Free school meals or breakfast clubs? Child hunger in England

by Stacey Dingwall

For a lot of us, the removal of the turkey twizzler was the biggest school meals-related political upset of the last decade. However, during the recent election campaign another, more serious, row emerged: over the provision of universal free school meals to English children in Reception through to Year 2.

Manifesto proposals

The proposal to scrap the policy introduced by the coalition government in 2014 was one of the Conservative manifesto proposals that didn’t make it to the Queen’s Speech. Schools minister Nick Gibb confirmed that the policy had been ditched at the start of this month, stating that existing provision would be retained following the government having “carefully listened” to parents.

In their manifesto, the Labour party promised to extend universal provision to all primary school aged children, to be funded by introducing VAT on private school fees.

Is FSM for all viable?

Financially, Labour’s proposal was deemed to be viable, in theory at least. Charging VAT on private school fees was calculated to be worth just over £1.5bn a year, provided all pupils were paying a full fee. The IFS have suggested that extending provision to all primary pupils would cost in the region of £950m annually.

In 2012 the IFS, in partnership with NatCen, carried out an evaluation of a pilot study which offered free school meals to all Year 6 pupils in Newham and Durham. The evaluation found that the pupils made around two months’ additional progress over a two-year period compared to similar children in other areas, although it wasn’t able to definitively identify how this progress was made – i.e. it was unable to conclude that the provision of free school meals was the reason.

Breakfast clubs

Discussing the evaluation findings within the context of the 2017 manifesto proposals, the IFS highlighted findings from other research they’ve carried out into breakfast clubs.  This is something we’ve discussed before on the blog: our 2015 post highlighted a range of evidence that school breakfast clubs have a positive impact on children’s academic performance. The IFS study looked at one of the schemes, Magic Breakfast, and found that improvements in pupil performance were “likely to be the result of the content or context of the school breakfasts”.

The Conservative manifesto pledged to provide free breakfasts in place of universal free lunch provision. This was dismissed as “not comparable” by parents however, and described by some in the education sector as merely a cost-cutting exercise (that had not in fact been costed correctly) rather than a drive to boost attainment.

Child hunger in 2017

The reason why so many were critical of the proposal to remove the universal entitlement to free school meals is that for some children, it’s the only nourishment they’ll receive all day. Just because a child is entitled to a free lunch doesn’t mean they’ll claim it – a range of evidence has highlighted the stigma children can be exposed to if meals aren’t free for all. Extending provision to all has been found to be the best way of helping those who need it most, rather than singling them out.

In 2017, it’s shameful that children in a developed country are still suffering from hunger. As new figures from the Trussell Trust reveal that the already shocking levels of reliance on foodbanks increases even more during school holidays, it’s clear that any policy which risks making the situation for already vulnerable children even worse needs to be abandoned.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our other education articles. 

Women in politics: the long and winding road to equality

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On 9 November, the world woke up to learn the name of the next US president – and it wasn’t the name most people had been expecting. Although the election didn’t turn out to be as historic as it might have been, having a female nominee for president of the United States still marked a milestone on the road to equality for women in political life. But, while the profile of women in politics has never been higher, the wider story of female political participation and representation has been one of slow, intermittent and hard-won advancement.

The path to power

In 1893, New Zealand was the first modern democracy to acknowledge women’s right to vote, while the first European country to introduce women’s suffrage was Finland in 1906. In the UK, women were first entitled to vote in 1918 – but only for property owners over the age of 30. It took another ten years before the vote was given to women on same terms as men. Women in Switzerland had to wait even longer, first receiving the right to vote in national elections in 1971.

Progress towards greater representation of women in politics has also been protracted. Again, Finland led the way, electing 19 female members of parliament in 1907. But it wasn’t until 1960 that the world’s first woman prime minister was elected (Sri Lanka’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike). Twenty years later, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland became the first woman to be elected as a head of state (she was subsequently re-elected three more times). In 2015, for the first time, Saudi Arabia allowed women the right to vote and stand in municipal elections (21 female candidates were elected out of 2106 seats).

Women in politics today

In 2016, Theresa May followed in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher, to become the UK’s second woman prime minister. Meanwhile, after a decade in power, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most influential politicians, and she recently announced she’ll be seeking re-election for a fourth term in 2017.  In addition, there are now female heads of government in a variety of countries, from Chile to Bangladesh, Liberia to Norway. There are also women first ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and a growing number of female mayors in cities such as Paris, Rome, Montevideo and Baghdad. In October’s Icelandic election, 48% of those elected were women – enabling it to claim the title of the most equal parliament in the world.

It may seem that the tide has turned for female representation in politics. But a closer look uncovers a less rosy picture:

  • Of the 193 member states of the United Nations, only sixteen (8%) have a woman president or prime minister.
  • Seven countries have no women in their national parliament, while 35 have fewer than 10%.
  • Out of 650 contested seats, 191 women were elected to the House of Commons at the 2015 UK general election (29% of MPs).

Breaking down the barriers

Earlier, this year, we reported from the Women in Public Life conference held in Edinburgh. The discussions highlighted the low proportion of women elected to the UK’s local councils and devolved assemblies with a particular focus on Scotland.  The May 2016 elections did little to improve on this situation.

  • 45 women (34.9%) were elected to the Scottish Parliament, the same proportion as in 2011, and down on the high point of 39.5% in 2003.
  • 2016 saw 25 women (41.7%) elected to the National Assembly for Wales, a higher proportion than the other devolved assemblies, but down on the 2003 Welsh Assembly, which had an equal number of women and men.
  • In the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, of the 108 seats contested 30 were won by women – up on the 20 elected in 2011, but still only 27.8% of the total.

