Although homeless Britons are eligible to vote, figures suggest less than 1 per cent are registered to do so. Speaking to homeless people in my university town helped me understand whyby James Walker / June 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
The average homeless person supports the Green Party, is anti-immigration and thinks that Theresa May is Margaret Thatcher 2.0. At least, that’s what my study interviewing 26 homeless people in my university town would suggest.
Of course, this doesn’t reflect the breadth of political opinion within the homeless community. Then again, neither does British democracy. In the UK, the homeless don’t vote, despite technically having the right to do so through a declaration of local connection. Only 0.9 per cent—2963 people—of the over 320,000 homeless people Shelter estimates are in the UK were registered to vote at the last general election in 2017. This is dramatically low and prompts the question: why?
The homeless have many unique and well-documented challenges, ranging from mental health and drug abuse to quite simply being more concerned with finding something to eat or, in the case of rough sleepers, a warm bed.
You might think that this is at the root of their lack of voting and political activity. Talking with homeless people, however, suggests a far simpler answer: they don’t know they can vote, nor how to do so.
Lachlan is a talkative 62-year old Scottish man who has been homeless for over 40 years. With no encouragement whatsoever, he expresses informed opinions on Brexit, knife crime in London and allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour party. Having said this, despite having moved around the UK—“Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, London and Canterbury,” to name a few—he is unaware of his right to vote. He knows nothing of the registration process and has never been talked to or informed about his rights.
Lachlan’s story isn’t unique. Of the 26 homeless people that I talked to, only half of them knew they could vote (13/26) and only one knew about the extra processes needed in order to register, the declaration of local connection. On top of this, only one participant was ever talked to or encouraged to vote by homeless service providers or government initiatives.
Lachlan isn’t the only one to have informed opinions or shown political interest. I discussed universal credit with a man who protested the Falklands war in 1982, and Brexit with a former member of the Youth Parliament Board. Unsurprisingly, most of the opinions were one of disdain for government or…