Milo Barnett discusses the lack of disabled people in elected office and the barriers they face.
Currently there are over 14 million people in the UK classed as disabled. One of the largest demographics and spread across every nation and constituency. Despite this, there are only a handful of disabled politicians. In the House of Commons, there are only 5 MPs who publicly identify as disabled, of these 3 are Labour: Marsha de Cordova, Emma Lewell-Buck and Marie Rimmer. There are more disabled politicians in Councillor roles as well those in the Lords and devolved bodies, but relative to the population it is shockingly low.
We all believe in making our political sphere more representative of society and it is clear that disabled individuals face great barriers in achieving high office. To this end we must do as much as possible to encourage these hidden political titans. Yet things have become worse in recent years with the end of the Access to Elected Office Fund. Disabled candidates face extra costs compared to others whether that be paying for transport or someone to do BSL.
Yet, how do we address this glaring omission? Well, restarting the fund would be a decent start, but we need to more some piecemeal action. From a Labour perspective, it is making all aspects of our somewhat Byzantine-esque structure accessible, whether that be clear transcripts of meetings, online recording sessions and elements such as signing and making sure every location we use is practical and accessible for all. We want to make sure disabled people are in the room when decisions are made right from parish council up, so we should be actively promoting disabled candidates. We saw how all-women shortlists transformed the Parliamentary Labour Party go from a boys' club to having a female majority in the PLP. We need to direct action like this if we are to have anything as representative of British society.
Of course, disabled people face a wide variety of barriers and there lots of reasons why we don’t have disabled MPs, such as often affects the old/retired who are unable to undertake the work of elected politicians. But there are millions who can and want to, and we should be able to promote them whether in safe seats or unwinnable Tory strongholds. I am confident we have our future stalwarts in the Party and that we will create a generation of disabled MPs. There are glimmers of hope, especially with our new Disabled Representative on the NEC. So on this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we should look to the future and how we can make the Labour Party, as well as UK politics as a whole, more representative.
Milo Barnett is the current Outreach Officer for the Young Fabians and co-founder of the new Disability Advocacy Group. If you'd like to get involved with the group contact him via [email protected] or he Tweets at @Milo_Barnett.