The Government is making it harder for people with a disability to stand for election by axing a vital funding programme, according to the Green Party’s Oldham West and Royton by-election candidate.
Simeon Hart, who was also the only Deaf and British Sign Language (BSL) user to stand in May's General Election, is dismayed at the failure to renew a fund covering ‘disability-related costs’ such as carer prices and sign language interpreters.
The Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund was launched by the Government as a pilot scheme in 2012, but was wound up after the election.
Mr Hart is now resorting to asking the public to crowd-fund an interpreter to help with his campaign, ahead of the by-election on December 3.
He said: “Becoming a candidate in elections and by-elections is supposed to be open to anyone eligible in the UK.
“Yet my experience has been a challenge and I know that many people with a disability will be put off trying to become an elected politician.
“My party and I have a detailed plan for how we can reduce fuel poverty and keep parks public in the constituency and I am unable to articulate my plans as well as the candidates from other parties because of problems finding and paying for an interpreter.
“If the government is serious about making elections a level playing field, it will reconsider its heartless decision to scrap the Access to Elected Office Fund.”
The fund, which was operated by the Government Equalities Office, could hand out grants of between £250 to £40,000 to applicants.
The money was designated for Westminster campaigns and local councillor elections and Green Party leader Natalie Bennett expressed her frustration at its axing:
She said: “It has been tough for Simeon in finding and paying for an interpreter and it saddens me to think that a good number of quality prospective candidates with a disability could be put off from standing for election.
“We await to hear from the government about their plans for the fund and what they can do to ease the financial burden that’s being unfairly imposed on prospective political candidates with a disability.”
A Government spokesperson said the future of the fund, which was only ever established as a pilot, was now being considered.
They said: “This Government is committed to making sure disabled people can fulfil their potential and participate fully in society.
“It is important that this extends to political participation so that disabled people are involved at every level in the decisions that affect how they live their lives.
“An evaluation of the Access to Elected Office Fund pilot is currently being undertaken and will include the views of disabled applicants on the effectiveness of the scheme.”