Many thousands of disabled people are likely to lose their right to vote because of the government’s decision to require voters in England to show photographic identification at polling stations, MPs have been told.
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy for Disability Rights UK, told a cross-party committee this week (pictured) that she had seen little evidence of information campaigns targeted at disabled people who will face particular barriers in ensuring they have photo identification in time for next month’s local elections.
Those without accepted identification, such as a passport, driving licence or disabled person’s bus pass, and who want to vote in person at a polling station, will have to apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate.
But Hadi told the levelling up, housing and communities committee that those without valid photographic identification may be quite isolated and so would “struggle with that process”.
She said she had recently applied for a new passport and had been forced to pay £12 for the photograph to be taken in a shop because the automatic photo booth was so inaccessible to her as a blind person, a financial option that is not likely to be available to someone on a low income.
She said she found it “completely bemusing” that the authorities believed that someone who did not have other forms of photo identification would find it any easier to obtain a Voter Authority Certificate.
She said: “I would be very interested to know how many people actually do get those.
“I think it will disenfranchise many, many thousands of disabled people and that’s very, very sad.”
Hadi had earlier told the committee that many disabled people had “real problems” registering as a voter because of the “one size fits all” process that “lots of us find very, very difficult”.
She said there appeared to be no funding to contact disabled people who may not have registered to vote, such as people with learning difficulties, those with dementia, or people living in residential homes.
And she said communication about registering to vote was not in an accessible format.
She said: “For all my life I’ve received paper-based information from electoral registration, which is completely inaccessible to me.
“Processes, whether it is online processes, paper-based processes, going to my polling station, the accessibility of all these spheres is not good enough.
“It can’t be relied on by voters, disabled voters.”
She said that these and other barriers meant that millions of disabled people probably will not vote in May.
She added: “There is no reason why local authorities and those implementing election procedures and processes shouldn’t be talking much more to their disabled citizens and building the Equality Act into their planning.”
Fiona Weir, chief executive of Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, told the committee that nearly one in five eligible voters were missing from the electoral register.
She said: “It fundamentally undermines the foundations of democracy.
“We have a Victorian system that is creaking and leaking.”
She called for a system that automatically registers adults to vote.
Sila Ugurlu, a trustee of the British Youth Council, told the committee that young people were not being encouraged to vote and that there were “overlapping, systematic barriers that discourage young people from voting”.
She told the committee: “They have historically not been encouraged to vote, they have been completely disenfranchised… these young people need to be engaged from the very beginning.”
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