exclude people who would make good candidates.

  1.3  Disabled people make up approximately 20% of the population and approximately 15% of the working age population. While there are no official figures on the numbers of disabled MPs or disabled candidates, anecdotal evidence suggests that disabled people are severely under-represented within Parliament. The benefits system, inaccessible appointment processes and negative attitudes towards disabled people make participation in public and political life more difficult for disabled people.

  1.4  Figures from the Cabinet Office show that disabled people holding public appointments are also under-represented, with only 5% of the total of public appointments held by disabled people.[15] Of those disabled people who do hold public office, many hold more than one position meaning that there is significant duplication.

  1.5  The number of disabled councillors is higher, with the Councillors' Census in 2008 showing that 13.3% of councillors identify as disabled people. However when contrasting the sample of disabled councillors with the general sample, the survey showed that disabled councillors were of a higher average age then non-disabled councillors, suggesting that many had age-related impairments.[16] This is supported by a Councillors' Commission report which stated "Younger disabled councillors are notably absent from most council chambers."[17]

1.6  Barriers to Participation

  There are a number of barriers that prevent disabled people from getting involved in public and political life. These include:

    — Negative attitudes and assumptions about disabled people's capabilities which can act as a deterrent to disabled people who want to participate in public life.

    — Inaccessible buildings, processes and information are specific barriers to participation that impact disproportionately on disabled people.

    — The complexity and inflexibility of the welfare benefits system. There is a lack of clarity among benefits advisors as to whether allowances received for public or elected duties should be taken into account when calculating benefit entitlements.

    — The additional costs associated with undertaking day to day activities that many disabled people face.

  1.7  As the law currently stands, an employer has a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee or an employee who becomes disabled during their employment. The cost of most adjustments is negligible but for more significant costs, for example where specialist equipment or a personal assistant is required, there is the "Access to Work Scheme" (see Appendix A for the types of support available under Access to Work).

  1.8  Access to Work plays a major role in enabling disabled people into work and off benefits and in helping keep people who become disabled during their working life in their jobs (see Appendix B for cost benefit analysis). While Access to Work is available for people within employment, so could be claimed for by a sitting MP, there is no similar scheme to support disabled people who want to run for elected or appointed office and face additional costs. Clarification is also required as to whether the scheme is available to sitting Councillors as it currently seems to operate on a council by council basis with some Councillors receiving support while others are denied the costs of reasonable adjustments. For those Councillors receiving support this often only extends to their "formal council duties" and does not cover them when councillors are acting in a political campaigning capacity, such as door knocking.

  1.9  The additional costs faced by disabled people can make running for elected or appointed office prohibitively expensive. For example if a deaf candidate who required a British Sign Language interpreter were to run for election—they would need to fund the costs of the interpreter themselves. Typically this is around £54 per hour.

  1.10  The fear of additional costs can also act as a deterrent for local parties when selecting a candidate. During Scope's research into barriers facing disabled candidates, one participant was told that while they were the strongest candidate his local party could not select him as he was a wheelchair user. Since the party building did not have level access the local party thought he would not be able to participate in local party meetings. Local parties often have limited financial resources which they want to dedicate solely to campaigning. The thought of incurring additional costs in this case by hiring a different accessible venue or by installing a ramp acts as a deterrent to the local party.


2.1  Recommendation

  It is recommended that an Access to Public Life Fund is set up.

  In order to address this specific barrier to disabled people's participation, Scope proposes that an "Access to Public Life" fund be set up. Disabled people who wish to stand for elected or appointed office could apply for this fund to meet the costs of reasonable adjustments.

  2.2  We would recommend that the fund operate in the same way as Access to Work and be delivered at a local level by Job Centre Plus Disability Employment Advisors who currently assess Access to Work applications. This would help to establish economies of scale in the procurement of equipment and recognises the accumulated expertise of advisors who assess claimants' access requirements.[18] Due to the smaller numbers of disabled people seeking election or appointment (as opposed to work) Scope recommends that local advisors are supported by a national advisor who would be a dedicated resource providing advice and guidance and promoting the fund.

