Why the Conference Access Fund is a good thing

I would like to tell you about the Conference Access Fund which Liberal Democrat members have provided. It helps members on low incomes or those who have a disability by providing financial assistance so that they can take part at conference. I used the fund to assist with the costs of having a support worker to enable me at conference. May I firstly say how helpful the stewards and Lib Dem HQ conference staff were at conference.

The Conference Access Fund is unique to the Liberal Democrats as the other four parties with the exception of the Green party (who give their members up to £90 for travel and expenses) do not have such a fund. The Labour Party mentions disability access and having a women’s day at the start of their conference but they do not provide financial help with the associated costs of attending. The Conservatives and UKIP do not mention either disability access or a fund.

Having discovered this, I then googled how many MPs are disabled within the current parliament. Only  2 MPs out of 650 have a disability. Also from the Bridge Review of the Civil Service and its fast stream programme, disabled people are significantly underrepresented. Where is the voice of disabled people in Parliament and in the policy making teams within the civil service?

I feel there should be a fast stream programme purely for people with disabilities to ensure they are benchmarked comparably. I also would like to see a web session on how disabled people can become an MP and the support available.

The Conference Access Fund has given me the opportunity to learn about politics, how motions are constructed and how policies are formed. I really enjoyed the Liberal Pitch fringe event which allowed me to pitch my mock policy of having a scheme to get more disabled people into technology roles. The vote was 20:1 in favour of my policy. It was exciting!

I also discovered that Nick Clegg was the poster boy for the Liberal Democrats and had a giggle that he got asked to pitch to a member’s girlfriend via video to enlist her as a member and that Tim was going to enrol himself as the editor of Viz magazine. Boy, was the reaction from the Twitterati harsh!).

I was impressed by all the speeches at Conference. They were all so passionate and heartfelt.

I chatted to the Women Liberal Democrats and had a chat about the Northern Voices programme sponsored by Tech North. Their main aim to get more Northern women who work in technology to speak in the media and at conferences to talk about digital. There could be a collaboration opportunities with Women Liberal Democrats as their main aim is to get more women into senior positions. I also spoke to the Liberal Democrat Disability Association to find out about their role.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at conference and I would recommend that members should go and take part and meet other members. I particularly encourage more disabled people to learn about becoming an MP as we need more disabled people in the House of Commons to give a voice to disabled issues and policies. I also thank the generosity of other members in sponsoring the Conference Access Fund and I hope you will keep supporting it.

Editor’s Note: Applications to the Conference Access Fund for Autumn Conference in Bournemouth from 16-19 September will open next month. Details about the Fund and how to apply can be found here

* Diane Reddell is a member in the Wansbeck constituency

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 31st Mar '17 - 1:34pm

    Diane is inspiring here and the fund is essential.

    We need to emphasise it being so important and unique , by increasing it and making it better known and funded and thus more widely available and accessed.

    The party needs to include it as a priority in fundraising . No point in having money for campaigning and conference if people cannot get involved.

    And we need to move to being the first party to have proper online democracy . A Liberal Democratic party is about the individual participating .It, like charity , begins at home.

    We can make our own Liberal Democratic society or community in our party and policy.

  • Ruth Bright 31st Mar '17 - 7:36pm

    Diane – it is lovely to hear this.

    For many decades Federal Conference and its Liberal forerunner had a crèche (Labour and the Greens still do). I do hope this will be reinstated in some form and that funds for disabled attendees will be ringfenced so that disabled attendees and those with childcare needs are not competing for the same funds.

  • Congratulations to everyone involved in enabling the provision of this fund, and thank you to Diane for demonstrating the value of it to all of us. The conference clearly benefitted from your presence.

  • I like that when you pay for your conference ticket you get a prompt to contribute to the access fund – It’s a little way for those of us who are habitués to help others become so too.

    (The easiest way IMHO is to go for the green pal and then put the money you would have spent on paperwork into the fund)

    Lorenzo is right, though, it needs publicising so those who need it know it’s there, and so those who want to contribute can and will.

  • Diane Reddell 1st Apr '17 - 6:47pm

    Hi Lorenzo, Ruth, Fiona and Jennie Thank you for reading my article and giving your comments. Hopefully it will trigger discussions on diversity and inclusion not just within the Lib-Dem-isphere.

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