A disabled councillor has described to MPs and peers the “absolute nightmare” she experienced when trying to win selection as a parliamentary candidate.
Marie Pye, a Labour councillor in Waltham Forest, said she had had an “incredibly positive” experience as both a council candidate and an elected councillor.
But she contrasted this with her two attempts to seek selection as a parliamentary candidate, where she was told to “get rid of the stick” and subjected to “intrusive” questioning from individual local party members about her impairment and ability to do the job, which reduced her to tears.
Pye, former head of public sector delivery at the Disability Rights Commission, was speaking at a joint meeting of the all party parliamentary disability group (APPDG) and other related groups on disabled people’s access to elected office.
The meeting followed February’s publication of a government strategy on the issue.
David Buxton, a Liberal Democrat councillor with Epsom and Ewell council in Surrey, and a Deaf British Sign Language (BSL)-user, said he could no longer afford to seek selection as a parliamentary candidate because of the cost of interpreters.
His last attempt cost £5,000 in interpreters’ fees, which would have reached £20,000 if he had not found interpreters willing to volunteer.
Baroness Brinton, the Liberal Democrat peer, told the meeting that her party’s spring conference had just approved a new leadership programme for outstanding candidates from under-represented groups.
The programme will offer mentoring, training, shadowing MPs and money to overcome access barriers by funding adjustments such as taxis and BSL-interpreters. She said 10 per cent of those selected would be disabled people.
“Priority” parliamentary seats will have to shortlist at least two candidates from the programme, which she said would give disabled people “a real chance of winning elections”.
Baroness Warsi, the Conservative party’s co-chairman, said there was a need to “create a level playing-field” but the “fundamental change” needed was to “people’s attitudes”, while candidates should not be compensated “because they are disabled”.
Fiona Mactaggart, the shadow equalities minister, who has a long-term health condition, backed funding for disabled candidates because of the extra costs they face.
She added: “If you have a parliament that doesn’t reflect the diversity of the British public then the confidence in democracy is diminished.”
Anne McGuire, the co-chair of the APPDG and a former Labour minister for disabled people, who also has a long-term health condition, said: “We need to raise our game. It is still not good enough. People are facing too many barriers.”
The government’s £1 million-a-year package of proposals includes a new Access to Elected Office Fund to help disabled people meet the extra disability-related costs of running for office, plans to change attitudes about disabled politicians among the public and political parties, a network of disabled MPs and councillors to act as role models, and new training opportunities for disabled candidates.
A consultation on the proposals ends on 11 May.