Support requirements for disabled candidates with complex needs

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While much has been made about the success the Liberal Democrats have had in getting more women and BAME activists approved and selected as Parliamentary Candidates in winnable seats, little, if any, progress has been made in the approval and selection of winnable Parliamentary Candidates with Disabilities who, because of the complex needs that many of them have, require a significant amount of support just to reach the same levels of attainment as their able-bodied counterparts.

From my own experience, as an approved candidate with a physical disability, part of the problem, I suspect, concerns the lingering worries that persist among many local party members over whether a person with a physical disability, like myself, could carry out the duties that would be expected of them as a Parliamentary Candidate, and later MP, should they get elected at the subsequent General Election.

These worries are only natural, especially if a local party has never had such a candidate stand for them before.  What though has to be realised is that any support will depend on the duties that a particular local party will expect that candidate to perform, which will only become apparent once they have been selected, and an agreed campaign plan has been formulated, that sets out their role and their relationship to the other roles on their campaign team.

The issue here is how any campaign support that a disabled candidate might need to assist them with their campaign interacts with their general personal care needs, and how the transition from just being a candidate, to becoming an MP if they win on Election Night, is managed.  This is an area that doesn’t have to be thought of for the other diversity groups within the party.  But it is an area that not only has to be thought of when it comes to potential candidates with a physical disability, it actively has to be considered in the form of making contingency plans, perhaps years in advance, for the day when a disabled candidate becomes an MP and their role changes literally overnight.

I recognise that the Liberal Democrats do not have the expertise when it comes to assessing a disabled candidate’s individual support needs and then ensuring that those support needs are met.  And nor should they.  That is not their role.  What they do need to do though is to be clear with any disabled candidate that they have selected what they expect of them as a candidate, their role and responsibilities, and then work with both the candidate and outside agencies, like the candidate’s local Social Services Department, to ensure that they get the help they need to carry out their duties effectively, and how the transition to becoming an MP will be managed in circumstances when they do win on Election Night.

This is a very complex process but if a Campaign for Disability Equality is established within the party, that firstly helps disabled activists get approved and selected in winnable seats, and then works with that disabled candidate and their local Social Services Department to get them the support they will need to carry out their duties effectively, I see no reason why any disabled activist cannot succeed in being a Parliamentary Candidate and getting elected to Parliament.


* Richard Whelan is a member in Newcastle under Lyme, Chair of the West Midlands Equalities and Diversity Committee and was the Parliamentary Candidate for North Warwickshire at the 2019 General Election.

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  • Thanks Richard.

    A very thoughtful and important article which raises some important things for us all to think about.

  • Sue Sutherland 1st Mar '20 - 1:29pm

    I hope the lack of comments means that everyone agrees. Richard’s plea also applies to disabled Council candidates. Disability is still not understood by many, including those who are supposed to help us navigate airports, railway stations, car parks etc. We should be raising the profile of disabled people at a time when many are suffering badly at the hands of the DWP.

  • Richard Whelan 1st Mar '20 - 2:33pm


    I agree with you. I am more than happy to stand as a Council Candidate in a winnable Ward. Indeed it was my intention to stand in a winnable Ward within the winnable constituency I had been selected as the PPC and get elected onto the Council so that I could gain experience of elected office.

    The correct support requirements though do need to be seriously considered before people like me can even contemplate standing although, like I said in my piece, the exact requirements will depend on what is expected of the candidate by the particular local party concerned and that is only possible once they have been selected.

    Irrespective of whether they stand as Parliamentary or Council Candidates, the party does need to consider ensuring that the relevant reasonable adjustments are put in place for disabled candidates, of any sort, to stand, in order to allow them to campaign on the same basis as their able-bodied counterparts. They then need to ensure that the relevant reasonable adjustments are put in place to allow successful disabled candidates, who stand for election, the ability to function effectively in their roles as either Councillors or Members of Parliament (or for that matter Members of devolved bodies across the country). Otherwise, as a party, we could soon find ourselves with our own Jarad O’Mara’s. And given what he went through as the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam that is not something we should aspire to.

    There is a lot of prepatory work that needs to be done, and a lot of time and thought that needs to be gone into, to ensure that disabled activists are firstly approved and selected as candidates, properly supported through their campaigns, and once elected, fully supported in their roles as elected representatives.

    The sooner a Campaign for Disability Equality is set up within the party, the sooner this work can begin.

  • Great idea, Richard. We had a Lib Dem councillor in Kingston who was registered blind and she served a term as Mayor – she was amazing. But I do know she had a few battles with Council officers to get documents in a suitable format.

  • Kate Whelan 3rd Mar '20 - 6:05pm

    Thank you, Richard, for bringing this to the fore.
    I am surprised that a “Campaign for Disability Equality” does not already exist within the Party. It urgently needs setting up.
    It is a complex problem, as each disabled candidate is uniquely disabled. Each needs unique provisions and support to become ENABLED to function as their non-disabled peers.
    It would be useful to research the experiences of those who have held/are holding Office. How did/do they cope, and solve problems?

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