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The Internal Research Programme (IRP, Knowledge and Analytical Services, Welsh Government) was commissioned in October 2021 by the Local Government Democracy Division (LGD, Covid Recovery and Local Government Group, Welsh Government) to undertake research looking into the under-representation of groups with protected characteristics in both local and national politics in Wales. The purpose for commissioning this research was to inform the development of a programme for increasing diversity and representation in Welsh politics.
The Welsh Government has committed to reform local government elections to reduce the democratic deficit in its Programme for Government (Welsh Government, 2021a), in part by tackling the barriers that prevent full participation in standing for election and representing their communities (Welsh Government, 2021b). The diversification of political candidates requires consideration of the different protected characteristics, as well as socio-economic status in line with the Socio-economic Duty (Welsh Government, 2021c).
Funding was made available for disabled candidates of the 2021 Senedd elections and the 2022 local government elections via the Access to Elected Office Fund Wales (A2EOF) pilot (Disability Wales, 2021). This was available to cover costs including assistive aids, training, travel, personal assistance and communication support (Welsh Government, 2022). Currently, other protected characteristics do not have access to similar financial support. Welsh Government is therefore seeking to expand on existing schemes to create a programme that provides support for people who face barriers in entering politics.
Aims and objectives
The aim of this research was to create a theory of change (ToC) to map the inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, risks and assumptions of an intervention(s) associated with removing barriers to elected office for people with protected characteristics (PCs). From the ToC, a logic model was constructed which can be used for developing the intervention as well as monitoring and evaluation planning.
To achieve this aim, the research addressed the following objectives.
To draw on existing work and literature on the context and progress of removing barriers to elected office for people in protected characteristics in Wales and, where appropriate, draw on examples from further afield (UK and internationally)
Establish a first draft ToC in collaboration with policy makers and external stakeholders to gauge their understanding of the key activities and to define intended outcomes of any potential future policy
Produce a report containing a revised ToC following consultation with policy officials, an analysis of the key issues and risks of delivering the intervention logics, advice on baseline data and options for future evaluations of proposed policy.
The methodological approach involved evidence review and ToC. Two evidence reviews were carried out: one on the barriers to elected office as experienced by disabled people and one on the barriers experienced by women. The reviews were scoped with expert advice from policy officials and used to inform the context section of the ToC.
The purpose of the ToC was to develop a logic model that maps the process to achieving the intended outcomes of an intervention or policy. To gain a wide range of perspectives in developing the theory of change, three workshops were held. The first was with Welsh Government policy officials, the second with stakeholders from equalities organisations representing the interest of PC groups, and the third was with stakeholders from local government organisations. In total, 24 participants attended the workshops.
Workshop data was coded and then used to perform abductive thematic analysis. Findings from the data analysis were supplemented by evidence from the literature reviews. These findings were then organised into sections of the ToC to form the final draft of the logic model with input from policy officials. The rationale for the ToC was developed using literature from the field and data and is represented by the ‘context’ section of the logic model.
The main findings are presented as sections of the logic model. The ‘context’ of the ToC is summarised first, to provide the rationale for policy intervention in the area of access to elected office. Then, the desired end goals as put forward by research participants are described in the ‘outcomes’ section, followed by ‘outputs’, which are the tangible results indicating progress towards the outcomes. The ‘activities’ section summarises what action is required to achieve the desired outcomes, and ‘inputs’ indicates what resources are needed to be able to carry out the activities. Finally, assumptions underpinning the ToC, risks to achieving the outcomes, and data sources for monitoring and evaluation are provided.
Three sub-categories were derived from the workshop data and evidence reviews. These are barriers to elected office for candidates with protected characteristics (PCs), barriers for elected members with PCs, and barriers for prospective candidates with PCs and the public. Each sub-category reflects financial, cultural, political, social and physical barriers. The key barriers for the three groups are summarised below.
