Despite the low voter turnout, you can’t have failed to notice that May heralded the 2014 local and European elections.
These elections were important for many reasons. These include the fact that both local councils and the European Parliament can help to tackle the problems of homelessness and poverty. But politicians need to know the voting public care about preventing homelessness and about the lives of those who are affected.
Focus Ireland, a charity working to end homelessness, launched a campaign calling on all candidates to pledge not to cut homeless budgets. This campaign came in light of a growing crisis of homelessness in Ireland, as well as an “unprecedented increase in the number of families experiencing homelessness”, who end up living in hotels and B&Bs which are too cramped for families, for overly long periods of time.
The pledge candidates were asked to make was this: “I pledge to vote against any reduction in homeless services or budget until there is a demonstrable reduction in the number of people who are homeless”
The Midlands based homelessness charity, Simon Community, also campaigned for a similar pledge: “If elected, I will commit to making the state funding of homeless services a priority issue for the Local Authority. I will advocate to ensure the state funding of homeless services is maintained in the Midlands region.”
These initiatives matter a great deal because they will both inform voters about the severity of the homelessness and housing crises, as well as demonstrating to politicians these issues need to be addressed. I would love to see initiatives like these launched by charities across the country.
But campaigning isn’t all that can be done. As I already mentioned, voter turnout was low, a mere 36% for the local elections. According to Homeless Link, young people, black and ethnic minority groups and the working class are especially underrepresented at elections. In the 2010 general election, only 55% of social housing residents voted. Low level engagement with politics adversely affects individuals in social housing and homeless services. This is because if they don’t vote, politicians have no reason to act in their interest.
To address this problem, Homeless Link have launched the ‘Your Vote Matters’ campaign, to raise awareness amongst social housing residents and homeless individuals in temporary accommodation of the importance of exercising their political voice and using Individual Electoral Registration.
During June 2014, the government will change the voter registration process to a new system called ‘Individual Electoral Registration’, in which everyone is responsible for registering themselves, no-one can register for someone else. This could make underrepresentation even worse.
By the way, did you know that you can still vote if you don’t have an address? As long as you’re over 18 and a UK citizen, you have a right to vote. Instead of registering at a permanent address, you can register at a temporary address or by making a declaration of local connection. This is a statement you make to the local electoral office to say where you spend the majority of your time.
Next year, the general election will decide which party is running the country. This gives all who fight against homelessness, both charities and their supporters, the opportunity to campaign for the rights of our service users, as well as policies that improve rather than harm homeless benefits. With enough support the government will get the message.