A GENERAL Election candidate told The National “you can see why there aren’t more MPs with disabilities” after being denied funds for her campaign.
Professor Kirstein Rummery teaches at Stirling University, has advised the Scottish and UK governments, sits on the board of feminist charity Engender and is a fellow at the Centre on Constitutional Change.
Despite having both chronic pain and short-term memory issues, she manages all of these roles with assistants who look after diary and aid travel.
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When she was selected to become the only Women’s Equality (WE) Party candidate in the country, Rummery applied for campaign support from the Scottish Government’s Access to Elected Office fund. The initiative provides finance to overcome the additional costs faced by prospective politicians with a range of disabilities.
It funded 39 people at the recent local authority elections, with 15 becoming councillors.
However, Rummery’s bid was rejected because the UK ballot is outwith Holyrood’s remit.
And because Westminster’s own pilot scheme, established by the coal-ition government in 2012, was put on pause after the 2015 General Election, Rummery and other disabled candidates aiming for the House of Commons have nowhere to turn for help with extra travel and other costs.
Yesterday, Rummery, who is running in Stirling, said this has put her “at a disadvantage against the able-bodied candidates” who can “travel around without the barriers”.
She said: “When you go out on the campaign trail, you can see exactly why we don’t get many disabled candidates, and why we don’t have more MPs with disabilities.”
Describing the issues she faces, Rummery said: “I can turn up at a campaign meeting or lecture and give a fantastic address, but I wouldn’t be able to find the building because I won’t remember the instructions.
“In my job, I have somebody who organises my diary and helps me carry things. Campaigning involves a lot of physical activity and you need that same kind of help to carry things and get between places. If someone wasn’t able to drive me to hustings, it would mean a lot of taxis, which would be incredibly expensive.
“It’s not about giving any advantage, it’s about levelling the playing field. Support should apply to all candidates. Westminster should reinstate its fund.”
Rummery’s call came a day after Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman revealed a review on extending the Access to Elected Office fund to cover other forms of public service will report back this autumn.
She said: “Time and again, I hear from disabled people across the country about how they want to contribute and play their part in society.”
However, Holyrood’s hands are tied. A Scottish Government spokesman said: “All aspects of election to the House of Commons are reserved, which means Scottish Ministers cannot extend the scope of the Scottish Access to Elected Office Fund to disabled candidates who wish to stand in the General Election.”
While candidates with disabilities were in the minority at the council election, there are even fewer self-identified disabled hopefuls standing at the General Election. Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy, a founder member of the One in Five Campaign, is fighting Glasgow North.
He said he was motivated by the closure of the UK’s Access to Elected Office fund, which offered up to £40,000 for successful applicants. In January last year, Green leader Caroline Lucas orchestrated a cross-party appeal for its reinstatement.
At the time, the government said it was “evaluating” the scheme, adding: “We also look to political parties themselves to help make further progress as they’re best placed to drive opportunities for disabled people in political life.”
However, Rummery, who has limited support from WE, said: “If you don’t have big party machinery behind you, you don’t have that.”