One of the activities that has been engaging Boot Out Austerity walkers and supporters since the walk has been encouraging people to register to vote - see the flyer we have produced elsewhere on the website. We believe it is especially important that young people are registered to vote, and use their vote, so that they feel they have a stake in society. Social workers and others who work with young people are in a good position to help them to register, as this blog post by Kirk Lewis shows.
With the general election looming in the not too distant future there is a tangible opportunity to steer the ship of social justice towards creating a more fair and equal society. The election also gives professionals a rare opportunity to take the wheel and steer our conversations into a simple discussion about social inclusion – “are you registered to vote?” I recently asked this of a young father I work with. His answer was no, but the solution was simple.
“James, it’s easy to register, you can do it online, it takes just a few minutes and all you need is your national insurance number”.
Like many, James, who had recently moved house, did not realise he had to register. But young people still at home are affected too, since individual electoral registration came in to force in 2014, and the “head of the household” was no longer responsible for registering everyone else who lived at that address. It was subsequently reported that around 800,000 people went missing from the electoral register, most of them young people like James. He registered himself to vote there and then, and as he seemed interested in the process, I asked him if he had seen the film “I, Daniel Blake”. The answer was no, but again the solution was simple: “Go watch it”.
A few days later I met up with James, who was quick to tell me he’d seen the film and how both he and his partner had been in tears. We spoke about the election, James stating that he probably would not have realised he needed to register to vote if I had not have mentioned it previously. He felt the process of registering online was easy enough, and that having the option to vote gave him a chance to help shape the future for his children.
The general election gives us all an opportunity to help shape the future and also the opportunity to engage people in the political process. The time is now and the clock is ticking. Young people have been hit hard by years of austerity and are apathetic as a result. Local services are being cut, stretched, reshaped, reformed or dismantled altogether. Welfare reforms have also had devastating effect on many, as the film “I Daniel Blake” shows in a stark and damning realism, which exposes austerity's effects on the most vulnerable.
We have a limited amount of time before the next election. It is an chance to put social justice into action. Those who are registered to vote are empowered to make a choice, empowered to have agency over their lives and to be socially engaged and connected to the world around them. As workers we just need to start a conversation - “Are you registered to vote?”
Kirk Lewis, Social worker