The General Election – Opportunity Nottingham Considers the Complexities of Voting for Those Facing Multiple Needs

In this post Opportunity Nottingham offer a different perspective on election coverage. They talk about the importance of listening and responding to those facing multiple needs in the run up to this election.

With the upcoming general election just weeks away, it is important that everyone who has the right to vote is given the opportunity to do so. However, for vulnerable and marginalised people, this right is not always easy to exercise. If you subscribe to the view that better engagement equals more effective policy, then surely this must begin with the democratic process?

At Opportunity Nottingham, we support one such marginalised group. Our Beneficiaries face multiple and complex needs, specifically; substance misuse, homelessness, offending and mental ill health. In order to deliver this support, we work in partnership with agencies and organisations including those in the areas of social justice, social care, housing and healthcare. Beneficiaries often have pro-longed contact with these types of services, and frequently report feeling ‘passed from one service to another’, having to tell their story repeatedly. This can lead to disengagement from services and those deemed as ‘in authority’, as people inevitably fall through the gaps. It makes sense therefore, that people facing multiple and complex needs become disengaged from the political process. Lack of trust, lack of understanding and lack of access to information all have their part to play.

After the general election was called, we had a meeting with our Expert Citizen Group (a group of people who are experts through lived experience of multiple needs) and asked if they would be voting. The response was almost unanimous. Firstly, they didn’t know how to register to vote; and secondly, they didn’t have enough knowledge surrounding the election. As a team we explored the voting process in more detail, and one of the main issues to arise, was the assumption that in order to vote you must have a fixed address. This assumption meant that many of our Expert Citizens thought they were not eligible to vote.

We also spent time discussing why it is so important to vote, particularly in relation to how policy decisions will be influenced by the electorate. For example, if there is an increase in homeless people registering to vote, politicians are more likely to make decisions around issues that are relevant to them, such as healthcare and social housing.

During the meeting two of our Expert Citizens registered online to vote, with the rest taking away the necessary registration forms to register. Evidence (if needed) that if the process, reasons and potential outcomes of voting are understood, a vote is more likely to be made.

Whilst a snap election gave us limited time to encourage registration, it has highlighted a number of ‘needs’ for the future if the most marginalised in society are to get their voices heard;

  • A need for the voting system to be understood by all of society
  • A need for voting criteria to be clearly communicated
  • A need for voting information to reach those who might not easily access mainstream media and information sources.

Research can test the value of this and, critically, identify practical ways to enfranchise those whose lives could be turned around with the right support.

Opportunity Nottingham supports individuals (Beneficiaries) facing multiple and complex needs in Nottingham City. To join the programme, Beneficiaries must be experiencing at least three out of the following four criteria of homelessness, offending, substance misuse and mental ill health. The project has two main aims; to empower those facing multiple needs to live fulfilled lives, and to drive system change and better support those facing multiple needs. To find out more email enquiries@opportunitynottingham.co.uk or call 0115 850 4128.

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This blog was jointly penned by Sam Ward (Personal Development Coordinator), Robert Eagle, Sandra Morgan, Deonne Peters, and Lee Orrell (Beneficiary Ambassadors) at Opportunity Nottingham, and Zoe Benedelow, Service Manager from SEA (Services for Empowerment and Advocacy).

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