By Simon Morris, Jewish Care Chief Executive
When it comes to next week’s election, the voices of older people matter. Speaking at a recent Age UK rally, the Prime Minister was heard saying: “I’m a huge believer that we should listen to the older people of this country” and so he should be. An impressive 76 percent of over 65-year-olds voted in the last general election, compared with national turnout figures of 65 percent and a declining figure of 44 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds.
Despite impressive voter turnout figures for older people, it is well documented that these figures drop dramatically for people living in residential care. They are a group described as “one of the most significantly under-register sections of our community” by research carried out recently in the Midlands.
Jewish Care’s 10 care homes provide for more than 650 residents. Some have voted in more than 20 general elections in their lifetime and cast their vote in many other national and regional ballot boxes. Some have helped shape their communities, their country and, sometimes, world affairs through their work and political interests.
Still, it appears that for many people in the UK, once they make a move into residential care their voice is being lost, they are being marginalised. As a resident in one of our care homes recently told us: “Just because you live in a residential home doesn’t mean you lose interest in the big issues of the day, they still affect you.”
Her words alone are enough to justify our drive to both enable those in our care to have their say and support our efforts to share our past experiences and work in this field with other social care providers.
While providing quality care is of upmost importance to us, we also believe we have a responsibility to our residents to ensure they feel a valued part of our community and wider society. What better way to empower them than to ensure they take part in the democratic process?
With the newly-introduced individual electoral registration system in place where every individual is responsible for registering themselves, that task of supporting residents to have their say has become more arduous and my concern is it may be a further barrier for vulnerable people to engage.
I am, however, determined this should not be the case for those in our care.
We have produced a guide for front-line staff to enable them to support residents to engage in next week’s election. The guide has been shared widely by other social care providers, who are using our good practice and top tips to support their clients to have their say. While our guide focused particularly on supporting people living in residential care, given their marked under-representation in voting figures, we are using the ideas outlined in it to support other vulnerable and isolated people in our care, from day centre members to home care clients.
An election provides a great opportunity to engage people, create lively debates about both current affairs and past issues of interest to them. From women’s rights and world wars to the introduction of our National Health Service, they have lived through it all.
From the Marxist to the lifelong Conservative supporter, our elders’ views are varied. Their experiences, their wisdom and often their desire to debate and take part should be used to engage our disengaged younger voters.
There is a real intergenerational opportunity here that will benefit both young and old. Many of our clients would struggle to complete an online registration form but would relish the opportunity to do so with the support of a young volunteer.
In this forthcoming election, many of our clients would love the opportunity to leave the home and go to the local polling station. It’s a sense of occasion that has be present throughout their adult life. For many, it’s that visit to the polling station that reconfirms their place and value in society.
With 650 residents living in our homes, providing the opportunity for those who want to and are able to vote to do so, requires support from the wider community. Come next Thursday, some of our residents will be taken to polling stations by volunteers or relatives. Thanks to support from staff, their families and an army of volunteers, their voices will be heard.