The UK is currently gearing-up for the forthcoming general election. Throughout the country MPs are busy canvassing voters in the hope that they will retain their seats, and return to represent their constituencies in the House of Commons after the summer recess. Straw polls show that things couldn’t be closer, and the new parliament promises to contain a wide spread of representatives from across the parties.
However, if the benches were truly reflective of the people they purport to represent, at least 65 of those MPs would be disabled. There are 10 million people registered disabled in the UK, but no official figures on the number of disabled election candidates are available. It’s estimated that the number of disabled parliamentary candidates is less than 2 per cent. But why is this? Just because someone is a wheelchair user does not mean they are unable to hold valid political opinions and represent their community.
Unfortunately, it appears that the stigma and prejudice still experienced by people with disabilities potentially makes them vote-losers, and they are therefore overlooked as candidates by the parties they support. The government hopes to combat this attitude through the Access to Elected Office for Disabled People project. The project will encourage political parties to improve their disability policies, and to liaise more closely with disability organisations and local government agencies to create a cross-party network of disabled MPs and Councillors.
Lady Jane Campbell has muscular atrophy and requires assistance with most tasks. She thinks that traditional canvassing by getting out on the streets and door-knocking are simply not possible or practical for some people, and thinks that technology could be employed to allow more engagement with the public.
Lady Campbell has already taken one large step towards changing the attitude of some peers within the House of Lords. She is unable to make long speeches due to her disability, and so gained permission for another Lord to deliver her speech on her behalf. This was allowed as long as Lady Campbell wrote the speech herself. This action breaks with hundreds of years of tradition, and surely paves the way for true democracy with the corridors of parliament.
There are also the practicalities of the matter to be considered. The Houses of Parliament are ancient buildings that are simply not designed to accommodate wheelchair access. Surely it’s time that these matters were addressed?
The paltry number of disabled parliamentary representatives in the UK is a depressing indictment of the prejudice that still exists, despite efforts by the government and disabled organisations to redress the balance. Perhaps the politicians will one day realise that there are 10 million disabled votes to be had, and that these might be more forthcoming if the voters felt they were truly represented in the House of Commons.
Image source: disabledgo.com