ALEC McFADDEN writes on a campaign to give voice to Britain’s most vulnerable people
THE campaign to encourage and allow homeless people to register and vote in the upcoming general election is part of the remit of Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre (UCRC).
Our army of clients and service users refers to us as the fourth emergency service in Salford. Our centre has worked with and for vulnerable people in the city since its formation in 1980, 37 years ago.
Not only does the centre cater for the unemployed it also works with people in debt; those whose state benefits have been sanctioned; people with disabilities, both physical and mental health problems; workers who are unfairly dismissed; ex-offenders; people with housing problems; refugees, migrant workers and the homeless.
We’ve asked all of our vulnerable clients to register to vote in order to challenge the current rigged and unfair socio-economic system that makes the many so poor and a few so very rich.
The city of Salford is a poor area with high unemployment and higher than average levels of people with disabilities. Many people here have mental health issues as a result of unfair and illegal benefit sanctions and from the ensuing poverty.
The Sunday Times Rich List published earlier this month had no-one from Salford in it.
The 1,000 richest people needed over £110 million to qualify this year; that is double the £55m needed eight years ago to qualify. Most of our clients survive on between £5,000 to £15,000 a year.
There are more billionaires in London than in any other city on the planet and at a time of austerity and poverty, the wealth of the top 1,000 entries increased by £86 billion or 14 per cent.
We imagine that most but not all are of the 1 per cent billionaires on that list are happy with the present Conservative government and on June eighth will cast their votes for the Tories.
It is vital, therefore, that the rest of us — the 99 per cent — not only register to vote but use our votes in our collective interest.
Regardless of whichever benefit or whatever reason our clients use our advice representation services, it is very clear that the present welfare system is not working in their interests as benefits only allow them to survive not live.
Across the country activists and supporting organisations are helping homeless people to register as voters by providing them use of their address.
This not only includes the Salford UCRC but also Sheffield’s Archers Project, Salford University students, Narrowgate Night Shelter, Project 34 and Walsall YMCA.
Under the current regulations, any British person aged over 18 and not incarcerated is entitled to cast their ballot on June 8.
But since registration cards are sent to residential addresses, few homeless people are on the electoral roll.
The point of this campaign is not only to give homeless people a vote, it is imperative to give these people a voice. The way to ensure politicians listen to people’s concerns is for that group to vote. If the Tory party — and others — realise hundreds of thousands of homeless people will vote, then the homelessness crisis is more likely to be addressed.
Many homeless centres say they are already signing up service users who wish to vote but — after discussions with Salford Council and parliamentary election officers — our team is also visiting night shelters, soup runs and people on the streets.
Those who want to register simply sign a form and give their dates of birth, and the activists do the rest.
Students from Salford and Manchester universities have also been helping out and organisations such as the foodbank charity the Manchester Booth Centre have also shown an interest.
Big Issue North vendors are being encouraged to register to vote in each office.
Voting is a universal right. There is a loophole which means we can use our office address to register homeless people who have some geographical link with Salford. Others need to do the same elsewhere in Britain.
A number of people have told me it won’t work and councillors have commented that it’s a lot of work but they are missing the point.
It’s vital that people can make their voices heard if they want to.
Danny Magill from Sheffield’s Archer Project said his day centre would be registering voters and also providing electoral information for all candidates standing in the constituency.
The Archer Project has been doing something similar for a number of years already, in partnership with Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield.
Magill says: “A lot of the time people who are homeless get the sense they feel removed from society and feel their opinions don’t matter.
“Getting registered as a voter is a small but symbolic way of being involved. The people who take this offer up are usually those who are a bit further along their journeys but who are still on the margins.
“If anyone has anything to say about society, it’s the people living on the margins but they don’t always realise this.”
Local authorities took action in 271,000 cases of homelessness last year in England — a rise of 32 per cent since 2009-10. Official stats show that over 4,000 people now sleep rough on any given night. The solution to homelessness is for more affordable homes to be built.
A political decision to end this crisis needs to be made and having homeless people vote on June 8 could make this a reality.
Alec McFadden is the manager of Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre, a trade union and community activist. For more on the Salford UCRC visit: www.salforducrc.co.uk.