votingA Parliamentary select committee has called for the government to do more to tackle the barriers that many people with a learning disability face with registering to vote and voting.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee into voter engagement made the call as it published the findings from its Inquiry into Voter Engagement in the UK. The inquiry was tasked with looking at why voter registration and turn out had declined over in recent decades. 

Its report highlighted: “It is clear there is a particular problem with the accessibility of registration and voting for a large number of people with specific needs resulting from a disability. It is unacceptable that people face barriers registering to vote or participating at elections because of a disability.”

The committee said the Government should consult with the Electoral Commission, Electoral Registration Officers and disability groups within the next 3 months, and publish proposals setting out how registration and voting will be made more accessible to people with disabilities. In addition, it was recommended that political parties work with disability groups to make manifestos and other election material accessible in formats which people with disabilities find easier to use.

It also said that everyone eligible to vote should be automatically registered.

Mencap gave evidence at the committee inquiry highlighting that participation among people with a learning disability is extremely low and many faced barriers to exercising their democratic right when they tried to vote in this year’s local elections. For instance, 17% of the people polled said they had been turned away from a polling station because they had a learning disability and 60% said they found the process of registering to vote too difficult. 

Despite this, a recent Mencap survey showed that 55% of people with a learning disability wish to vote, which is proportionally higher than the general population.

The chair of the committee, Graham Allen MP, said: “It is a basic democratic principle that all citizens are able to participate on an equal basis, and people must not be disenfranchised as a result of having a learning disability.”

Ismail Kaji, Mencap parliamentary affairs assistant and learning disability spokesperson, who gave evidence at the parliamentary inquiry, welcomed the committee’s report.

“I believe that the voting system should be more accessible for people with a learning disability so everyone has the opportunity to vote and be heard by their local MP,” he said. “I believe that it is important that the parties produce more information in easy read so that people can understand who they are voting for so they can make a real choice. We want this general election to be the most accessible so more people with a learning disability vote and have their say.”

Improving participation

Anastasia Jenkins, Public Affairs Manager at Dimensions, also welcomed the report: “Currently, people with a learning disability are less likely to participate in the democratic process than other social groups,” she said. “Many of the report’s recommendations made will go a long way to improving this.

“Through our Love Your Vote campaign we have found that support workers often need to be educated and informed about politics too. We have used the workshops organised as part of our campaign to explain to support workers how they can play a crucial part in the voting and engagement process. They play an essential part of encouraging people with learning disabilities to make the choice to vote or not and so need to be fully aware of the political system.

“We would like to see more focus on ‘hard to reach’ groups in this report, with practical suggestions for support workers, families, politicians and those involved in the democratic process that go further than making information accessible and clarifying the existing laws. 

“In the last few months, as part of our campaign ‘Ask Your Question,’ sessions have been held across the country. This is where MPs have met people Dimensions supports, so they can directly ask about issues that affect them. Face to face communication with politicians in a suitable environment is one of the key recommendations we will be making in our formal response to this report.”