  2.3  Eligibility guidance should be drawn up by the Department for Work and Pensions, the Office of the Commission for Public Appointments and the Electoral Commission in conjunction with disabled people who hold, or would like to hold, public office, to ensure it addresses the full range of disabled people's access needs. Additional training would be required for advisors and we recommend that this be done in association with the Electoral Commission and disabled people.

  2.4  The fund would be a ring-fenced, stand alone fund which would operate outside other expenses and would fall outside of calculations such as election campaign expenditure limits.

  Candidates could apply directly to the fund for assistance with:

    — Adaptations to premises and equipment—modification of a party / constituency office or equipment.

    — Communication support throughout the selection process—help with the costs of employing a BSL interpreter or communicator to accompany a person, where there might be communication barriers during the selection processes and hustings.

    — Special aids and equipment—provision of aids and equipment which non-disabled candidates would not need.

    — Support workers—help with the costs of employing personal support workers to support the disabled candidate in undertaking their candidate duties.

    — Travel and accommodation—support with the extra costs of travel or accommodation, for example the extra cost of taking a taxi rather than a bus, or staying in an accessible hotel room rather than at a party member's house, while performing their duties as a candidate.

    — Miscellaneous—"one off" items of support that do not fit elsewhere, such as a grant towards the costs of disability awareness training for members of the local association.

  Scope would recommend that a review is undertaken after a five year period in order that the benefits of the fund could be monitored over a full election cycle.

2.5  Benefits of an Access to Public Life Fund—case studies

  The following case studies illustrate the ways in which an Access to Public Life Fund could be of benefit to disabled people running for public and political life. The names of the individuals have been changed to protect their anonymity.

    2.6  Beth, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate—Labour Party

    For many years Beth had been an active member of her local Labour Party, this included being a councillor for two terms. When an opportunity arose to become a PPC, many people recommended that she stand for selection. While competition was tough, Beth was selected with a strong majority.

    Beth worked hard as the local PPC until she had a serious car crash which left her in hospital for a number of months. Given the situation Beth stood down while she recuperated in hospital. After discharge from hospital Beth became a wheelchair user.

    Four years later Beth decided that she wanted to become a PPC again and tried for selection. Unlike her previous attempt Beth encountered a series of barriers. At one selection meeting the local CLP booked a hall which required members to walk up two flights of stairs.

    After repeated attempts Beth was selected for a non-winnable seat. In an effort to prove herself, Beth has been campaigning at the level that she would put into a target seat. The local CLP is delighted and have promised to recommend her if she wants to move to a more winnable seat following the General Election.

    As Beth couldn't get selected locally she now needs to travel further to her constituency. Inaccessible transport systems mean that she has to pay for taxis to and from the constituency. She occasionally stays over in the constituency. Before her accident she would have just stayed at a member's house or in a cheap B & B. The only accessible option available to Beth within the constituency is a hotel which costs three times the price of a B & B.

    An Access to Public Life Fund could assist Beth with the additional transport and accommodation costs she faces.

    2.7  Oliver, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate—Conservative Party

    Oliver is currently a PPC for a target seat. Throughout the selection process there were a couple of opportunities for Oliver to declare that he was dyslexic, however he was concerned that this declaration might damage his chances of selection so decided to keep quiet.

    Oliver was quickly selected as a PPC and his local Association were pleased with his dedication to campaigning, his connection to the voters, and his talent for making speeches.

    However, Oliver was surprised by the amount of paperwork that is involved with being a PPC. Specifically; responding to residents' concerns, writing press releases, updates for the party newsletter and copy for "In Touch." In addition Oliver is finding it difficult to keep up to date with reading about new policies or initiatives affecting the constituency. Oliver is struggling so much with the amount of paperwork and has concerns over the spelling within his correspondence that he is seriously considering standing down.