For candidates with PCs seeking to become elected members, the costs of campaigning can be significant. For example, disabled candidates may incur extra costs relating to accessibility; people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to have access to funds due to lower average income; and women are more likely to have caring responsibilities, work part-time, and take career breaks to raise children. As campaign costs may not be covered by political parties, candidates are often responsible for paying their own costs which creates a financial barrier to standing for elected office. Moreover, the research found that financial assistance allocated for candidates with certain characteristics may be seen as culturally or socially undesirable and create further disadvantage for people with PCs.
It was also reported that selection processes in local government can be biased towards people without PCs, meaning that candidates with PCs can find it more difficult to get support. For example, assessors may have assumptions about who fits the profile of an ideal candidate, and this bias can disadvantage candidates who do not meet those assumptions. Candidates entering from ‘traditional’ routes into local government were felt to be favoured and people with PCs are more likely to come from other, non-traditional routes. This is a particular barrier experienced by people from ethnic minorities, for whom usual routes into local government, including unions, certain professions and academia, are less accessible.
In addition to these barriers to elected office for candidates with PCs, competition for seats is exacerbated by incumbency (one person holding a seat for a long time). Consequentially, there are fewer opportunities for candidates with PCs to become elected members, which risks slower progress towards diversity in local government.
Elected members with PCs may experience barriers that prevent them working to their full potential, including remaining in office for the entire term. The current remuneration package for councillors in Wales was felt by workshop participants to be inadequate, particularly for members who have additional costs relating to PCs. Evidence from the literature reviews supports this notion. One study found that most councillors in Wales work above the maximum number of hours required of them, with a small proportion working nearly double or more hours (Hibbs, 2022).
Working culture within local governments in Wales can make it difficult for elected members with PCs to carry out their role effectively. Debating styles, working patterns and building designs can exclude members with disabilities, caring responsibilities or other employment. Ways of working can also be disadvantageous. Since the Covid-19 pandemic local authorities have a legislative duty to enable remote working, and this has worked positively for people who can find physical presence in long meetings difficult. However, for others, these changes to working practices may not be extensive enough. For example, some older elected members may be unfamiliar with how to use digital tools that allow remote working which can result in digital exclusion as well as other forms of exclusion rooted in working culture.
This research found that a lack of support once in office is another barrier for elected members with PCs in Wales. The Access to Elected Office Fund (A2EOF) is available for disabled candidates seeking election to help cover additional campaign costs. This support is not extended beyond the campaign stage. Workshop participants identified a need for support like the A2EOF to be extended to assist all people with PCs during all stages of campaigning and elected office.
Attitudes and assumptions about local government can be a deterrent for prospective candidates with PCs and the general public. They can prevent people from engaging with local government or exploring the possibility of standing for elected office. The role of local government and its elected members was felt by workshop participants to be poorly understood on a society-wide level. The prevalence of abuse and harassment of elected members with PCs reported in the media makes the role unappealing to people who share characteristics with those members. The maltreatment of elected members with PCs can cause some prospective members to be fearful of standing for office. For example, fear of violence, abuse and harassment from the public has been found to be a significant barrier for women standing for councillor (Bazeley et al., 2017). Other research indicates that intersectionality (the combination of two or more social and political identities) can compound barriers like these. One study demonstrated that lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to experience workplace bullying than gay men (Hoel et al., 2021), although further research is needed to fully understand the barriers to elected office experienced and perceived by people with intersectional identities.
Lastly, people with PCs were found to have fewer opportunities to gain the skills and experience required to become a local government candidate or elected member. This was attributed to drivers including the lack of political education in the UK and widespread public distrust in government institutions. Limited access to further and higher education also creates a barrier to careers in elected office. Many of the professions that most commonly lead to a career in politics, including law, business and education, require degree-level training that is inaccessible to many people with PCs (Perrin and Gillis, 2019).
There was a general consensus amongst workshop participants that local government is representative of the community that it serves is the most important and comprehensive outcome. Other outcomes that emerged in the data illustrate how people with PCs, elected members, local government and society as a whole will contribute to achieving this overall outcome.
