People with learning disabilities are being denied the right to vote, their voices must be heard
People with learning disabilities should have the same opportunities to exercise their voting rights as everyone else, says Amy Gordon, Involvement Coordinator at Hft.
People with learning disabilities have the same right to vote as everyone else. More than one million people in the United Kingdom have a learning disability – that is a million voices that deserve to be heard. And yet, people with learning disabilities are being denied their right to vote.
Research by Mencap into the 2014 local elections showed that 70 per cent of people with a learning disability wanted to vote, but 64 per cent didn’t and one in five were actually turned away from polling stations. Barriers to voting included inaccessible information, a lack of support when going to vote, and also a lack of awareness amongst the general public about the rights that people with learning disabilities have when it comes to exercising their right to vote.
This is particularly worrying when you look at the number of policy areas that have a huge impact on their lives. As a care provider, social care policy is a major area of concern for Hft and the people we support. We know there is a lack of funding in the social care sector, and yet none of the party manifestos offer any tangible solutions to the problem. We also don’t believe MPs really understand the scale of the sector, with our own research finding that more than half of all MPs thought learning disabilities was less than 15% of total social expenditure in England (it is actually around a third – or 33%!)
We also know that people with learning disabilities suffer from greater health inequalities, compared to the general population. The disability employment gap still remains high, with only 7% of people with learning disability in work. Public transport still remains inaccessible to many people with learning disabilities.
But let’s not define people just by their learning disability. As well as the obvious topics, people have their own hopes and fears about the future – things that have nothing to do with their disability, but are about the world they would like to live in. This is one of the reasons why Hft began our Walk In Our Shoes campaign which aims to give people with a learning disability a platform to be heard by politicians. As part of the campaign, people we support have been inviting MPs to visit them and the Hft services where they receive support to hear about the issues that are important to them. We’ve also been promoting the UK Parliament Empower! workshops which aim to empower and enable people with a learning disability to make civic engagement choices.
This election, Paul, who we support in Leeds and has a keen interest in politics, has made an accessible video guide outlining the key areas in the manifestos of the major national parties that are standing in seats across the UK. We’ve also made supporting accessible documents in easy read and continue to promote Dimensions Voting Passport, a useful tool that enables people to understand their rights around voting and ask for the support they need at a polling station.
We’re also busy supporting people to understand their voting rights and the election through our national speak out group for the people we support, Voices to be Heard, attended by over 100 people.
By providing these resources, we hope that we will empower other people with learning disabilities to turn out and vote, and make sure their voices are heard too.
Hft does this because we believe that people with learning disabilities should have the same opportunities to exercise their voting rights as everyone else. On December 12th, we will be supporting our families, staff and the people we support to enable this to happen.
You can find out useful resources here.