When it comes to elections, the voice of the older voter always has and continues to matter.
In the 2015 general election 78% of over 65-year old’s had their say compared to only 43% of 18-24 year old’s.
What these figures, or any other published figures, omit to tell is that once those older people need support to register to vote their voice gets forgotten.
Over 400,000 elderly and disabled people live in residential care in England and nearly 372,000 people received community-based care and support at home in 2013/14 yet I fear they are one of the most significantly unregistered sections of our society.
These are individuals with a lifetime of experiences and a wealth of acquired knowledge. They have shaped the world we live in today. They have ensured we have a fair democratic process for all. Their voice and right to engage in democracy shouldn’t be lost just because they require care and support.
There are some fantastic campaigns that focus on engaging younger or socially excluded people in the electoral process. An impressive collection of research, reports and statistics about engagement initiatives and next to nothing about a significant group of people – older people living in residential care homes or those in receipt of home care support.
This isn’t the first time I have spoken about this issue and I am sure it won’t be the last. It is something I am passionate about. As an organisation, we believe that our clients remain a vibrant and important part of the community and that it is our duty to engage and support anyone who can, and wants to, have their say in the democratic process.
There are of course key issues that need to be considered, questions that we are often asked about people living with dementia and if they can vote, who should decide if someone has the capacity to vote and if power of attorney extends to voting, (incase you were wondering it doesn’t unless the power of attorney has been appointed Proxy). But none of these should be barriers to enabling those who can and want to, to vote.
We have over 600 people living in our residential care homes and thousands more who we support through our home care service and day centres. Whilst providing quality care is of upmost importance to us, we also believe that we have a role to play to ensure they feel a valued part of our community and wider society.
The snap election has presented us with a time challenge and woken us up to the simple changes we can make that will support us in the future. From today every new resident moving into one of our homes will be asked if they want to register to vote at their new postal address and what their voting preferences are. We didn’t need to do this in the past as prior to July 2014 the process was simpler for people living in residential care home settings. The change to ‘Individual Electoral Registration’ requires every resident to complete an individual registration.
In the meantime, we have produced short simple guide, (in written and, soon to follow, film format) to assist front line social care staff to engage clients with the election.
For this snap general election we have also engaged relatives of those living in our care homes to ask for their support.
It is simple steps like this that will help us ensure that this marginalised group of society are empowered.
As a resident in one of our care homes told us; “Just because you live in a residential home, doesn’t mean you lose interest in the big issues of the day, they still affect you”.
It is time for all of us to ensure our forgotten elders are supported to have their say in our democratic process.
Go to www.jewishcare.org/electionguide to download a free copy of our guide: A voice for social care clients.