Voter ID UK: new photo identification rules for elections ‘likely to disenfranchise disabled people’

Voter photo ID: disabled people are less likely to have a form of photographic identification. (Image: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)Voter photo ID: disabled people are less likely to have a form of photographic identification. (Image: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)
Voter photo ID: disabled people are less likely to have a form of photographic identification. (Image: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg) | NationalWorld/Kim Mogg
Disabled people and people in poor health are less likely to own photo ID - and could be locked out of voting under new election rules.

Sick and disabled voters are “likely” to be disproportionately disenfranchised when photo ID is made mandatory in British elections next year, with figures showing they are up to six times more likely not to own any.

Government-commissioned research published last year shows disabled people and people in poor or very poor health are much less likely to have a form of functional photo ID that will be accepted at polling booths when the requirements of the 2022 Elections Act come into force, beginning with next May’s local elections in England.

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Disability charity Sense says it is concerned the move is “likely to have a disproportionately negative impact on disabled people”, who already face barriers to voting. Disability Rights UK has also called for an accessible information campaign targeting disabled people, so they can continue to participate in the democratic process.

Under the new rules voters across England, Scotland and Wales will need to present photo ID from a list of approved forms, including but not limited to passports, driving licences or 60+ oyster cards. Expired ID will be accepted, although councils are warning photos must still be a true likeness to the individual. Photo ID is already a requirement in Northern Ireland.

But a major survey commissioned by the Cabinet Office in 2021 found more than 900,000 voters (2%) do not have a form of photo ID, while almost 2 million (4%) do not have ID in which they are still recognisable – with sick and disabled people particularly badly affected.

Among the 18+ disabled population surveyed, 3% said they did not already have a form of photo ID, one percentage point higher than for non-disabled people (2%). For people who said they had a severely limiting disability, it was 5%.

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The latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) put the population of disabled people aged 20 plus in the UK at 12.9 million. This suggests a difference of one percentage point is likely to represent in the region of at least 100,000 extra disabled voters across Great Britain.The research said the difference was “statistically significant”.

There was an even greater disparity when it comes to ID in which the photo was still recognisable. Among non-disabled people, 3% said they did not have any ID from which they could definitely or maybe still be recognised, compared to 6% of disabled and 7% of severely disabled people.

For people who said they were in poor or very poor health, 6% had no photo ID at all, six times higher than for people in good or very good health (1%), while 10% did not have recognisable photo ID, compared to 3% for people in good or very good health.

Only three voter fraud convictions

Previous research published by the government’s Equalities Office has found election turnout is already lower among disabled people compared to non-disabled people. Electoral Commission data meanwhile shows there were only three convictions for voter fraud between 2015 and 2020, and six cautions. The highest number of accusations of fraud was in 2016, when there were 44 cases.

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Prospective voters who do not have a valid form of ID will be able to apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate (VAC)  from their local council. But the government’s survey found 42% of people without ID said they would be unlikely or very unlikely to do so (32% very unlikely).

Disabled people (5%), severely disabled people (7%) and people in poor or very poor health (10%) were also more likely than the general population (3%) to say introducing the need for photo ID would make it very difficult to vote.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England, warned this month that there is not enough time before next May’s elections to prepare for the change, and called for a delay. Besides providing voters with VACs, councils will also have to review polling stations, put in place new IT systems and train staff.

“In addition, new voter ID requirements will require comprehensive local awareness campaigns, which councils need to be adequately funded for, to tailor awareness raising efforts with the needs of their local population,” said councillor James Jamieson, LGA chairman.

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‘Yet another barrier’

Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at Disability Rights UK, said many disabled people would not know about the rule change, and that it would put “yet another barrier in the way of disabled people”.

“The inaccessibility of materials from political parties, the inaccessible election information received from councils and the barriers to travelling to and entering some polling stations are all existing problems,” she said.

The Electoral Commission is planning a public awareness campaign to inform the public about the new need to bring ID to polling stations, which will launch in January and run through to England’s May elections. Such a campaign would need to be accessible, and reach disabled people, Ms Hadi said.

Sense also called on the government to guarantee that the VAC application process would be “fully accessible”. “Disabled people already face barriers to voting,” said chief executive Richard Kramer. “A quarter of people with complex disabilities told us they find voting difficult as it is. Introducing a requirement of photographic ID may worsen already existing inequalities.

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“Everyone has the right to participate in the democratic process and we would urge the Government to consider the needs of disabled people while implementing the new Elections Act.”

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: “Research shows that the vast majority of people in Great Britain already hold some form of accepted photo ID, but that some demographic groups are less likely to.

“We’re working closely with partner organisations, to use their knowledge and experience to reach these groups and share information about how to apply for free voter ID. We aim to make our voter information as accessible as possible. All of the content on our website is compatible with screen readers and can be translated into different languages.

“We will be creating easy read, British Sign Language and braille versions of all the resources designed for local authorities and partner organisations, which are also available in a range of different languages.”

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The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the online VAC application process will be designed in line with Web Content Accessibility Standards and that in-person applications will ensure support for electors who may need additional assistance, with councils to determine their own approach locally.

“Everyone eligible to vote will have the opportunity to do so and 98% of electors have an accepted form of identification,” a spokesperson said.

“We will ensure there are no barriers to disabled people exercising their right to vote. That is why councils have a duty to provide appropriate support and free identity documents to those who need it. Information on this are in accessible formats. The Electoral Commission is also working closely with disabled groups to rollout targeted information.

“Photo identification has been used in Northern Ireland elections since 2003 and we’re working closely with the sector to support the rollout and funding the necessary equipment and staffing.”

If you are disabled or in poor health and have a view on the introduction of photo ID for elections, we want to hear from you. Contact [email protected].

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