Research Theme: Participating in civic and public life

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There are different ways that people might participate in civic and public life.  Civic and public life is when people, as citizens take action on things to do with public policy and practice, or get involved in the institutions that make them.  ‘Public policy’ means decisions that affect lots of people, or particular groups of people. Such decisions might be taken by local Councillors, or national governments, or European institutions.  ‘Practice’ is how those decisions are implemented.


There are lots of activities and roles related to civic and public life.  For example, these include things like voting in elections, or being a candidate in an election, or when people come together to lobby for local services that are at risk of being cut.  It involves people who are elected as members of local councils, national governments and the UK and European Parliaments.  It includes the people who elect them.  It includes people who work for them, like civil servants, advisors of all public bodies such as government departments and local authorities.  It includes people involved ‘non departmental public bodies’.  These are organisations like the Equality and Human Rights Commission.  If you want to be on the Board of organisations like these, you have to go through a process of public appointments.


For disabled people to participate equally and achieve independent living, they can need practical assistance in all sorts of ways to be involved in civic and public life. To be effective you need to have leadership and influencing skills.  Disabled people might need support to get these.  Or, if they have these skills, they need to have access to opportunities to use them. It is not just about influencing decision-makers but about more disabled people becoming decision-makers themselves.  In this way, the decisions that affect disabled people would be made by people who really understand disability because they have personal, direct experience of it.  It means disability issues should be given more priority.


When we held the roadshows, disabled people identified some particular issues that they felt were important when it came to participating in civic and public life. It is important to find new solutions to these issues:


  • Representation: 1 in 5 people live with an impairment or long-term health condition.  Many more people have friends or family members or colleagues who do. But very few people who are elected say they are disabled people.  How can we increase disabled people’s representation in civic life and public life?


  • Leadership: Disabled people need to be able to get leadership and influencing skills and be enabled to make use of those skills. How can access to opportunities related to public life be improved? How can disabled people’s leadership be effectively promoted?


  • Public policy and legislation: Disabled people need to be able to influence political party manifestoes and government policies and legislations to bring about change in the lives / prospects of disabled people.  What can be done to make that happen?


  • The media: The portrayal of disabled people in the media is often that of a scrounger, tragic victim or heroic survivor. How can this be changed? How can the issues that disabled people care about be reported more accurately?