Guidance and information for employers about making reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled workers aren’t disadvantaged when doing their jobs is well established and signposted. However, information on what is available or possible for disabled councillors is not so well known.
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.
The most recent LGA councillor survey identified that nearly 9% of councillors in London have a disability. Many of these councillors may need particular reasonable adjustments to ensure that they can undertake their role efficiently and effectively.
Under the 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 way of doing this.
Once elected, legislation recognises that bringing about equality may mean changing the way in which things are organised for a disabled councillor, the removal of physical barriers and/or providing extra support.
This is the same legislation and duty to provide reasonable adjustments which applies to disabled employees, but obviously the role of a councillor is somewhat different. Whilst the majority of councils have clear policies and procedures for employees very few yet have the same for councillors.
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, London local authorities should 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.
In light of all this it is important that local authorities have a straightforward, timely and smooth system for supporting disabled councillors and providing reasonable adjustments, even if they are not currently aware of having any councillors who may require them.
Ensuring that reasonable adjustment policies are relevant to councillors, or that there is a specific policy/procedure, will make it easier for disabled councillors who need reasonable adjustments. It will also help to ensure that the local authority meets all of its legal obligations, including those around encouraging the participation of disabled people in public life.