Voter ID: UK government knows disabled, LGBTQ+ and poor people could be disenfranchised - but is going ahead anyway

Vulnerable groups including those with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, and the unemployed are less likely to have photo ID - but from next May you’ll need it to vote in UK elections.

Disabled, LGBTQ+, and unemployed people could all be disproportionately disenfranchised by the introduction of voter ID at UK elections, as could those living in certain regions – but the government is determined to push ahead anyway.

Last month NationalWorld revealed how disability charities were deeply concerned that sick and disabled people could be locked out of the democratic process when photo ID is made mandatory for voters, beginning with England’s local elections in May, as they are much less likely to own any of the types of ID that will be accepted, according to research.

The new rules mean voters in England, Wales and Scotland will have to present one out of nine types of approved photographic ID to polling station staff, such as a passport or driving licence, or a new voter authority certificate (VAC) which can be issued by local authorities.

But disabled people are not the only community that stands to be negatively impacted by the new rules. The same research – which was commissioned by the government itself, and published just before it introduced the legislation that would mandate ID – shows there are other groups with significantly lower levels of ID ownership.

Among unemployed people, 8% of those surveyed said they did not own any of the approved forms of ID compared to just 1% of full-time employees. This trend also mapped onto qualifications – while 100% of those with a university degree or higher had ID, 6% of people with no qualifications did not have any. Counting just ID from which the holder says they can be recognised from the photo, 11% of unemployed people had none compared to 2% of full-time employees.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a charity that focuses on poverty, has warned there is a “very real risk” that around 1.7 million low-income voters could be disenfranchised by the introduction of strict photo ID requirements. Their concerns are shared by the Electoral Reform Society campaign group, who say the cost attached to many of the types of ID that will be accepted, such as passport application fees, are exclusionary to poorer voters.

Lesbian and gay people were also twice as likely than straight people to say they did not have ID they could be recognised from (6% versus 3%). While voters will be able to present expired ID, they must bear a likeness to the picture, which will be left to individual polling station clerks to judge.

This has also prompted concerns for the transgender community. A poll by the charities Stonewall and the LGBT Foundation found almost a quarter (24%) of trans people do not have usable ID. Many trans people described problems getting their ID accepted because they no longer looked like the person pictured following transition, while some, such as those living in small or rural communities, said they would be afraid to show photo ID containing their birth sex at a polling station in case it outed them as trans.


The introduction of voter ID is designed to prevent voter personation, the crime of impersonating someone else when voting. But the Electoral Reform Society says the crime is “vanishingly rare” – there were only three convictions and six cautions between 2015 and 2020, according to the Electoral Commission – and that photo ID is a “solution looking for a problem”.

Regionally, people in the West Midlands were most likely to not have recognisable ID (6%) while those in Wales and the North East were least likely (2%). The extra four percentage points in the West Midlands could represent up to an additional 220,000 voters without ID.


People without ID will be able to apply for a VAC free of charge. But the government-commissioned research found 42% of people without ID said they would be unlikely (10%) or very unlikely (32%) to do so. That rose to 46% of people without recognisable ID. NationalWorld asked the government which groups were most likely to say this, but have not yet received any data.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation however found 41% of low-income voters without photo ID would be unlikely to apply for a VAC. It warned the inconvenience of applying for one could put people off, especially if they are already apathetic or feel disconnected with and excluded from politics.

Pilot schemes run in a handful of areas during elections in 2018 and 2019 went well, according to the government and Electoral Commission – but no data was collected on the impact on people with protected characteristics, such as disability or sexuality, and whether they were more likely to not vote due to having no ID.


The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England, has called for the government to delay bringing in photo ID, warning there is insufficient time to get everything ready before May. It follows a delay in bringing secondary legislation forward setting out how the new free ID system would work – legislation that was only passed on 12 December, with less than five months to go before polling day.

The government has so far refused to delay things, telling NationalWorld that there is no room for complacency when it comes to ensuring our democracy remains secure. The Electoral Commission launched a major public awareness campaign this month, to educate voters about the need for ID, and how to apply for a free VAC.

But a recent poll commissioned by the Byline Times news outlet found only 40% of voters knew they would be unable to vote without ID. “I think there’s a big risk that people will turn up without ID, either because they’ve forgotten their ID, don’t have the right ID on them or simply didn’t know about the new rules,” said Jess Garland, director of policy and research at the Electoral Reform Society.

“And of course that is devastating if we see people who should be voting who are then not able to vote, but it also puts a lot of pressure on the people working in the polling station who are then going to have to explain to people that they’re not allowed to vote because they haven’t got the right form of ID, and then we are really concerned that the impact of that is then people start to lose faith in the actual outcome of the election itself.”

The Electoral Commission told NationalWorld that it is spreading the word to voters through advertising, partnership work, press activity and digital engagement, including social media, and is also supporting local councils’ communications teams to do the same.

Groups likely to face significant barriers to voting because of photo ID – including older people, trans and non-binary people, homeless people, disabled people, and certain ethnicities including gypsies and travellers – will be targeted by tailored communications, and the Electoral Commission is working with civil society groups to develop these, it said.

The campaign will initially aim for mass awareness raising, but will focus on just areas having elections in May, closer to the time.