Potential and Possibility 2024: Improving political engagement 

People with complex disabilities tell us what needs to change

In the upcoming General Election, there’ll be many people with complex disabilities struggling to exercise their right to vote because of inaccessible voting practices. 

Nearly a quarter of people with complex disabilities felt elections weren’t run in a way that made it easy for them to vote.

Source: Potential and Possibility research 2024

Even in the approach to an election year, our research found that many people with complex disabilities feel politically disenfranchised. This is due, in part, to the lack of awareness and consideration of the needs of people with complex disabilities in our electoral system.

More needs to be done to empower people with complex disabilities be better able to engage in politics and have their voice heard.  

Feeling seen and valued 

Disabled people make up 22% of the UK population. Of the disabled population, one in ten have complex disabilities – that’s 1.6 million in total. By the end of the next parliament this will have risen to 2 million. This is a huge portion of potential voters to neglect, and yet many disabled people tell us that they haven’t felt seen or valued by past governments. 

Mohammed remembers voting for the first time, when he was old enough to do so, in the 2005 General Election. He’s voted every year since. Except this year. Mohammed no longer believes that his vote will bring about the changes necessary to support disabled people. 

“I’ve been voting for so many years and it hasn’t made any difference or brought any change. Even if I do vote, it won’t make a difference. 

I write to party representatives in my area saying, “What are you going to provide for disabled people?” and they never answer.   

When I get invited to join a campaign or to give up my time, I continue to ask “What about disabled people? How are we involved in your policies and your events?” There’s no point if I’m not going to be heard.” 

Mohammed

Mohammed’s experience is not unique. Nearly a quarter of people with complex disabilities (24%) didn’t vote in the last general election.

At Sense, we know that people with complex disabilities, including people who are deafblind, face daily inequalities. Despite government proposals to address these issues, many people continue to feel left out of life. 

The outcome of the upcoming 2024 General Election will have a huge impact on the lives of people with complex disabilities.  It’s vital that disabled people are a top priority for the next government. In our manifesto, we set out seven key recommendations for how the next government can improve the lives of disabled people

Sense is determined to keep providing a platform for people with complex disabilities to highlight the issues they face. While the run up to the election is an important time, we attend conferences and meet with MPs, councillors, peers and other organisations throughout the year. Together, we can influence change and create a society where disable people feel valued and included. 

Is voting becoming less accessible? 

Disabled voters have the right to be able to cast their votes independently and in secret.  By law, local authorities must take steps to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to do this. This means providing the support at local polling stations

Nearly a quarter (24%) of people with complex disabilities felt elections weren’t run in a way that made it easy for them to vote. Some of the barriers that could make it harder for disabled people to exercise their rights include: 

  • Not physically being able to access polling stations. For example, if you’re a wheelchair user and there is no ramp into the building.  
  • Not having access to information in accessible formats, like braille or Easy Read.  
  • Anxiety about travelling to polling stations or the process of voting itself. 
  • Polling station staff not having the right level of awareness or training to support disabled people.  

Over a third of people with complex disabilities felt the introduction of photo ID had put them off voting. 

Source: Potential and Possibility research 2024

This year, too, voters in the UK must show photo ID to vote in person. Concerningly, our research shows that nearly one in five people (17%) with complex disabilities don’t yet have the photo ID they need to be able to vote. 

Forms of accepted ID include a valid passport, driving licence or blue badge. The full list of accepted ID can be found on the Electoral Commission website. 

We want disabled people to understand how the new voter ID rules affect them. This will mean that fewer people will be turned away from polling stations. But adjusting to and preparing for this change takes time. Already, over a third (36%) of people with complex disabilities felt the introduction of photo ID had put them off voting. 

Of course, you don’t have to vote in person. Postal and proxy voting may be better options for some disabled people looking to vote in this year’s General Election. As part of our work to ensure that adults with complex disabilities are able to participate in all aspects of life, Sense will always support people to understand their rights and explore their options. 

Emma was supported by Sense to vote by post in 2019. She decided who to vote for by looking at candidate leaflets and manifestos, but these are rarely supplied in an appropriate format for someone with a vision impairment. 

“I read the campaign letters to myself really carefully, because I need to learn about each person and know what they’re doing. I want to understand which one is the best for me to vote for.  

I can’t always understand things that aren’t in Easy Read with pictures, so my support workers help me understand things I don’t know. Then, I’ll check the voting slip and go to post it off. I vote because I care about people.” 

Emma

About this research 

Potential and Possibility is an annual piece of research on the experiences and aspirations of people with complex disabilities. The research involves polling and our own survey. This year we involved 1,279 people with complex disabilities in our research. This year (2024) is the third year we have carried out this research. 

These pages reflect the latest information from our 2024 research, building on our findings from 2023 and 2022. 

If you have any questions about the research, please contact [email protected]