Homeless not voteless

Tuesday, 25 April 2017 - 11:11am

With low levels of voter registration among people who are homeless, and a deadline of 22nd May to register for the General Election; can homelessness services increase democratic engagement in time to make a difference? 

Your vote matters graphic

Here are six key lessons from our Your Vote Matters project:

1. You don’t need an address to register

People who are sleeping rough, or otherwise without an address, can complete a form called ‘Register to vote: No fixed or permanent address’. Find them here for each country.

2. People worry about how their information will be used

There’s a common perception that registering to vote means personal information will be shared and lead to problems, like being chased for old debts. Our factsheet explains how data is used, and how to stay off the open/edited register. People with safety concerns can apply to be registered anonymously (evidence is needed).

3. It’s a good idea to invite politicians to homelessness services

We were impressed by how many candidates visited homelessness services during Your Vote Matters in 2015, even when there was a short lead-in time. Feedback from these visits was excellent, with conversations or Q&A increasing engagement and understanding on both sides.

“I usually feel totally ignored, so talking to the politicians made me feel like I am someone, like I am recognised. I felt like I was talking to someone who might be in government, to someone who could actually help me.”

Resident participating in Your Vote Matters 2015 activities

4. Share information about policy platforms

People often ask for unbiased resources to help them compare party policies. Look out for tools and summaries once the manifestos are published. You never know how people will vote – keep activities party-neutral.

“Even though there is a disparity of opinion over whether it is worth voting, every individual has an issue they are passionate about or affected by. Many of our service users had not connected these issues to democratic processes. When our service users felt empowered by knowledge and felt they were able to connect the dots of what was important to them and what candidates were promising they felt they could be more engaged in voting.”

Homelessness service delivering Your Vote Matters 2015 activities

5. Offer 1-1 support, involve peers, and make links to wider client involvement work

Registering to vote online is quick, but having people on-hand to explain things like the open register will make it easier for someone to complete the process with confidence. Involve peer mentors or resident representatives, and make links between democratic engagement activities and opportunities for decision-making in your service.

6. Be prepared with positive messages

You will encounter resistance and ambivalence about political engagement. Speak to people in your service who are already registered to vote and find out why it matters to them, and use our Dealing with Disengagement factsheet to prepare your key messages. We found that “being registered to vote improves your credit rating” was the most effective message for action, especially when coupled with immediate access to online registration. Even if people choose not to register this time, they will be better informed ahead of future elections.

“The Your Vote Matters project made us look more into politics and share this with our clients. It helps them to take their mind off their current circumstances and remember that they are more than just the label of 'homeless', 'addict', 'offender' or 'mental health patient.' Reminding individuals of this bigger picture and how they fit in to it helps to give hope and aspiration in a unique way.”

Homelessness service delivering Your Vote Matters 2015 activities

As well as the Your Vote Matters resource pack, the Cabinet Office funded a range of accessible materials for under-represented groups, collected here: www.gov.uk/government/collections/democratic-engagement-resources 

Your Vote Matters resource pack