Lib Dem Voice

Electoral registration: the group that gets overlooked

People who live in private rented accommodation rarely catch the attention of politicians or political journalists. It’s odd, because so many people working for MPs or media outlets, particularly in London, spend a good number of years in shared private rented accommodation and normally the problem is that politicians place too much attention on people they are immediately familiar with rather than too little.

The neglect of the private renter is seen most often when the housing market is discussed, where it is frequently not only taken as a given that home ownership is what it is all about but also very little attention is given to making the private rented sector work better. You can fight through a bulging email folder of press releases from politicians wanting to make mortgages easier, cheaper, safer and more numerous before you find one that talks about tackling any of the issues renters face.

This week has seen the neglect in another form, with the Electoral Commission’s report into electoral registration. The headline picture is fairly straightforward. The evidence, “indicate[s] a decline in the  quality of the registers in the early 2000s with a subsequent stabilisation, but not recovery, from 2006″. Registration rates also vary greatly by age: “The lowest percentage of completeness is recorded for the 17–18 and 19–24 age groups (55% and 56% complete respectively). In contrast, 94% of the 65+ age group were registered”.

However, differences in registration based on class or ethnicity – often talked about – are not only relatively small (little difference based on class, less than 10 percentage points difference based on ethnicity) but they are dwarfed by the property dimension:

Completeness ranged from 89% among those who own their property outright and 87% among those with a mortgage, to 56% among those who rent from a private landlord. In relation to accuracy, the rate of ineligible entries at privately rented properties was four times that found at owner occupied addresses.

For the slump in electoral registration which went alongside the slump in turnout at the turn of the century to have since stabilised as turnout has recovered somewhat is an okay, rather than good, trend. To make it a good trend requires that private renting problem to be fixed.

It is one of the reasons why – done right – I think individual electoral registration is a good thing, as it will then be clearer to people in shared private rented accommodation what needs doing to get on the register and remove the situation I’ve often encountered out on the doorsteps of just one name registered at such addresses – an absent landlord.

Yet its also one of the major issues with electoral registration that gets talked about the least. Let’s hope the latest evidence helps to change that.

Great Britain’s Electoral Registers 2011

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