Voter ID checks will 'disproportionately' hit minorities, says equalities watchdog
Plans to try out voter ID checks in some council areas at next month’s local elections will unfairly impact on minority groups, the Government’s equality watchdog has said.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said the programme risks “disenfranchising” elderly, transgender, disabled and ethnic minority voters with “restrictive” ID requirements.
The trial comes in an attempt to clamp down on voter fraud, and could be rolled out nationwide if successful. However, the EHRC says evidence of such illegality is minimal.
In a letter intended for Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, and leaked to the Observer, the body’s legal officer, Claire Collier, said they were “concerned” at the move.
“The Commission is concerned that the requirement to produce identification at the given local elections (Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking) will have a disproportionate impact on voters with protected characteristics, particularly older people, transgender people, people with disabilities and/or those from ethnic minority communities,” she wrote.
“In essence, there is a concern that some voters will be disenfranchised as a result of restrictive identification requirements.”
The row is likely to pile further pressure on the Government amid the Windrush scandal, in which some migrants who came to Britain from the Caribbean before 1971 have been threatened with deportation by the Home Office and lost access to public services.
Jeremy Corbyn, who will today take aim at the Government's handling of the row when he addresses the Welsh Labour conference, said the EHRC’s concerns on voter ID were comparable.
“Forcing voters at election time to prove their identity at polling stations by producing official documents would have a disproportionate impact on people from black and ethnic minority communities,” he said.
“It is the same hostile environment all over again, shutting our fellow citizens out of public life, treating communities who made Britain their home as second-class citizens. It’s disgraceful and it must be brought to an end.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We already ask that people prove who they are in order to collect a parcel from the post office, rent a car, or travel abroad.
“We believe it is right to take the same approach to protect voting rights. Local authorities are implementing equality impact assessments and are working with partners to ensure that voter ID does not risk preventing any eligible voter from voting.
“It is in nobody’s interest that any elector is disenfranchised.”