People with disabilities need a stronger voice in local government.
That’s the message from Helen Whitehead who’s standing for Thanet District Council in May.
Helen, from Margate, has Ankylosing Spondylitis and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which means she suffers from severe joint problems and is a part time wheelchair user.
She believes that people with disabilities are often left out of consideration by elected officials and that the only way to change things is for disabled people themselves to get elected.
She said: “If we’re not there we can’t be represented. It’s that simple. The people who can most effectively represent us are those who implicitly understand our life experience, and, frankly, you fight harder if it’s something you’ve personally been through.”
For this reason Helen believes there should be a member of the cabinet in the council with specific responsibility for disability issues — preferably somebody with a disability of their own.
Helen said: “Without disabled people in positions of authority I think it is very, very difficult for our voice to be heard effectively.”
Helen is using social media to publicise the fact that people with disabilities can now get money to help them run in the coming council elections via the EnABLE fund.
Grants are available as part of a government effort to tackle under-representation in local elections. They can be used for campaign expenses such as specialist transport and computer software.
But for people with disabilities, says Helen, money remains a major barrier to running for elected office.
“If you’re disabled you may have some need of government support and unfortunately currently the councillors allowance is counted as income, and can therefore affect benefit entitlements,” Helen said.
“That doesn’t seem a good way to encourage people to run for the council and I will be working on raising this at a national level, as disabled people need parity, equity and inclusion at all levels of governance. I would strongly recommend anyone who feels they have additional needs to stand in the upcoming TDC elections. Until our voices are regularly heard our local issues will remain the same.”
Helen is standing for the Margate Central Ward of Thanet council on May 2. A video of an interview with Helen can be found on https://youtu.be/sROk1-JI8iw