Msps Briefing: Member S Debate 17Th September 2013: Politically (In)Correct the Representation

Msps Briefing: Member S Debate 17Th September 2013: Politically (In)Correct the Representation

MSPs Briefing: Member’s Debate 17th September 2013: ‘Politically (in)correct – the representation of disabled people in Politics’

Key points

  • Disabled people are under-represented in Politics, in Scotland
  • This debate follows on from an ILiS[1] Solutions Series pop-up think tank looking at this issue – ‘Politically (in)correct – the representation of disabled people in Politics’ (you can read the full report at The think tank identified a number of causes and solutions to disabled people’s involvement in politics in Scotland.
  • Disabled people face significant physical, economic and attitudinal barriers to participating in Scotland’s political life
  • The think tank found there are a number of things that could help address this (more detail below):
  • A Scottish Access to Politics Fund[3]
  • A Scottish Parliament Intern Scheme for disabled people
  • Parties showing leadership on the issue including by; highlighting and supporting role models for disabled people, talent spotting for disabled people in their party and creating disability champions and disabled members groups within them
  • Political parties and DPO’s could work closer together
  • A cross-party forum (out with the Parliament e.g. hosted by the Electoral Commission) looking at the issue should be set up

Disabled people are under-represented in Politics because:

  • there is not enough support for disabled people to participate in society in general – never mind in Politics
  • Disabled people are less likely to have engaged in civic involvement than non-disabled people[4]
  • “the disabling environments that disabled people encounter, the difficulties involved in simply finding ways to meet, communicate and organizeimpact on disabled people’s abilityto participate in society”[5]. This affects our ability to influence any agenda on an equal basis, and impacts on the ‘supply’ of disabled people interested in Politics[6]
  • disabled people may need personal assistantsbut care packages barely cover life and limb support e.g. getting up and eating, they rarely stretch to participating in the community
  • disabled people can’t afford to participate in Politics
  • 47.5% of disabled people live in poverty[7]
  • inaccessible public transport can mean expensive taxi journeys
  • disabled people may have communication support needs which they would need to fund themselves
  • they might have to pay someone to be with them/to support them
  • Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs)[8] are a key resource; they help grow capacity of disabled people to participate in society, they campaign against the barriers to disabled peoples equality and human rights and can support Political parties to understand these issues and grow their own capacity in this respect – however, DPOs are under-funded and what funding they have is rarely to support disabled people in Political activities
  • there are few role models for disabled people in Political office
  • data collection on the issue is sketchy – and where it exists it relies on ‘self-definition’ – and it is not always ‘fashionable or favourable’ to define as disabled
  • support for disabled people to engage in the Party Political process can be patchy

Solutions identified at the think tank:

a)Role models and leadership

  • Party leadership: Political and official – have a crucial role in driving forward change, including by; publically standing up for disabled people when they are under attack, talent spotting and, supporting disabled people to organise within Party structures through, for example, local Disability Champions and Disabled Members Groups.
  • More role models for disabled people: Disabled people in politics – including those who have seen and unseen impairments – could be louder and prouder about their identity and about issues important to disabled people. There should be a national, cross-party ‘coming out as disabled’ campaign to support this.
  • Non-disabled people in politics should support disabled politicians to gain a platform and challenge the barriers to disabled people’s wider involvement.

b)Capacity and engagement with disabled people and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPO’s)

  • The capacity of disabled people, both generally and more specifically of those aspiring to be involved in Politics, should be built, supported and resourced.
  • A range of practical Solutions to build capacity should be considered including; setting up ‘Operation Disabled People’s Vote’ (similar to ‘Operation Black Vote’); young disabled people observing politics in action e.g. at a City Chambers; an outreach programme, developed and delivered in coproduction with the Parliamentary Outreach Team and DPO’s; mentoring or ‘buddy’ schemes; and internships.
  • Political parties should work in coproduction with DPO’s to build their capacity to engage with disabled people and to understand the issues important to them. They should look to leaders within the disability movement as a key source of support, knowledge and signposting including spotting aspiring disabled Politicians and activists.
  • Political parties in Scotland should work together in an informal cross-party forum – informed by their wider engagement with DPO’s – to look at how they can improve representation of disabled people and other underrepresented groups. The Electoral commission could host this and set it up.


  • A publically funded, ‘Scottish Access to Politics Fund’ should be set up to support disabled people who want to be politicians or involved in politics. The fund and its administration should be developed in coproduction with DPO’s.
  • DPO’s should be resourced properly to work locally and nationally; through peer support, capacity building, and the development of policy and practice to empower disabled people in challenging the barriers to their equal participation in society and in politics – including by being able to operate at a political level without restrictions on their funding that could prevent them from doing this.
  • The Parliamentary Body (and the equivalent in Local Government) – as the body responsible for Parliamentary/elected business and representation within it – should fund disabled people’s political internships and job-shadowing schemes.
  • A fund should be developed that political parties can draw on to help them with the additional costs of involving disabled people specifically in their party political activity. This should be funded by both political parties and the public purse.
  • Access to Work (AtW) should be encouraged to consider political Activism – in addition to working in politics – as voluntary work for the purposes of eligibility for support.

d)Making the job of elected office more accessible

  • Job sharing for elected members should be considered.
  • The Parliamentary Body (or equivalent in Local Government) should cover the extra costs associated with access requirements of elected members.

e)Quota’s and targets

  • Political parties should be required to set their own targets for the numbers of disabled candidates– including in winnable seats – that they get elected – and develop the mechanisms to achieve them.
  • Quotas should be set for the number of disabled interns involved in wider Parliamentary internship programs. These quotas should be developed in coproduction with disabled people, their organizations, Political parties and officials.

For more information, contact:

Pam Duncan, Policy Officer, ILiS

or 0141 248 1943

N.b. ILiS staff will be at Parliament on the 17th and are happy to meet with you ahead of or after the debate to discuss any of the issues outlined.


[1] The Independent Living in Scotland (ILiS project aims to support disabled people in Scotland to have their voices heard and to build the disabled people’s Independent Living Movement (ILM). It is funded by the Scottish Government Equality Unit to make the strategic interventions that will help to make independent living the reality for disabled people in Scotland and hosted by Inclusion Scotland.

[2] The Solutions Series brings together a group of disabled people, policy makers, public servants, academics and other relevant experts to identify solutions to barriers that prevent progress on disabled people’s equality and human rights.

[3] There is a UK Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund, set up to help disabled people who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials with any disability-related costs of standing for election (e.g. paying for a personal assistant/communication support etc.), and which a non-disabled candidate would not face. The scheme is open to people seeking election to the UK Parliament or local councils in England only. It is not open to candidates for Scottish or Welsh local elections or Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly elections as responsibility for these elections is devolved.


[5] Oliver M & Barnes C, “The New Politics of Disablement”; 2012

[6] House of Commons “The Speakers Conference 9on Parliamentary representation) – the final report); 2010

[7] “Destination Unknown”; Demos report, 2010

[8]Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) – such as Inclusion Scotland or People First Scotland - are organisations run by a management or executive committee on which either all or the majority of the voting membership are disabled people. Organisations for disabled people are not necessarily controlled by disabled people