Today is the last day for people to register to vote in order to take part in the coming General Election. Campaigning for the General Election is now in full swing with battle buses, TV debates and politicians hitting the streets.
National disability charity, United Response supports people with learning disabilities, mental health needs and physical disabilities. As a charity, they are committed to creating a society where disabled people are equal participants and have access to the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. In order to achieve this aim, they created the Every Vote Counts campaign which makes it easier for people we support to vote and take part in politics. A vital part of the Every Vote Counts campaign is Political Correspondent, David Allkins.
David is 37 years old, has Asperger’s syndrome and communications difficulties and lives in Newquay. He is passionate about politics and current affairs. David has worked as an UR Consultant, creating accessible documents from United Response’s Truro office since September 2013. David is part of the team that helps create award-winning accessible Easy News magazine. David has also been employed as Political Correspondent for the Every Vote Counts campaign since January. In his role as Political Correspondent, David has created a series of seven video reports, so far featuring politicians, Returning Officers, people with learning disabilities and the general public to help engage more people in politics. David’s reports can be viewed on
his dedicated You Tube channel.
When asked why being a part of the democratic process is so important to him and the 1.5 million people with a learning disability who are legally entitled to vote, David responded, saying:
“Politics affects us all, especially people with learning disabilities which is why it is important that everyone registers to vote. We all at some point depend on the state, be it benefits, tax relief, health or social care. Changes in budgets to the Health service or social care affect us all.
If you have a learning or physical disability, then you are even more affected by changes in the state or the Government. If you need to rely on the state, then you should have a say in who runs it. A survey of people supported by United Response found that only 33 % of people with learning disabilities voted in the last General Election and the Every Vote Counts campaigns aims to improve this.
As politicians deliver their campaign messages ahead of the 7th May, they need to ensure that they engage with the 1.5 million people with learning disabilities in the UK. If you are perceived as being part of a group with concerns, then politicians will want to get your vote by dealing with these concerns. I realise that it is reductive thinking just to lump all learning disabilities together, but there is an advantage to being in part of a group. The parties will want your vote and target you accordingly.
A group of 1.5 million may be small by political standards, but it is still a group. At the moment, pundits are not talking about party majorities, they are talking about minority or coalition governments. The margins for gaining seats are getting tighter. The opportunity is now, to make sure that people with learning disabilities are seen a group to be considered and not just a statistic.
It can be very easy to see politics as something that happens involving a small group of people in London and nowhere else. In the media, coverage of local politics can be easy to miss. If you know how to monitor local newspaper and radio media you can pick up the details, but if you don’t know, then you can easily miss it.
This becomes even harder for people with learning disabilities.
It is very easy to assume that everybody knows how politics works and what a particular political party stands for, but if you have a learning disability you can miss this. People with learning disabilities want to make their own decisions about who to vote for, in order to do so they need information provided in an accessible format, with jargon removed.
A good starting point is making their manifestos available in an easy read format. A number of major political parties have committed to creating easy read manifestos, some of which have been issued. The UR Consultants team are currently translating the manifestos into an accessible special edition of Easy News, which will round up the main five political parties and as well as Plaid Cymru and SNP.
A key aspect of opening up the voting process for people with a learning disability should be making venues and polling information more accessible. All staff at the polling stations need to know that people with learning disabilities are legally entitled to vote, as well as be allowed to have somebody to help them in the booth, as long as they do not influence the person’s vote. The right for everybody to have a vote was fought for and is enshrined in law.
As a political correspondent, I am currently working with the United Response campaign and media team to secure interviews or at least get video clips from all the leaders of the main political parties to support the Every Vote Counts campaign, which is proving to be frustrating.
I hope that my role and the campaign will help people with learning disabilities see politics as something that affects them. If this happens, more people with learning disabilities will use their legal right to vote. If we succeed in encouraging more people to vote in the coming election, the Every Vote Counts campaign will be have been a success.
By increasing the number of people with disabilities engaging with the politics, we may even spark the interest of a person with a learning disability to try and become a successful MP.”
David Allkins is working in Westminster this morning, be sure to look out for his next report on his Every Vote Counts Political Correspondent YouTube Channel.