Today the government can bring in the ‘missing millions’ excluded from electoral roll

Jon Narcross, former Communications Officer

Posted on the 10th November 2020

Today MPs have a chance to bring in millions of young people to the electoral register and we’re joining with leading youth groups and campaigners to urge them to take it.

MPs will be debating an amendment to the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill, passed by the House of Lords in October. The amendment warns that parliamentary constituencies will fail to reflect their communities unless action is taken to close a staggering registration gap.

Since the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) in 2014, the completeness of electoral registers has fallen among attainers (16 and 17-year olds who will reach electoral age within the life of the register).

It’s simply wrong that millions of people are still missing from the electoral roll, with young people particularly hard hit. This is not a fair and equal basis to draw up constituencies or run a democracy.

There were 471,000 attainers on the registers in 2013, but this figure had fallen to 306,000 by 2019. Registration rates for eligible 16 and 17-year olds were estimated to be just 25 percent in 2018 – a drop from 45 percent in 2015. In contrast, a whopping 94 percent of those aged 65+ were estimated to be registered.

Young people are more likely to move and be in insecure accommodation, meaning they’re frequently left off the list. And with voters unable to check they’re registered to vote online; many will simply assume they’re already on it.

Now, 25 youth organisations, academics and civil society groups have written to the Cabinet Office, urging ministers to back the Lords amendment that would see ministers draw up an action plan to tackle this ‘crisis of representation’. One option would be to automatically register people when they receive their National Insurance number.

Simple changes like adding people to the electoral register when they receive their National Insurance details would go a long way over time to closing Britain’s shocking registration gap.

Without simple but vital reforms, parliamentary constituencies will exclude swathes of young people when they’re drawn up. There are many things that can be done to address political inequality in the UK, but this would be a good start. We urge the government to get behind it and help bring in the ‘missing millions’ at last.

Letter in full

Dear Minister, 

In October a cross-party group of peers passed an important amendment to the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21 (Report Stage) in the House of Lords.  

The amendment put forward by Lords Shutt, Wills, Janvrin and Lexden requires the government to bring forward proposals to improve the completeness of the electoral register with regards to young people of 16- and 17  (‘attainers’) for the purpose of boundary reviews.  

As you know, the completeness of our electoral register is vital in creating fair and equal boundaries and ensuring all citizens are democratically represented. But, as it stands, this bill risks excluding large numbers of people when the new boundaries are drawn. 

Young people of 16- and 17 have the lowest rates of electoral registration of any age group, the Electoral Commission estimating just 25% are on the register and, most worryingly, these rates continue to fall.  

While not prescribing solutions, the amendment suggests enabling the automatic registration of 16- and 17-year olds when they receive their National Insurance number, streamlining the process and potentially freeing up resources for EROs. Alternatively, when the Department for Work and Pensions contacts individuals giving them their NI number, the department could include details of how the individual can apply to join the register. 

We hope you will accept this amendment to the bill, as a former Chair of the APPG on Democratic Participation which championed the cause of improving voter registration. Presenting plans to improve the completeness of the register could help people carry the habit of voting with them throughout their lives. 

We believe this is a simple, low-cost and effective means of improving the completeness of the register over time, which ensures the new parliamentary boundaries fully reflect the communities within them.  

Without improving rates of registration, the electoral boundaries will undermine the principle of equal democratic representation, but we believe these reforms could make a real difference. 

Thank you for your work in this area and we hope you will consider adopting the amendment when the bill returns to the Commons.   

Yours sincerely, 

  1. Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society 
  2. Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair, British Youth Council 
  3. James Cathcart, Director, Young Voices Heard
  4. Mete Coban MBE, Chief Executive, My Life My Say
  5. Tom Franklin, CEO, Young Citizens
  6. Leigh Middleton, CEO, National Youth Organisation 
  7. Youth Impact
  8. Shout Out UK 
  9. Unlock Democracy
  10. Operation Black Vote
  11. HOPE not hate
  12. Beatfreeks 
  13. Partnership for Young London
  14. Professor Toby S. James, University of East Anglia
  15. Dr. Stuart Wilks-Heeg, University of Liverpool
  16. Prof Roger Scully, Chair, Political Studies Association
  17. Professor Matt Henn – Nottingham Trent University. 
  18. Professor James Sloam, Royal Holloway (University of London)
  19. Professor Jon Tonge, University of Liverpool
  20. Jennifer Nadel, Compassion in Politics
  21. Tom de Grunwald, Co-Founder of Forward Democracy
  22. Peter Dunphy, Director, Unite to Reform
  23. Klina Jordan, Co-Chief Executive and Co-Founder, Make Votes Matter
  24. Michael Abiodun Olatokun, London South Bank University
  25. Indra Adnan, The Alternative UK

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