Labour has expressed alarm after the government missed its own deadline to decide whether to reinstate a grant intended to help people with disabilities stand for election as councillors and MPs or for other public office.
Ministers had said they would confirm by 11 May plans for the access to elected office (AEO) fund, which offered grants of between £250 and £40,000 to help cover the additional costs incurred by disabled people in England seeking election.
It was set up in 2012 under the coalition government in an attempt to increase diversity on elected bodies, but suspended by the Conservatives after the 2015 general election.
A cross-party group of MPs wrote to the government in January urging it to follow a recommendation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and reinstate the AEO fund as a matter of urgency.
In a letter to the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, who took on the equalities brief in cabinet after the resignation of Amber Rudd as home secretary, Labour’s Cat Smith said that in last week’s local elections “many talented disabled people were denied the opportunity to stand for public office” due to the suspension of the fund.
“Disabled people make up less than 1% of MPs, despite 16% of the working-age adult population having a disability,” wrote Smith, the shadow minister for voter engagement. “It is our duty as parliamentarians to increase the representation of under-represented groups in parliament and at every level of politics.”
Noting the 11 May deadline, Smith added: “Although this is about fairness, this is also about what sort of politics we want to see. I hope you will restore this important fund as a matter of urgency.”
In September last year, in a submission to an inquiry by the UN special rapporteur on disabilities, the EHRC said: “The UK government should reopen the AEO fund in England and work with the Scottish and Welsh governments to explore options for making the scheme, or similar funds, available across Great Britain.”
After the 2017 general election, in which five MPs with disabilities were elected to the Commons, 91 MPs signed an early day motion calling on the government to reinstate the fund “without further delay”.
A spokeswoman for the Government Equalities Office gave no timetable for when the matter would be decided or what decision might be taken. She said: “The access to elected office fund evaluation report will be published in due course.”