Upholding Human Rights: Promoting the vote for adults with learning disabilities

Social workers in Bradford are taking part in the Promote the Vote campaign in the run up to local and mayoral elections on May 6th. The campaign aims to ensure that adults with learning disabilities understand their right to vote and that they are supported to do so when they choose to exercise that right.

The challenge: People with disabilities are less likely to vote in local and national elections. There is growing evidence that people with a learning disability often don’t know about their right to vote, and there is still a misperception that adults who lack ‘capacity’ cannot vote. Section 73 of the Electoral Administration Act (2006) abolished mental incapacity as grounds to prevent someone from being able to participate in elections. Bradford believe that the ability to cast your vote is central to rights based practice, and the support offered by social workers through this campaign is key to making explicit the connections for people between voting and the right to make other decisions about their lives, being able to choose how to spend the day and being able to decide where you want to live and who to live with.

The solution: Bradford ran the ‘Promote the Vote’ campaign in 2017 and 2019, and is doing so again in 2021. Supported living providers across the district were contacted to establish if:

  • they have a policy on voting

  • staff receive training on voting rights

  • they include support for people to vote in their support plans.

Social workers then visited supported living settings to discuss with staff and residents their right to vote, registering to vote, ways to vote (including in 2021 specifically talking about the option of postal voting in the light of Covid-19 and ongoing restrictions) and ways in which individuals can be supported to cast their vote. Each supported living setting received a pack of resources to help staff in supporting residents. These included a series of easy read guides to local elections, the role of local councilors, registering to vote and postal voting. These guides were developed by a local community group (Bradford Talking Media) and a local group of learning disabled adults. Alongside the guides, each person received a Voting Passport. This document sets out the type of support needed if voting in person and is meant to be taken along to the polling station so that polling clerks are aware of these support needs. All polling staff in Bradford receive training on the Voting Passport alongside information on reasonable adjustments.

Each supported living property is audited to establish how many people are registered to vote and how many are registered for a postal vote. After the elections on 6th May, 2021 the social workers will undertake a follow up visit to see how many people voted (in person or by post), and to ensure that everyone who expressed a wish to vote was supported appropriately to do so.

How is the new approach being sustained?: Rights based approaches will be incorporated in commissioning frameworks in the future in Bradford, to ensure that supported living providers are aware of and promote people’s right to vote.

As more social workers take part each year a bank of expertise is being built up, which means that more experienced workers can support those new to the campaign, as well as social work students.

Lessons learned: Social workers are still reporting that a number of supported living staff believe that a lack of capacity means a lack of ability to cast a vote. Further work needs to be done with providers and their staff around mental capacity, and about the Electoral Administration Act (2006). The Covid pandemic also meant that in some cases meetings had to be held virtually, which presented its own set of difficulties. 

Contact: Clare Reeves, Project Support, Community Team Learning Disabilities, Tel. 07816 082733 clare.reeves@bradford.gov.uk 

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