As a leading charity for homeless and vulnerable people in London, SHP works with some of the most marginalised people in society. Many of our clients struggle to access vital opportunities and resources such as health care, employment, housing, education and training, community and social networks, and the support of family.
There is strong evidence to suggest that those who are excluded for economic and social reasons are also excluded politically. They are less likely to turn out to vote and less likely to be ‘active citizens’.
And yet the decisions that politicians make affect us all – in the case of vulnerable people, perhaps even more so. Over the next five years government policy in areas such as welfare, education, health and social care, and housing may have a substantial impact on our clients’ lives.
It is not necessary to have a stable address in order to vote and this means that people who are street homeless or living in emergency accommodation are also able to register to vote.
To help our clients to get prepared to vote in May, we have partnered with the Electoral Commission and launched a ‘Have Your Say’ campaign, which aims to raise awareness of recent changes to the registration process and promote voter registration amongst staff and clients across the organisation.
As of last summer the process of registering to vote changed and anyone who has moved home since June 2014 will have to individually register themselves on the new system. Research shows that people in rented accommodation are less likely to vote than those who own their own home and the introduction of the new system means that large numbers of home-movers have the potential to drop off the register.
These changes will particularly affect SHP’s clients. We are providing clients with leaflets explaining how to register, and staff have been given guidance on how to support people with the process. We are also using our IT drop-in sessions to help people to register online, and we are planning awareness raising events in several London boroughs.
For example, in Hackney we have partnered with City and Hackney Mind (CHM), which is hosting a weekly registration drop-in session at its premises during March and April, where staff from both organisations will be on hand to help people through the process of registering online.
The participation of all members of society is fundamental to the health of our democracy. Our aim is to empower as many people as possible to get involved and have their say on May 7.