The first round of funding awards has been completed for the pilot Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland), with candidates for the 2017 Local Government elections awarded support budgets totalling nearly £60,000. The funds will pay for a range of additional costs that will be faced by the disabled candidates in ensuring they have a fair and equal opportunity to campaign for election, including: Personal Assistance (e.g. with mobility issues), communication support, adaptive technology (such as dyslexia aids, note taking aids and software) and addressing higher transport costs.
The awards, with individual budgets ranging from £580 to £26,718, were approved by the Fund’s independent Decision Panel, which consists entirely of disabled experts in making and using reasonable adjustments and includes two disabled former MSPs (Dennis Robertson and Siobhan McMahon). The applications are carefully anonymised with recommendations for support based on individual needs and local context, and advice from expert support assessors.
One recipient said:
“As a disabled candidate I am thrilled that this funding is now live. The service will hopefully level the playing field and remove barriers so that Scottish politics can be truly representative. On a personal level the fund will allow me to attend community meetings, keep in touch with constituents and be truly accountable and present. I’m standing because I believe I can help my neighbours and ward. This funding breaks down the barriers to allow that to happen.”
The Fund is working closely with advice from the Electoral Commission and Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure that funding is targeted at additional costs only and does not result in an unfair advantage – grants may not be used to pay for campaign materials or similar.
The Fund is currently running on a pilot basis up to the 2017 elections, however Minister for Social Security Jeane Freeman recently announced that following the review of the pilot the government intends to continue the Fund until at least the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections.