Politics

Boris Johnson’s plans to introduce voter ID will hit homeless people hard

The Electoral Integrity Bill will mean that voters will have to show their driving licence or passport at the polls. It got a mention in a Queen’s Speech that was light on action on housing and homelessness

Local Elections 2018

The Queen’s Speech may have been light on housing and homelessness announcements – but one of the announcements could still have an enormous impact on homeless people in the UK.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson used the Queen’s Speech to introduce an Electoral Integrity Bill which will require people to provide photographic ID, such as a driving licence or passport, in order to vote.

If the person wishing to vote does not have an approved form of ID, they will reportedly be able to apply for a free electoral identity document from their local council.

But this still represents a hurdle for homeless people to get over – and they will be among the groups hardest hit by a voter ID policy.

Stories like Big Issue vendor Earl John Charlton’s show the difficulty that many sellers face in securing ID. The Newcastle vendor had to rely on articles written about him by The Big Issue to prove his identity when he tried to obtain a provisional driving licence.

He told The Big Issue: “When I was homeless I got turned away from a polling station in London when I went to vote in the EU referendum because I had no address. And then to find out that I wasn’t even classed as part of the population was deflating, especially when you are trying to sort your life out, it’s demoralising as well.”

A 2015 Electoral Commission report found that 3.5 million UK citizens do not have access to photo ID while 11 million do not have a passport or driving licence.
Fears that these people would be excluded from future elections have led to the Electoral Reform Society to brand the plans “dangerous, misguided and undemocratic”.

“When millions of people lack photo ID, these mooted plans risk raising the drawbridge to huge numbers of marginalised voters – including many elderly and BAME voters,” said ERS’ chief executive Darren Hughes.

“The government have sat on their hands in the face of the actual threats to electoral integrity: anonymous ‘dark ads’, dodgy donations and disinformation. Instead of taking on the real issues, they are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“Make no mistake – these plans will leave tens of thousands of legitimate voters voiceless. Ministers should focus on combating the real threats to our democracy, rather than suppressing voters’ rights.”

The government has insisted that the move is to secure elections from electoral fraud with a Cabinet Office spokesperson insisting that it is a “reasonable and proportionate” way of protecting votes.

But Labour’s Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement Cat Smith responded by calling the move “a blatant attempt by the Tories to rig the result of the next general election”.

The proposed legislation was joined in the Queen’s Speech by seven pieces of Brexit legislation and the same number of criminal justice bills designed to beef up sentencing powers against serious or violent criminals.

There were also plans for an NHS investigations body to independently assess serious healthcare incidents as well as an environmental bill to set legally binding targets to save the planet.

Animal welfare, adult social care and divorce law reforms all also got a mention.

But despite the long-standing housing and homelessness crises, there was no word on either.

That was met with frustration from charities and campaigners, who called for a shift in focus for the November Budget to offer vital support for Brits living in poverty.

“It’s frustrating to see the housing emergency missing from the government’s agenda in the face of the current crisis,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter. “With more than 300,000 people homeless and millions fighting for a stable home, this is not something it can ignore.”

Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Claire Ainsley added: “Today’s speech may have been billed as offering an optimistic vision of the future but if you are struggling to get by you will have seen very little action today to loosen the grip of poverty.

“The government must now step up to address people’s everyday concerns and listen to the clear message from people on low incomes whose votes could be decisive at the next election.”

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