As a result of a representative local government, it was felt by participants that people with PCs will feel confident in local government elected members to represent them and their interests. They will be engaged with and informed about politics and involved in democratic processes. The skills and experiences offered by people with PCs will be respected by the wider community. As a result, people with PCs will be and feel valued for their contributions to politics and society.
Elected members will be available and accessible to the people that they represent through engagement with their local community. They will be informed about how decisions will impact people with PCs and prospective candidates. Trust in elected members to represent their communities will be widespread. Local government, as an institution, will be accessible and inclusive to all and an attractive career for people with PCs. It will support elected members with PCs to fully undertake their duties without experiencing disadvantage. Society will value diversity and, as a result, be cohesive and inclusive. The distribution of resources will be equitable, allowing access to opportunities for people with PCs. There will be zero tolerance for the abuse, harassment and discrimination against people, candidates, and elected members with PCs.
The outputs refer to tangible results that could be used to measure if and how the outcomes have been effectively achieved. The key outputs identified by researchers in the workshop data included: a diverse candidate pool that is representative of the local population; descriptive representation of people with PCs in local government; public services that are accessible to people with PCs; and detailed datasets on councillors and candidates in Wales.
Participants were asked about what actions needed to be taken to achieve the outcomes. Many actions were suggested and comprise a major part of the final logic model. The suggestions fit into four broad areas of activity. Providing support to candidates and elected members includes actions such as addressing bullying, abuse and harassment, implementing support networks and enabling flexible working practises. Improving public awareness of the role of local government and elected members includes sharing accessible information through engagement events and widening access to political education. Improving the evidence base for policymakers through data collection involves collecting data that allows analysts to fully understand the landscape of local government and elected members in Wales and championing the use of high-quality data across local government organisations. Lastly, assessing the role of local government in improving the representation of people with PCs involves increasing opportunities for or people with PCs to stand for election, for example by addressing incumbency and reviewing selection and campaign processes.
Resources needed to enable the activities to be undertaken and thus achieve the outcomes are vast. The people who need to be involved to undertake the activities, as noted by participants, included experts in politics, youth engagement, community engagement, media and communication. Welsh Government officials would be needed support local governments across Wales with diversity initiatives, while local government officials are required for ensuring that democratic principles are upheld throughout selection and election processes.
Input from various organisations will also be required: local authorities for promoting inclusive culture, Welsh Government to drive nationwide change and lead by example, political parties to implement change at the individual support level and local government organisations to support local authorities, candidates and elected members in meeting diversity objectives. Third sector and equalities organisations with specialist knowledge will also be necessary to advocate for people with PCs.
Funding resource will need to be in place to deliver any activities forming part of an intervention to removing barriers to elected office for people with PCs. The main areas for funding provision will be: providing political education across Wales; supporting candidates with PCs with additional campaign costs; delivering programmes and schemes to support prospective candidates and elected members; engagement events with communities; and administering the policy.
The ToC is underpinned by a series of assumptions about how it will work (HM Treasury, 2020). The researchers drew out the assumptions made by participants about the different elements of the ToC from workshop data.
Amongst others, the main assumptions that were identified were that people with PCs want to be more engaged with local government, people and organisations are able and willing to support significant change in this area, people with PCs will want to participate in politics with the right support and information, descriptive representation will lead to substantive representation, and that substantive representation will result in improved wellbeing and greater equality on a societal level.
The research findings identify how the outcomes from the theory of change can be realised. Based on these findings, the researchers make some recommendations for the Local Government Democracy policy team, including:
- continuing stakeholder engagement throughout development of the policy
- revisiting the theory of change at key points throughout the policy development
- referring to the theory of change when specifying evaluation of the policy
- identifying data gaps and data sources that can assist in measuring progress towards the outcomes; collecting new data if required
Report Authors: Hannah Smith and Ieuan Davies
Views expressed in this report are those of the researchers and not necessarily those of the Welsh Government.
For further information please contact:
Social research number: 66/2022
Digital ISBN 978-1-80364-869-9