Help make sure social housing residents and users of homelessness services have their say in local and national politics.
To coin a well-worn cliché, you’ve got to be in it to win it. This is the message we’ve been spreading to social housing and homelessness services across England through our democratic engagement project.
One of the central tenets of democracy is that the needs and opinions of everyone are considered, regardless of gender, age or social status. However, disengagement among certain social groups means their views may go unheard.
This can happen for a number of reasons, but the evidence suggests disillusionment and a strong feeling of us and them is the primary driver. Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement in 2014 showed that only half of people agreed that Parliament ‘debates and makes decisions about issues that matter to me’, whilst 67% agreed politicians ‘don’t understand the daily lives of people like me’.
In the 2010 general election, only 55% of social housing residents voted. This group, along with individuals living in homelessness services, have consistently low levels of engagement with politics and turnout at the ballot box. Lower levels of engagement means that the voices of this group of people are far less likely to be heard.
Breaking this cycle of disengagement and low-level turnout is challenging, but those of you who work with in social housing and homelessness services have a chance to make a difference.
At a local level, engaging with councillors and MPs can have a profound influence over decisions that will directly affect your service and the people you work with. Housing status should be no barrier to having an influence, as even people without a fixed address can register to vote and enjoy the same democratic rights as everyone else.
Your Vote Matters, a collaboration between Homeless Link and Hansard Society, was funded by the Cabinet Office to increase voter registration and democratic engagement among social housing tenants and users of homelessness services.
We ran a series of workshops with social housing and homelessness professionals to give them the tools they need to deliver sessions for their clients on political engagement and the new Individual Electoral Registration (IER) process.
Feedback highlights the good progress that can be made in these sessions, with almost two thirds of participants saying it gave them a greater understanding of the importance of voting. As one person told us: ‘If I don’t vote how can things change?’
The impact on voting behaviour was positive too, with more than two thirds stating they were more likely to vote in the next general election. One person commented that the workshop had them realise ‘the importance of the homeless not being “invisible” to the system.’
We have been awarded £100,000 by the Cabinet Office to continue the project. This will enable us to work with social housing providers and homelessness agencies across England to empower their residents and ensure their voices are heard.
If you work in social housing or a homelessness service, you have an important opportunity before 20th April to make sure the people you support have a say on issues that affect their everyday lives.
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Head of innovation and good practice
Tasmin leads our innovation and good practice team, managing a range of projects including guidance, the Transatlantic Practice Exchange and the Hostels Action Learning series.