We’re all used to political parties using the electoral register to get in touch before an election and the overload of leaflets it brings.
But London Mayor Liberal Democrat Siobhan Benita has decided to harness the system for good during Covid-19 crisis times.
The former civil servant has been running Calling with Kindness throughout the lockdown, using the electoral register to identify people who may be battling loneliness while living on their own or feeling isolated if they’re aged over 70 and ask them if they need help.
She’s mobilised members to hit the phones offering a chance to chat or to connect people with local authorities, services or the many mutual aid groups that have risen up in recent weeks
With the mayoral election pushed back a year, Benita told The Big Issue that current challenge facing us all has urged her to double down on her campaigning focus of kindness.
She said: “It struck me that we have this unique resource with 25,000 members across London with many of them active and do things in the community.
“At the same time we have the system set up to phone calling around elections with data there that we can use.
— Siobhan Benita (@SiobhanBenita) April 1, 2020
“One of the themes of my campaign was ‘a kinder London’ and one of the silver linings of this pandemic is that we are seeing that come to the fore with a lot of community work and people coming together. I’m hoping that’s something we can appreciate now and not lose after this crisis.
“It’s just a nice way of refocusing our members’ efforts and using that system in a positive way. The biggest thing for us has been people welcoming a call because they’re lonely. And being reassured that they are not their own.”
Benita is also big backer of putting wellbeing at the forefront of the nation’s thoughts. She campaigned for more “emphasis and value” on happiness, wellbeing and mental health before the virus postponed the race for the City Hall job.
The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.
The Big Issue has been similarly effusive in its calls for greater wellbeing – and it’s an idea that is at the crux of Lord John Bird’s Future Generations Bill.
Benita insists that “we must remember how we feel now so we don’t fall back into old habits”.
It’s a similar story for rough sleeping – the Covid-19 lockdown has seen street homeless people ushered indoors into hotels and other temporary accommodation for their protection.
We have to start looking at our policy-making and funding streams properly in terms of prevention
Benita insists that a Housing First model must follow the easing of lockdown measures to stop people being sent right back to the streets.
She added: “After all of this – and we should push for this to be part of our exit strategy – we cannot be thinking about putting homeless people back on to the street or in inadequate hostels.
“That would be crazy now we have got to this situation. I’ll be calling for a permanent long-term solution to this and looking to a Housing First approach.
”You can tackle these issue with knee-jerk solutions today but actually if you’re not looking at the underlying root causes then you’re never going to tackle these problems. We have to start looking at our policy-making and funding streams properly in terms of prevention.”