14/11/2011 03:51 GMT

Parliamentary Candidates Should Be Given Time Off Work To Run For Election

Parliamentary candidates should be given time off work so they can run for election full time, a think-tank has suggested.

In a report published on Monday, the Institute for Government warns that the high cost of running for election has left the current Parliament "overwhelmingly white, male and middle-class" and makes suggestions about how that can be changed.

According to the Liberal Democrats running for election occupies 20 hours per week on average for their prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs).

The IFG warns this can be a particular disincentive for candidates with family and childcare responsibilities, especially women, and those from lower incomes who find it more difficult to take time off work.

"Candidates with careers that are more flexible and accepting of political commitments or those who work in organisations linked to political parties have a distinct advantage," the report says.

"A statutory right to time off from work in order to participate in an election campaign (as applies to those selected for jury service, for instance), would be one way to overcome this problem."

The high cost of running for election is also cited as a deterrent to candidates from poorer backgrounds and suggests political parties set up a system of means tested funding for PPCs.

Newly elected Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt said she had sold her house in order to fund her campaign.

While Birmingham Lib Dem councillor Karen Hamilton, who unsuccessfully ran for Parliament in 2010, has been left with so much debt she would not choose to stand again.

Another Lib Dem councillor told the IFG that she had been “told to expect to spend between £50,000 and £250,000" over the course of the next 15 years in trying to get elected.

Of the 650 MPs in the Commons only 144 are women, while just 27 are from ethnic minorities.

Some moves have been made by political parties to increase the number of female and non-white MPs. Labour has imposed all-women shortlists while the Conservative Party tried to impose 'A-list' candidates on some local associations.

But reports authors suggest without a more balanced supply of candidates from different backgrounds the only way to continue a move towards "a fully representative House of Commons" will be increased centraliaed control from the parties.

"These mechanisms are likely to continue to cause friction within the political parties due to many members’ perception that artificial barriers have been placed in the path of more traditional candidates, in particular white men," it explains.

"In the long-run parties will therefore need to do more to encourage greater participation within the political process by people from under-represented groups."