Exactly one year from today, the country will go to the polls to record its verdict on the coalition’s performance and decide on the UK’s next government. While this may seem a long way off to most people every single day will be needed by charities, advocacy groups and pro-democratic organisations if they are to reach the more disenfranchised groups, such as disabled people, recent immigrants or people with low literacy. At a time when overall turnout is dropping, this work is particularly important.
That’s why United Response is launching its new election planner. This is a guide of 10 simple chronological steps designed to help anyone who works to encourage “hard to reach” groups to vote. It is based on our own experience of running voting awareness campaigns, including our successful Every Vote Counts guides. These guides helped double the number of people with learning disabilities voting in the 2010 election – though there is still a long way to go before they vote in equal numbers to non-disabled citizens.
The reasons low numbers of people with learning disabilities vote include the mistaken belief that they are not legally entitled to vote, as well as the complexity of the voting system. Voters from different ethnic backgrounds may feel that they are not represented by any of the main political parties. While the election planner was designed with people with learning disabilities in mind, its principles and ideas can be applied to work with other groups. For example, one of the planner’s 10 key stages is “do the groundwork”, which means ensuring that people are legally entitled to vote and are registered.
Another of the 10 key stages is to “engage with the candidates”. Parliamentary candidates, particularly those in marginal seats, are often keen to engage with different constituencies. At the last election, some of our local groups organised hustings where candidates addressed voters with learning disabilities directly. These proved very powerful in both engaging with new voters and educating the candidates.
Of course, all of these things take time to organise, and many charities and advocacy groups are overstretched. That’s why we want to fire the starting pistol today, and begin the race for the next election. Take a look at our planner and sign up to receive updates in the next year. We’ll be sharing best practice on behalf of other organisations. Only if the next year is used wisely will marginalised groups get their chance to participate and make the next election the most inclusive one in our history.
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