Comment Editor Alice Macfarlane praises a local pub’s drive to get the homeless to vote, highlighting that the housing crisis should be the defining issue of the upcoming election
With the deadline to register to vote recently coming to a close, the electoral register has seen some 3.1 million people signing up to have their say in the upcoming General Election. For most, it requires just five minutes, some simple personal details, and very little thought to gain the right to mark their cross on the ballot paper this December. But what about those who don’t have the basic details needed to register, for whom this process is far less simple than it seems?
The homeless population in the UK is estimated to be around 320,000, a number that has increased by 13,000 over the last year. This translates to 320,000 people living without a fixed address – one of the basic pieces of information needed to register to vote. This is just one of the many barriers that homeless people face when it comes to being involved in politics and social change.
However, unbeknownst to many, there are ways around it. Whilst rough sleepers do not have a fixed address, they are still entitled to register to vote via a ‘Declaration of Local Connection’ form, where you can give details of somewhere you spend a lot of your time. This could range from a night shelter or a day service, to even the closest address to a park bench or bus stop, as long as the owner or management allows it. This is where Digbeth’s oldest pub came in to offer its services.
The Old Crown is Birmingham’s oldest secular building, standing since 1368, and this year, the pub has offered up its address to the homeless, enabling them to register to vote. Customers working in the city centre helped to gather details of the homeless in order to fill in the voting forms, providing them with an essential chance to ballot. Digbeth’s beloved pub is not the only place to open its doors to the rough sleepers of the UK, with the Bristol Beer Factory also offering out its address, as well as charities such as Crisis and Homeless Link encouraging and aiding them to register.
The significance of these organisations providing essential details to those who need them cannot be overstated. In a society where the homeless population is ever-increasing, but only 2% of them are on the election roll, with 48 councils in the UK not having a single rough sleeper signed up, those without a fixed address are being stripped of their fundamental right to democracy. This difficulty to register only contributes further to the widespread dehumanisation of the rough sleeping community that we see in the UK today.
Homelessness continues to be a neglected issue in politics, with a shocking lack of policy surrounding the issue in the upcoming election. Why, in the face of growing precarity and street-side deaths, is the horror of homelessness not the election issue of 2019? This is the first election since the Office for National Statistics has started releasing the number of homeless that die in England and Wales each year, with the total hitting a devastating all time high of 726 in 2018, a 51% hike in just five years.
We are in the midst of a wave of rough sleeper deaths, as the harsh winter temperatures draw in, and yet, politicians are too bogged down with Brexit to care. Those in the most vulnerable part of society, the ones who desperately need representation and social change more than anyone else, are the ones who have the most difficulty accessing their voice. And with Conservative Party plans to make showing ID at the ballot box a necessity, it seems that they are only being met with more obstacles as time goes on.
Steve Lee told the Guardian that Crisis has seen homeless people having ‘an increased appetite to vote’ in this year’s election. By offering up their addresses, places like The Old Crown are facilitating this desire to be involved in politics, giving much-needed access to what is a fundamental human right.
However, with the vast majority of the homeless population still unaware that they are even able to register, the issue remains largely untouched. The bottom line is that the homelessness crisis should be the subject on everybody’s lips during this election, especially the candidates that are coming into power in December. Eurosceptic politicians argue that delivering Brexit will help protect our home country, what about those who have no home in our country?