A campaign for all UK residents to be able to vote in England and Northern Ireland local elections has been launched following the announcement of the Elections Bill in Parliament last month.
‘Our Home Our Vote’ is urging the two British nations to follow Scotland and Wales’ example in allowing anyone with indefinite leave to remain to vote in the local elections.
Maddy Dhesi, campaign spokesperson at the3million’s Young Europeans Network, said the confusion and exclusion caused by current electoral legislation is the force behind the movement.
“In England and Northern Ireland, there is no system of residence-based voting for general elections, police and crime commissioner and local elections,” she told The London Economic.
‘It’s only right to have a say in how your taxes are spent’
Lara Parizotto, co-manager at the3million’s YEN, said the group is only focusing on residence-based voting for local elections and that New Zealand “is the only country” who extends this right to general elections – a right which can only be approved by Westminster for all UK nations.
But Parizotto told TLE she wants residents to be able to “have a say in how taxes are spent”. “It doesn’t matter if you are a migrant, or someone born in the UK, you still have to pay local council tax.
“You use public transport, your local school, your local park, so it’s only right that you get a say in how these services run.”
The Elections Bill is set to be discussed amid a “barrage of complicated bills affecting migrants and ethnic minorities” according to Parizotto, who said the campaign on local voting rights has been endorsed by Lib Dem, Green and Labour councillors.
She expressed concern for post-Brexit rules which will see EU citizens’ local voting rights mantained only if they have pre-settled or settled status, which in her view means “disenfranchising EU citizens entering the UK from 2021”.
‘I feel bad for immigrants in England’ – American in Scotland
Lauren Tormey, a 28-year-old American who has been living in Scotland since 2011 said “it was quite meaningful” when the nation passed legislation last year to allow any foreign national resident in Scotland to vote in its local elections.
But she told TLE: “I feel bad for all immigrants who live in England that don’t have the opportunity to even just vote in local elections.
“I think it’s just reflective of England, English politics and the whole view towards migration there. If there was a part of UK that was gonna do it, I would say it would have been Scotland over England, because there’s less far right, rhetoric, demonising people who have the audacity to move across an international border.”
Tormey said she paid £6,000 for her route to settlement in the UK which allows her to vote in local elections, and she said this is “at the cheaper end of the scale” and that prices “have skyrocketed since then”.
Immigrants have been ‘double taxed’
“The Conservative government wants to put out messages to their right wing supporters and the far right press that ‘we’re not making it easy for immigrants, we’re making them pay their fair share’. But if we’re living here and working here, we are already contributing the same amount of taxes, so we’re just being sort of double-taxed for it,” she said.
Although becoming a British citizen would give her voting rights in general elections as well, the extra “prohibitive” costs mean she is only considering it out of fear stemming from the UK government planning to only give migrants digital proofs of their rights to live in the UK.
She said that residence-based voting should be granted without having to secure “special rights” or to have lived in the UK for a certain amount of time.
“If you live here, you are part of the community here, you have a say,” Tormey said.
‘Being alive means your voice matters’
She added the right should not be based on whether a migrant pays taxes or not: “I don’t care what your reasons are for living here or whether you are documented or not.
“Your value in life is not determined by how much you contribute to your society, you contribute by being alive and existing and having friendships and relationships with the people around you.
“Just being alive is enough for someone voice to matter.”
Brazilian food delivery driver Fabiano Farias, 41, who has been living in London for 14 years said he has been living in England for long enough to know what problems his neighbourhood has.
He told TLE: I think I could help. It’s very expensive to apply for citizenship, so as long as people live here and pay their taxes I think they should be allowed to vote because, at the end of the day, we are part of the trouble, so we can be part of the solution.
“It feels a little bit unfair because I do live here and pay tax, I have my life here so I would like to decide what the right way to be is.
He added: “The campaign gives me a little bit of hope, I just hope it goes through. It’s going to be helping millions of people who are European or have a visa like me and aren’t allowed to vote.
“There are people who are very active in the community but are not allowed to vote so that is unfair. We never get any rights, we just keep losing the rights we have.”