23 November 2015
The government is making it harder for people with a disability to stand for elected office, according to the Green Party’s by-election candidate in Oldham West and Royton.
Simeon Hart, who was also the only Deaf and British Sign Language (BSL) user to stand as a parliamentary candidate in the May 2015 General Election, is dismayed at the government’s failure to renew a fund covering ‘disability-related costs’ such as carer prices and, in his case, sign language interpreters.
As a temporary replacement for what should be core government funding, Simeon is asking the public for help through crowdfunding to support interpreter costs incurred during the by-election campaign .
The Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund was set up in 2012 and closed in March this year. The fund’s website states that the government is unable to give a ‘commitment’ to its future .
Hart, who is finding it difficult to locate and pay for essential BSL support for the by-election said:
“Becoming a candidate in elections and by-elections is supposed to be open to anyone eligible in the UK. Yet my experience has been a challenge and I know that many people with a disability will be put off trying to become an elected politician.
“My party and I have a detailed plan for how we can reduce fuel poverty and keep parks public in the constituency and I am unable to articulate my plans as well as the candidates from other parties because of problems finding and paying for an interpreter.
“If the government is serious about making elections a level playing field, it will reconsider its heartless decision to scrap the Access to Elected Office Fund.”
Natalie Bennett, the Green Party’s leader will be joining Simeon while he campaigns in the constituency on Tuesday (24 November).
“Simeon is an excellent candidate who is eager to meet with constituents to tell them about Green Party plans for the area. It has been tough for him in finding and paying for an interpreter and it saddens me to think that a good number of quality prospective candidates with a disability could be put off from standing for election.
“We await to hear from the government about their plans for the fund and what they can do to ease the financial burden that’s being unfairly imposed on prospective political candidates with a disability.”
The Green Party Disability Group is also supporting Simeon’s campaign. The group’s convenor, Paul Weaver said:
"If a change is ever to be made in the way that we work with and for disabled people within all levels of government then we need to ensure that funds are made available to assist with the extra cost involved.”
• The Oldham West and Royton by-election is on Thursday, 3 December 2015.