Despite being the largest minority groups in the United Kingdom (one in five working-age adults), disabled people have been and continue to be under-represented at every level in our political system.

Only 8 out of the current 650 Members of Parliament have identified as disabled (1.23%). At the local government level, representation is slightly higher, with 16.1% of elected representatives declaring themselves disabled. Even with this statistic in mind, it is approximately 700 councillors short of being proportionally representative of the general population in the United Kingdom.   

Findings from the Disability Policy Centre

Earlier this year, the Disability Policy Centre launched our Breaking Down Barriers Report in the Houses of Parliament, which highlighted important findings from disabled people about representation in politics. Our main takeaways from the report show that out of our interviewees who are disabled or have long-term health conditions:  

  • 82% became initially engaged in politics as a direct result of their disability.  
  • 100% believe that political parties do not do enough to ensure people with disabilities or long-term health conditions have the same opportunities as those without. 
  • 100% believe that the government is not doing enough to plug the gap of extra financial implications that are burdened onto disabled people who wish to seek election at a local and/or national level. 
  • 72% engaged with and participating in politics as councillors, activists or Members of Parliament, state that they do not feel comfortable declaring their disability to their political organisation for fear of discrimination. 

What can we do to improve representation?

From interviews, roundtables, and surveys, the Disability Policy Centre captured the experiences and views of disabled people. From these findings, the Disability Policy Centre put forward recommendations for the government as well as recommendations for political parties to identify specific challenges and barriers that limited the full potential of disabled people in politics. These are as follows: 

Recommendations for the UK government

  1. Use the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Programme to conduct an extensive review into the accessibility of Parliament for disabled people. Implement any recommendations in full to ensure that Parliament is accessible for anyone who wishes to seek elected office, visit or be employed in any capacity. 
  2. Conduct an extensive review into the accessibility of Local Authority buildings across the United Kingdom. Work with Local Authorities to ensure that services are to a high standard and completely accessible for disabled people. 
  3. Reinstate a formal funding scheme for disabled candidates. 
  4. Political parties are required to report annually to the Minister for Disabled People, Health & Work on what measures are being put into place to break down barriers for disabled people within the organisation. 

Recommendations for political parties

  1. Encourage party staff, elected representatives and local association leaders to undertake reviews into how to include and promote disabled party members within their structures. As part of this process, it is recommended that training is implemented for staff and volunteers to highlight how to break down barriers for disabled people in the organisation.  
  2. Widespread and sustained commitment to the Disability Confident Employer Scheme. 
  3. Political parties must acknowledge that current campaigning techniques are not viable for everyone, and actively promote accessible campaigning methods for their members. These techniques must not be viewed as being less credible than traditional campaigning methods. 
  4. Political parties must conduct immediate reviews into their candidate selection processes, for elected representatives at both a local and parliamentary level, ensuring that all barriers to engagement and participation have been removed where possible. 

Conclusion

Representation is much more than a tick-box exercise. Our political system must accommodate disabled people and people with long-term health conditions to allow for full political representation and participation. We must act to dismantle the societal, attitudinal, and physical barriers which create inaccessible environments. By tackling these issues directly, disabled people as well as individuals with long-term health conditions have the choice to participate in and engage with politics.  

You can read the full report here: https://thedisabilitypolicycentre.org/representation  

 

Kirstie Stage is a Director of the Disability Policy Centre. She is a disabled researcher passionate about public policy, political engagement, and human rights.