Tens of thousands of potential voters in the North East have dropped off the electoral register in what has been described as a “crisis of democratic engagement” in the UK.
In a series of worrying figures, one blackspot has been revealed as Newcastle where 18,000 have dropped off the register.
Worst affected is the Ouseburn ward in Newcastle East, home to many students, where there has been a 55% drop off of registered voters totalling 9,982, in the last year alone.
At the 2010 general election, Labour MP Nick Brown won Newcastle East with a 4,453 majority.
Other areas highlighted include Gateshead with a 12,962 drop off, Sunderland with 5,776 and Derwentside in Durham with 3,280.
They are among approximately 7.5 million people nationwide who are missing from national registers.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “This is not just a scandal, it is a disaster for our democracy.”
With the May 2015 general election fast approaching, efforts are being stepped up to get as many enrolled as possible before the April 20 deadline.
Independent campaign group Bite The Ballot highlighted the situation by designating last Thursday as National Voter Registration Day in a bid to get 250,000 to register.
> Last Thursday, eh ? Did you know that ? No, nor me.
I wonder how many of those missing voters it actually reached ?
Meanwhile the Electoral Commission has arranged for a reminder to appear on the Facebook page of every UK user of the social network.
It follows the Commission’s discovery – through polling by YouGov – that four in 10 people, and more than half (53%) of 18 to 24-year-olds, remain unaware that they can register to vote online.
Almost one million people have dropped off the electoral register since the implementation of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) last summer, mostly students, first time voters and those living in private rented accommodation and those from newer immigrant communities.
As a result of IER, rather than one person in a household registering everyone or a university signing up all its students in halls, each individual is now responsible for registering themselves. In addition, they have to supply a National Insurance number.
A Commons committee used the focus to renew its demands that government consider radical reforms to boost engagement and election turnout, including online voting, weekend elections, polling-day registration and a “none of the above” option.
> A “none of the above” option would be good. I’d go further and link the number of none of the above votes nationally to MP’s pay. The more there are, the less the MPs get.
At the 2010 general election, 16 million eligible voters – 34.9% of the electorate did not take part – more than voted for any one party.
Graham Allen MP, chairman of the Commons political and constitutional reform committee, said:
“This is not an acceptable state of affairs for a modern democracy.
“If we do not take urgent action to make elections more accessible to the public and convince them that it is worth voting we will be facing a crisis of democratic engagement.”
A Cabinet Office spokesman said:
“Over one million 16-24-year-olds have registered since the new system was introduced, and everyone else is being contacted directly and encouraged to use the new convenient online registration system. We’re also providing over £14 million of funding to support the costs of activities at a local and national level to maximise the number of people on the register.”
How to register
If you are 16 or over you can register through the Government website, www.gov.uk/register-to-vote .
You’ll need your National Insurance number, and the registration process takes around five minutes. It can also be done by post.
The process is also explained on the Bite the Ballot website on www.bitetheballot.co.uk/nvrd/
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
A welfare team has been praised for helping tenants claim £2m in benefits and grants.
Financial advice from Derwentside Homes’ Welfare Rights Team has helped tenants access more than £2m in unclaimed benefits and grants.
Residents struggling to cope with changes to the welfare system, including the introduction of the bedroom tax, have been getting advice and support from Derwentside Homes’ Welfare Rights Team, set up in 2011.
Since it was established, the team has helped 869 tenants to claim an average of £2,314.54 in additional benefits.
Together, these previously unclaimed benefits now add up to £2,011,335.
The team provides a complete package of financial support – including helping people claim benefits they are entitled to but unaware of, applying for discretionary housing payments and appealing against benefits decisions.
Derwentside Homes’ Head of Housing Services Shelagh McGinn, said: “The Welfare Rights Team does a fantastic job helping our tenants to cope with the impact government’s changes to the benefits system which can leave many people confused and unsure of what they are entitled to claim.
“The fact we have now helped our tenants to access £2m in unclaimed benefits is a significant milestone and is testament to the hard work and commitment of the team.
“Our advice is targeted at tenants most at risk of falling into financial difficulty.”
Derwentside’s Welfare Rights Team can be contacted on 01207-521100, freephone 0800-783-9295 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Source – Northern Echo, 01 Aug 2014