    An Access to Public Life Fund could support Oliver by providing him with computer equipment with voice and spelling recognition—this could help him proofread work and could also convert reading material to audio. Alternatively, the fund could provide secretarial assistance for Oliver for a couple of hours per week to help him with his paperwork.

    2.8  Matt, Prospective Local Councillor—Liberal Democrat Party

    Matt has cerebral palsy and wanted to be a local councillor. He had previously been actively involved with his local disability organisation and had supported his local Liberal Democrat Party by helping deliver literature and making donations.

    After seeing an advert in the Lib Dem members' newsletter looking for new council candidates, he approached the party's local executive and told them that he would like to put his name forward. The local executive refused Matt's application on the grounds that he had a speech impairment which he felt would prevent him being able to make speeches in council.

    An Access to Public Life Fund would be a benefit to Matt as it could fund the cost of Disability Equality Training for the local executive and could also provide Matt with the communication support that he might require when giving speeches.

2.9  Other relevant initiatives

  The Access to Volunteering Fund was established by the Government in April 2009, with the aim of increasing disabled people's participation in volunteering. In establishing the fund the Government recognised that disabled people frequently find it more difficult to take up volunteering opportunities as many organisations cannot afford the additional costs associated with supporting a disabled volunteer. The fund is designed to meet the additional costs of transport, physical alterations to premises; personal assistants and communication support that some disabled people need to participate in volunteering.

  2.10  The fund has a total budget of two million pounds. As part of the two-phase programme an electronic costings toolkit will be developed to allow individual volunteering projects to calculate accurately and robustly the full cost of involving disabled people in volunteering.


3.1  Funding an Access to Public Life Fund

  Available data does not allow us to calculate accurately the level of funding required to meet the additional costs of adjustments for all disabled people who wish to run for elected office.

  3.2  Robust data on the numbers of disabled people who require adjustments with a financial cost is not available. Access to Work data is helpful in some respects but overall take-up is low; it is designed to support ongoing employment, rather than short term arrangements while someone campaigns for office; and it will not pay for adjustments under £300.

  3.3  We calculate that representation of disabled people at a level commensurate with their representation in society generally should mean that there are 27,825 or 114,610 disabled applicants (excluding and including school governors respectively) for public office.

  In light of the paucity of useful data we recommend that an initial fund of £500,000 be made available over two years, with take-up monitored to provide a more robust data set that can be used to determine future levels of funding.

3.4  Indicative Figures

Total number of adults in the UK population Total number of disabled
adults within the UK
Percentage of disabled
adults in the UK

48,780,000[19] 11,200,00023%

Total annual Access to Work claimed Total claimants (0.06% of total
numbers of adults in the UK)
Average claim per claimant

£119,000,000[20] 27,000£4,407

Number of candidates for elected public positions in the UK Percentage of people
standing for elected public
positions in the UK
Disabled people's projected
involvement to reflect 23%
disabled people in society at

120,978 (excluding school governors) [21]

498,304 (including school governors)[22]




  The success of the scheme could be evaluated in a number of ways including:

    — Awareness of the fund amongst disabled people and local political parties

    — The number of applicants to the fund.

    — The number of successful applicants to the fund.

    — The total amount spent by the fund.

    — Improvements in the overall number of disabled applicants for public / elected office.

    — Improvements in the overall number of disabled people holding public / elected office.

    — The views of disabled applicants who have accessed the fund.

    — The views of local parties considering disabled candidates.


    — Eligibility restrictions would be needed to ensure that any assistance provided is to level the playing field between disabled and non-disabled candidates and not to provide unfair political advantage.

    — Consideration should be given as to whether any fund is divided proportionally to reflect the size of the political party / the relative proportion of public appointments.

    — Consideration is needed as to what stage a prospective candidate could apply (Scope would recommend at the initial candidate assessment stage). Thought would need to be given as to how the fund would apply to independent candidates to ensure that they were genuine applicants. Scope would recommend that the fund be tied in with rules governing candidates in elections.

    — Applications to the fund are likely to be in peaks and troughs in relation to election dates.

