A local election candidate has this week started Judicial Review proceedings on the Home Secretary regarding the Government’s failure to support disabled candidates.
Emily Brothers is blind and hearing impaired, but in 2015 she stood as the Labour candidate in Sutton and Cheam at the General Election and in 2016 she was a candidate for the Greater London Assembly. In next month’s local elections, she is standing for Labour in Sutton North ward.
The legal challenge to the Government has two other claimants: David Buxton, of the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party’s Simeon Hart.
The legal challenge seeks to restore a fund that helped disabled people stand for election, for any party, at any level. The Judicial Review is supported by cross-party campaign group More United.
The Access to Elected Office Fund ran from 2012-2015 to create a “level-playing field” for disabled candidates, but shortly after the 2015 General Election, the £2.6million fund was then frozen and put under “review”. This review has not, to anyone’s knowledge, been conducted or concluded. The claimants are calling on the Government to complete and publish the review of the fund and re-open the fund without further delay.
The cost of standing for election is prohibitive for many, but for disabled people standing for election can be significantly higher. Most candidates incur personal costs of campaigning and foregoing salary, but those with disabilities may also, for example, incur the cost of requiring specialist technology for blind people, an assistant, a British Sign Language interpreter, or a mobility car.
“It’s absurd that the fund has been closed for longer than it was open. There are only five MPs in Parliament with a disability and to be representative, there should be at least 123 of us,” Brothers said.
“I was able to fairly contest the election in Sutton and Cheam in 2015 because of support from the Access to Elected Office Fund. Fairness has been pushed aside by the Government’s decision to end support for democratic involvement of disabled people. They have shown disregard for disabled people by not even evaluating how support works.”
Brothers has the full support of her local Labour Party, whose chair, Charlie Mansell, said: “I have worked closely with Emily on various political campaigns over the years and witnessed her hard work and dedication. Yet she faces barriers on a daily basis in accessing information, getting around talking with local people and being part of our community. What Emily achieved in 2015 was greatly helped by the support she received from the Access to Elected Office Fund.
“Emily is a campaigner who repeatedly breaks new ground. That’s why she is bringing this Judicial Review. Whatever your politics, surely we can all come together in supporting Emily and other disabled people to participate in public life.”
The basis for the proposed legal challenge is that the Government’s failure to undertake and conclude the promised review of the Fund, and its failure to re-open the fund is unreasonable, in breach of legitimate expectations, constitutes unequal treatment and is contrary to the requirements of the Equality Act 2010.
The Home Secretary has 14 working days to respond on behalf of the Government to the pre-action protocol letter.
The initial stages of the challenge are being funded by the cross-party campaign group More United and a petition has also been launched in support of the claimants, which you can sign by clicking here.
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