Vic Rayner, CEO of the National Care Forum (NCF) explains why it is ‘unthinkable’ to exclude half a million people from voting in person.
Elections will be held across England, Scotland and Wales this May with 48m people eligible to vote to elect almost 5,000 positions of power.
As the country gears up to polling day on May 6, there is one cohort of the population whose access to the voting booth is restricted under current government guidance.
Care Home residents, under the latest government guidance, are unable to leave their care home to exercise their inalienable right to vote in person, since if they do head out to the voting booth, they will find themselves facing 14 days of isolation on their return.
In a country that prides itself on being the cornerstone of democracy, to exclude around half a million people from being able to vote the way they want to is unthinkable.
The whole experience of voting for the majority of people living in care homes will have been in person, often for many years at the same polling station, going through the motions in a way that is both familiar and a connection to wider society.
Getting the vote is a rite of passage. Losing the right to vote in person is a national scandal.
As politicians (both local and national) across England, Scotland and Wales take up the campaign trail again this week, there are a group of constituents who will be feeling that their voices and opinions are less valid and less valuable than the rest of the population.
It could be argued that care home residents can register to vote by post, or to have a proxy to vote for them. However, that is, and should be, a choice. It should not be because other opportunities to exercise their democratic right has been removed by the government.
As soon as it became apparent that everyone would not be able to share full access to the voting options, then the elections should have been paused, or we should have found a way where the opportunities for all to vote were equalised.
This could have been achieved by introducing postal voting for all, or if that was not possible, then having a concerted targeted deliberate campaign that ensured that each and every individual effectively barred from voting in person on the day, was made fully aware of the options available to them for post and proxy and enabled to exercise their choices in a meaningful way.
There has not been additional support provided to care homes to make sure that those constituents, many of whom will have very strong political opinions, are enabled to vote.
In fact, it would seem that there has not even been a recognition that the latest guidance on visiting out from care homes takes the decision to vote in person firmly out of the hands of care home residents.
As we move out of lockdown, there will be many concerned about voting in person. The Electoral Commission has been doing everything possible to reassure voters that visiting a polling station will be ‘safe’ and that people should be confident to vote in this way.
If there was ever a model of engagement that could have prepared us for how to behave whilst social distancing, then casting your vote would be it.
Yet even with all these precautions in place, it is not allowed for those from a care home. The restrictions on those in care homes need to be changed.
It cannot and should not be acceptable for the rest of the population to be out enjoying pub lunches, get together in gardens, attending weddings and funerals, shopping, even enjoying a trip around the zoo, when those of all ages who live in care homes cannot even travel five minutes down the road to the local polling station without then spending the next fourteen days isolating in their room.
This is not a situation that any of the candidates for election should stand quietly by and accept.
May 6 needs to become a turning point not just for the electoral chances for thousands of candidates across Britain, but a turning point for each and every care home resident where we enable them all to once again become fully functioning citizens of our society.
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