Mencap parliamentary affairs assistant Ismail Kaji gave oral evidence to MPs on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in their inquiry into voter engagement*.
Less than one in three people with a learning disability (31%) voted in the 2001 general election. This was significantly lower than the engagement of the population as a whole (59%).
Ismail Kaji, Mencap parliamentary affairs assistant, told the Select Committee about the importance of voting for people with a learning disability:
There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the country. Many are not fully included in society and many do not vote. It’s important that Parliament hears our voice and what we have to say on the issues that affect us.
Unfortunately, many people with a learning disability don’t see the point in registering to vote. They don’t think voting will affect their lives or make any difference. This is bad because many decisions made by Government and in Parliament have a huge impact on them.
People with a learning disability face a number of significant barriers to voting, such as:
- the way politicians and political parties communicate is largely inaccessible
- voter registration forms are often complicated and not accompanied by an easy read guide
- many people with a learning disability don’t get the support they need to learn about the policies of the different parties and candidates
- polling stations can be inaccessible and confusing which may lead to a bad experience and therefore put people off voting again.
Ismail Kaji explained how difficult it was to understand his voter registration form:
It was very complicated to fill in. I did not know what I had to do. The information that explained the forms was not clear. The form had too many boxes and difficult words. There was not enough room in the form to write information. I had to bring the form into work so my colleagues could support me to fill it in. This is not fair. It made me feel excluded.
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, said:
Ismail’s experience is not an isolated one. Many people with a learning disability from across the country tell us that they feel excluded from politics. The way politicians communicate can be complicated and ridden with jargon, some of which even the most hardened parliamentary followers are confused by! We need to urgently tackle this culture of inaccessible politics.
There are almost six million people in the UK who either have a learning disability or have a loved one with a learning disability. The political parties have yet to seize the opportunity to reach out to this huge proportion of electorates. Ismail has demonstrated just how important it is for people with a learning disability to have a voice in politics in order to shape the services that directly impact their lives.
Graham Allen MP, Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee said:
The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee was keen to take evidence from Mencap as part of our inquiry into voter engagement. We believe it is important to establish what barriers people with learning disabilities face in registering to vote and in participating in elections, so that we can consider how this can be made more accessible. It is a basic democratic principle that all citizens are able to participate on an equal basis, and people must not be disenfranchised as a result of having a learning disability.
Mencap hopes that Mr Kaji’s evidence will help to tackle the current culture of inaccessible politics.
The charity is calling for parties to consider communicating in a clearer, jargon free way, which will be more widely understood; to meet people with a learning disability and their families to understand the issues that matter to them and the barriers they face; and for parties to make their campaign resources more accessible.
For more information, please contact the Mencap press office on 020 7696 6950 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
* You can watch the evidence session again here: www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=15355
Notes to editors
Mencap, along with four other organisations, has been awarded funding by the Cabinet Office to encourage voter registration amongst those who feel most distant from the political process. Funding of £4.2 million will be shared.
Mencap will create resources for people with a learning disability and champion a one-to-one support model for people including families and carers, with the aim to help people register to vote.
There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email email@example.com.
What is a learning disability?
A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life.
People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.
Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’.