Supporting Councillors and Candidates with Disabilities
As a Party, we are committed to fostering equity, diversity and inclusion at all levels. Our Preamble to theConstitutionsets out our clear commitment to a society where everyone can achieve their full potential and should not be held back by race, ethnicity, caste, heritage, class, religion or belief, age, disability, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.
We want our councillors to be truly representative of the communities they are elected to serve, and that means we want councillors who are diverse in every way, including disability to be supported to stand.
We recognise that standing for council is never easy, but that there are particular challenges for candidates with disabilities and it is the responsibility of local parties to work with candidates to support them through these challenges. Similarly, being an elected councillor is both a challenge and a privilege but councillors with disabilities may find the challenges need more support to overcome.
This toolkit is not exhaustive but we hope that it will go a long way to helping local parties and candidates/councillors with disabilities to smooth the path to being great councillors for their communities. If you have any feedback on this pack please email Zoe Franklin on email@example.com.
According to the Equality Act 2010 you are disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.
Substantial is defined as more than minor or trivial, e.g. it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed.
Long-term is defined as 12 months or more, e.g. a breathing condition that develops as a result of a lung infection.
There are special rules about recurring or fluctuating conditions such as arthritis.
There are some progressive conditions – a condition that gets worse over time – that can be classed as disabilities. In the instance of HIV infection, cancer or multiple sclerosis, you automatically meet the disability definition under the Equality Act 2010 from the day you are diagnosed.
It is worth remembering that disabilities can be seen and unseen, therefore you should not make assumptions about an individual’s disability or their needs as a result. Instead, speak directly to the individual.
Social Model of Disability?
As we work to grow diversity across our local government candidates and councillors it is worth proactively considering the approach that we are taking. We really encourage you to base your approach on the social model of disability which is a way of viewing the world, developed by disabled people.
The model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can’t do certain things.
The social model helps us recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people. Removing these barriers creates equality and offers disabled people more independence, choice and control. You can find a really helpful explainer video on the model and the impact understanding it can make is available here from the charity Scope.
Every candidate’s circumstances are different and it is important that you are talking to them throughout the selection process and you are clear about the goals of the campaign and how candidates play a crucial role in that.
When doing so it is also important to ask whether a candidate feels they can meet those expectations, whether they have any concerns about doing so, and if they would like/need support to do so.
For candidates with a disability or disabilities, this is an even more important part of the process.
We encourage you to be even more clear that these expectations, and you as a local party, are there to support the candidate to win. If that means adjusting the way those expectations are met, that is 100% OK.
Remember though, people’s needs may change over time so it is important to check in regularly and give people opportunities to adjust their needs whenever necessary.
Below are some examples of expectations for candidates, taken from real local party candidate agreements and how you might adjust them to support a variety of candidates.
Knock on doors and make phone calls to members during the campaign in collaboration with my ward team.
For a candidate whose mobility is reduced, knocking on doors can be difficult/impossible. That does not mean that they cannot stand for council.
The candidate could instead focus their time on making calls to members, supporters and residents so support member/supporter activation and voter identification. Their ward colleagues would have any phone call target reduced and be asked to focus their time knocking on doors.
For a candidate who has a hearing impairment, it may be that phone calls are out of the question but door knocking is not because they are able to lip read. In which case the emphasis for them would be on speaking to people on the doorstep.
Work to achieve high community visibility in my ward for example by attending key local events.
Some candidates with physical disabilities, including hidden physical disabilities, may find this difficult. Talk to them about if there are ways that it could be made easier for them to attend local events and ensure that you provide them with the support needed if that is an option.
It may be that the reasons your candidate cannot attend the event may highlight a wider accessibility issue for the community, in which case they could take the opportunity to engage with the organisers about how to solve the issue and then talk about it in literature/publicly.
I understand that I am required to a) be available to help all day on election day and b) attend my count unless otherwise agreed with my local party.
This expectation needs to be talked through with your candidate early. Are there any aspects of their disability that will make being available all day and/or attending the count challenging? Discuss options such as being part of election day activity for blocks of time with rests in between or making calls from home, whatever works best for the candidate.
It is also really important to ensure that the count is accessible for your candidate. If it is not, then speak to your Returning Officer – candidates have a legal right to attend the count.
Grants for Candidates
External Grants – **Scotland and Wales only**
“Access to Elected Office Funds” exist in both Scotland and Wales. They provide financial assistance to disabled candidates standing for local elections to help with the extra costs they may incur as a result of their disability. These Funds pay for practical support to allow disabled people to fully participate in the political process. This covers reasonable adjustments that level the playing field between disabled and non-disabled candidates
You can find our more about these funds and how to apply for it on the links below:
Sadly, in England, the Access to elected office fund was stopped in 2019. We hope that this decision will be reversed in the future. If this does happen ALDC and/or Lib Dem HQ will do all we can to alert candidates and local parties to this.
It is important to be aware that Electoral Commission election guidance sets out that “costs that are reasonably attributable to the candidate’s disability” do not count towards your campaign expenses. The Commission suggests that it is best for agents to contact them to discuss what is considered to be “reasonable” – you will then be able to adapt your campaign plan to suit. For more information see the Electoral Commission’s guide for candidates or agents.
ALDC’s G8 and Local Election Appeal grants both prioritise diverse candidates, including those with disabilities. We also have start-up and fast-track by-election grants available but please note that these are open access.
Benefits are a complex landscape to navigate, especially for anyone receiving disability benefits. Getting elected as a councillor can impact on benefits and we suggest that potential candidates investigate any potential impact on them prior to standing for council.
ALDC’s most important piece of advice is that any councillor, or potential councillor, with questions or concerns should get individual advice and support from Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) or Job Centre disabilities advocates.
Below we have summarised some key information and information sources to help get you started.
Councillor allowances are treated as income for tax purposes and potentially impact on an individual’s tax payments.
Councillor allowances may not be deemed income for benefits purposes. It is important for any candidate receiving benefits who is elected to inform DWP that they have been elected.
If a councillor takes on a role with an additional allowance DWP will need to be informed again.
If you receive certain benefits because you are living with a disability or other health condition you may be able to undertake ‘permitted work’ – being a councillor is deemed ‘permitted work’. But if you receive a councillor’s allowance (for example a committee chair or cabinet role) that pays more than a designated amount it may impact on your benefits.
You can find general information on the impact of councillor allowances on benefits through the following websites:
Just as employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled workers aren’t disadvantaged when doing their jobs, councils also have an obligation to encourage the participation of disabled people in public life and information about and the provision of reasonable adjustments may play a key role in this.
Linked to this, under equality legislation councils have to pay due regard to advancing equality and this specifically includes encouraging disabled people to participate in public life. Encouraging and supporting disabled councillors is a key part of this.
Most councils have clear policy and procedure on supporting staff with disabilities, however many do not have the same for councillors. It is therefore important that as a local party and council team you support any councillor with a disability to get the help they need. A good place to start is ensuring that reasonable adjustment policies are relevant to councillors, or that there is a specific policy/procedure for councillors with disabilities who need reasonable adjustments. This will help the council ensure that it meets all of its legal obligations.
A key method of support for councillors with disabilities is the Access to Work Scheme. Disabled councillors getting allowances over and above the travel and meal allowances are eligible for support from the Access to Work Scheme in the same way as employees.
However, it is important to be aware that the amount available is restricted for organisations with more than 250 employees; that access to work will not pay for basic equipment such as computers; and that disabled councillors will have to go through an assessment.
Other Information and Organisations who can Offer Support