    — Consideration would need to be given as to how any such fund is promoted.



  Access to Work can help pay for:

    — Adaptations to Premises and Equipment—Modification of an employer's or self-employed person's premises or equipment.

    — Communication Support at Interview—Help with the costs of employing an interpreter or communicator to accompany a hearing impaired person, where there might be communication difficulties at a job interview with an employer.

    — Miscellaneous—"One off" items of support that do not fit elsewhere, such as a grant towards the costs of deaf awareness training for close colleagues of a deaf person.

    — Special Aids and Equipment—Provision of aids and equipment which a non-disabled person doing the same job would not need.

    — Support Workers—Help with the costs of employing personal support for a job interview, on an individual's journey to and from work or other help including Personal Reader.

    — Travel to Work—Support when an individual incurs extra costs in travelling to and from work because of their disability.



Positive numbers represent benefits. Negative numbers are costs. Figures based on DWP EIA in February 2009

Economic Costs

  Programme and running costs, including additional Jobcentre Plus staffing. Payments for ongoing support, such as support workers and travel to work. Payments for one-off support, such as workplace adaptations.

-£119 million

Economic Benefits

  It is estimated that approximately 27,000 people will be supported in work between 2008-09 and 2013-14 as a result of this policy. The benefit of higher economic output is estimated as the gross wages from additional employment offset by individuals' losses of non-market time from moving into employment. Furthermore, there will be gains to the economy from a reduced tax burden.

£412 million

Fiscal Benefits

  Estimated savings from more people moving into work and reduced numbers of people claiming incapacity benefits/ESA and, increased income and indirect tax and National Insurance contributions. Estimates are net of increases in other benefits and in-work support.

£256 million

Wider Benefits

Creates choice and control, supports independent living and prevents social and economic exclusion.

  Administrative evidence has shown that for every pound the Government invests in Access to Work, there is a benefit of £1.67, from savings on benefit expenditure and increased tax revenue.

  All costs and benefits are presented as Net Present Values in 2008-09 prices, and include costs and benefits occurring between 2008-09 and 2013-14.

  The administrative costs of the policy are included in both the Economic Costs, which are the costs to the economy as a whole, and the Fiscal Costs/Benefits which are costs and savings to the Exchequer.


Programme funding—according to James Purnell/Jonathan Shaw statements

  £15 million—1997

  £69 million—2008

  The Government has committed to doubling it to £138 million by 2013-14.

14   The under-representation of disabled people in public and political life has been acknowledged as an issue of concern by numerous enquiries and formal reports. These include the Speakers Conference on Parliamentary Representation which is currently conducting enquiries, The Report of the Councillors Commission, December 2007, The Report of the Cabinet Office Short Life Working Group on Improving Diversity in Public Appointments see http://www.publicappointments.org/consultations/documents/AnnexF-SummaryofPreviousResearchinDiversityinPublicAppointments.pdf Cabinet Office January 2004 and the Working Group on Disability: Report, OCPA January 2004 see https://www.publicappointmentscommissioner.org/web-resources/resources/bf77408eea7.pdf Back

15   http://www.equalities.gov.uk/media/press_releases/harman_action_to_improve_dive.aspx Back

16   http://www.local.odpm.gov.uk/research/crosscut/equality/02.htm Back

17   http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/localgovernment/pdf/583990.pdf Back

18   It should be noted that the current administration of Access to Work may change to take account of the Right to Control Agenda which would enable people to get cash / vouchers to purchase their own equipment instead of Access to Work procuring equipment or support on their behalf. Back

19   Office of National Statistics Back

20   DWP figures Back

21   Based on three candidates per elected position, breakdown of appointments: MPs (England and Wales) = 646; Scottish MPs = 72, Councillors (England and Wales) = 21,000; Welsh Assembly Members = 60; GLA = 25; Elected Mayors (England) = 23; Public Appointments (UK) 18,500 Back

22   School Governors (England) = 300,000 Back

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