Disabled People Not Supported in Electoral Reforms, New Report Finds

Thu,21 March 2024
Announcement Equality & Rights Participation
A new report highlights the current state of the electoral registration system for local government elections in England and UK General Elections, asking that an urgent review takes place.

The report from the Levelling up, Housing and Communities Select Committee found issues with the implementation of recent electoral registration reforms, including voter ID -  introduced in May 2023, that requires photo identification in order to vote. 

Chairman of the committee Clive Betts said the new requirements had been “tacked onto a Victorian era system” that was “creaking” and letting down voters, adding that a “failing” electoral registration system risks disenfranchising up to eight million voters at the next election and presents a threat to the rights of the British electorate. 

The committee found that the current electoral registration system is inefficient and ineffective, and that the requirement to show voter photo ID at the ballot box makes matters worse. They suggested that the list of accepted photo identification should be widened to include other forms, including emergency service passes and non-London travel passes, to enable people to vote when a General Election is called later this year. 

Mr Betts further added that “We need a major review of our election arrangements to boost voter registration and to ensure our elections are seen as credible and legitimate. It is a major and fundamental defect in our democratic system that many millions of UK citizens face being unable to make their voice heard at election time.”  

The committee is concerned to ensure that any new electoral change is fully implemented by the next election. They added that any delay would increase the risk of something major going wrong at a national election, including large numbers of people being turned away or voters not being put on the registers in time to vote, which would have a negative impact on the current high level of confidence in the electoral system. 

During the course of their Inquiry, they were told that many Disabled people do not feel supported to register to vote, and that they particularly struggle with the lack of variety in communication channels. 

Last year another report from MPs and peers on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and the Constitution, highlighted a surge in racial and disability discrimination at local elections in England. That report also called for changes including the acceptance of a greater range of ID documents.  

The APPG highlighted the story of Andrea Barrett, who is immunocompromised and was blocked from entering a polling station after refusing to remove her mask for an identification check, saying at the time that “their decision in that instance was … clearly discriminatory (and potentially unlawful) because they denied Andrea Barrett the right to cast a ballot purely on the basis of circumstances which arose as a direct result of a disability.” 

That report was co-authored by Sir Robert Buckland, who was the justice secretary in 2021 when the Bill to introduce the rules on voter ID was first launched in parliament. 

Responding to this latest report, the Government said it did not agree to extending the list of acceptable photo ID, even though research shows that, at last year’s local elections in May, some 740,000 people – about 4% of voters – were turned away because they did not have adequate ID. 

Dan White, Policy and Campaigns Officer at DR UK said: “The Government say they are committed to ensuring everyone has the opportunity to have a say in our democracy, and yet the facts tell us otherwise.” 

“We know that more disadvantaged groups are less likely to have photo ID. The  Government’s own research found that those with severe disabilities, the unemployed, people without qualifications, and those who had never voted before were all less likely to hold any form of photo ID, so an implementation of the Committee’s findings is vital.” 

“Disabled people are already being pushed further onto the fringes of society, with our rights, benefits and access to care and support being shrunk. Placing barriers in the way of our right to vote, restricts and prevents our democratic participation. This perpetuates discrimination and bias, of which the United Nations is now very aware.” 

Read more about voters rights and the need for an election fund to support reasonable adjustments for Disabled candidates at local and national elections in our Disabled people’s manifesto.