Make sure your vote counts in May

Tuesday, 22 April 2014 - 10:00am

Are residents of social housing and homelessness services really part of democracy?

Photograph: Electoral Commission (Flickr)
Photograph: Electoral Commission (Flickr)

One of the central tenets of democracy is that all people should have a say in everything that affects their lives, regardless of gender, age or social status. This should, in theory, be represented in our political system, but is it? 

In the 2010 general election, just 55% of social housing residents voted. This group, along with individuals living in homeless services, have particularly low levels of engagement with politics and this pattern is likely to be repeated in the next general election.

What’s the problem?   

Low turnout at the ballot box by specific social groups means their views are unlikely to be heard and politicians are unlikely to respond to the issues that most affect them. This undermines the concept of democracy, as those elected into power represent the whole of society but without comprehensively representing its needs.

'Voting encourages politicians to take notice and is the most effective way individuals can have their say on important issues.'

Research shows that young people, black and ethnic minority groups and the working class are especially underrepresented at election time, creating a political system that places those on the margins of society at severe disadvantage. An analysis of the 2010 spending review showed that those who did not vote in the 2010 election on average faced cuts worth 20 per cent of their annual household income, compared to just 12 per cent of those who did vote.     

The level of disengagement amongst those living in social and temporary housing presents a serious challenge; if they don’t vote, politicians have no reason to act in their interests.

What can we do?

The Hansard Society and Homeless Link have launched the Your Vote Matters campaign to raise awareness amongst people living in social housing, hostels or supported accommodation of the importance of exercising their political voice. Our series of tools and resources will help those working in the sector to support clients towards political engagement and having an influence on politicians as they make decisions that will affect their lives.

On 22 May 2014 there will be local government elections and European parliamentary elections across England. You can ensure the voice of your residents is heard and be part of tackling the inequality of the current political system by encouraging them to register to vote.

What’s in it for us?

The Hansard Society’s annual Audit of Political Engagement sheds some light on why this problem exists. In 2013, less than half (45%) of the public agreed that Parliament ‘debates and makes decisions about issues that matter to me’ and one in five (21%) said that politics is ‘a waste of time’

Amongst much of the general public there is clearly a disaffection with the political process, a sense of alienation and a lack of faith that voting can make a difference. In a sense, however, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy that is in our interest to challenge.  

The benefits of voting are wide-reaching, not just for individuals, but also for homelessness services and housing associations.

Voting encourages politicians to take notice and is the most effective way individuals can have their say on important issues. For example, hostel residents could have influence on the way their service is funded.  

Many of the complaints Housing Associations receive from residents are about issues that they are powerless to act on because they can only be addressed by the local council. Encouraging voting can empower residents to take matters into their own hands and make a difference.

Registering to be on the electoral register is, in itself, beneficial even if this does not lead to action at the ballot box. Being on the electoral register is one of the key checks that are made in any application for personal credit – for example, for a credit card or a mobile phone contract. Being registered makes other areas of life easier to manage.

Get involved

Download a resource pack and empower your residents to have their voices heard. 

Electoral registration form

Talk To Us

Michael Raftery

Director of Learning, Hansard Society

Michael was the Hansard Society's Director of Learning until December 2014, leading its work to engage young people in the political process.  He produced many of its political literacy materials and regularly ran workshops for young people and teachers both at home and abroad.

A member of UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project Network, he sits on the British Institue for Human Rights in Schools Advisory Group and is a trustee of the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT).

Twitter: @michaelraftery7