The conference also debated some of the ways in which the barriers to female participation and representation in politics might be overcome. These included:

  • creating a forum for women councillors in local government;
  • promoting a cross party consensus on encouraging women candidates to stand in local and parliamentary elections;
  • creating a mentoring scheme to encourage more young women to participate;
  • promoting flexible working patterns, including reducing the number of late night debates
  • statutory measures, such as quotas, to advance the role of women in elections.

Supporters of gender quotas point to their effective deployment in countries such as Bolivia, South Africa and Sweden as ways of redressing women’s exclusion from public life. Following the Scottish Parliament elections of 2016, a team of University of Edinburgh researchers argued that without quotas women’s representation would remain slow and incremental at best:

“For real and lasting progress, warm words must be backed up with statutory measures to embed quality in our political institutions.”

In the Republic of Ireland, legislation was introduced in 2012 with provisions that the major political parties would lose half of their state funding unless at least 30% of their election candidates were female. The first national test of the new quotas came in the general election of 2016, which saw 35 women (22.3%) elected to the lower house of the Irish parliament. This amounted to a 40% increase from the election of 2011, where 15% of the successful candidates were women. While some attributed this to gender quotas, an early analysis of the results suggested that it may take one or two more election cycles to determine the full impact of quotas on Irish elections.

Role models for the future?

Increased representation for women in politics is important for the positive impact it can have on both gender equality issues and social policy more broadly. But might the presence of female politicians also inspire interest in political participation among young women?

Studies into the effectiveness of women politicians as role models have produced a mixture of conclusions:

  • A 2006 study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, found that increased visibility of women politicians increased the likelihood of adolescent girls’ intention to be politically active.
  • In 2012, research from the University of California, Berkeley, reported that the election of additional women in US state legislative elections had “no discernible causal effects on other women’s political participation at the mass or elite levels.”
  • Research published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2015 suggested that role models are important for improving women’s representation, but only in its early stages.

Final thoughts

Time will tell whether we ever see a woman elected to the role of American President. But while it’s important and exciting to see more women winning political office at the highest level, equal representation for women across the board, from grassroots and local council level upwards is as vital. And, as a recent Holyrood magazine article underlined, the presence of women in political life is not only important for women:

“…if we cannot yet manage equal representation for half the population, how are we to achieve real representation for other parts of society such as BME people and those with disabilities who are actually in a minority?”


Further reading

Women in public life: breaking the barriers – conference highlights

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

The land of “neverendums”. For the Swiss, direct democracy is a way of life, but could it work in the UK?

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Image by Till Westermayer via Creative Commons

Next week, voters across the UK will finally make their decision on the country remaining in or leaving the European Union. This is only the third UK-wide referendum ever to be held. The first was in 1975, on Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community. The second took place in 2011, on a new voting system to replace first-past-the-post.

Although referendums in different parts of the UK have become more commonplace – such as those on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and on Scottish independence in 2014 – they are much less frequent at UK level. This is because of the UK’s tradition of representative democracy, where sovereignty rests with parliament. In Switzerland, however, representative democracy runs parallel to a system of direct democracy, which gives voters the last word on legislation.

The Swiss system

Of all the national referendums held in Western democracies since World War II, more than two-thirds have been held in Switzerland. Swiss voters go to the polls three or four times a year, deciding on issues as varied as immigration, complementary medicine, and financing of local sports facilities. Swiss referendums may be triggered in several different ways:

  • Obligatory referendum (following a constitutional amendment or an application to join an international organisation, such as the United Nations or the European Union)
  • Optional referendum (puts parliamentary decisions to the popular vote, but only if 50,000 valid signatures are collected within three months)
  • Popular initiative (proposers have 18 months to collect 100,000 signatures to force a vote on a particular issue)
  • Counter proposal (if parliament disagrees with a popular initiative, it can put forward alternative. Both votes are held at the same time, and if both are approved, the one with the highest number of “yes” votes is the winner)

As one writer on Switzerland has observed,

“…the Swiss people are the final decision-makers on almost every single policy, whether it affects their own neighbourhood or the whole country. This democratic freedom and the right to be heard are inalienable rights for the Swiss, who proudly view them as the source of their stability and prosperity.”

More referendums in the UK? The arguments for and against

On the face of it, any political system which encourages greater citizen participation is to be applauded. Proponents of referendums argue that they are exercises in civic engagement, stimulating debate and increasing interest among people who would usually show no interest in politics.

A good example, in a UK context, is the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. The campaign energised voters across the country and the poll itself saw a historic turnout of 84.6%. Despite being on the losing side, both the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Green Party reported a surge in membership in the aftermath of the referendum result.

Supporters of the wider use of referendums also believe they can provide a mandate for specific policies, such as the Republic of Ireland’s vote supporting equal marriage in 2015, and can legitimise important constitutional issues, such as devolution.

However, opponents of the referendum as a democratic tool contend that the issues debated during referendum campaigns can’t be decided by a simple binary choice, or are too complex for the public to understand. Professor Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, has argued that the UK’s membership of the EU should be decided by elected officials with a sound understanding of the major economic issues:

“It is an outrage that people as ignorant as me are being asked to vote. This is a complicated matter of economics, politics, history, and we live in a representative democracy not a plebiscite democracy. This should be a matter for parliament.”

A recent leader article in The Economist noted that referendums may be used by fringe groups or populist parties to exercise outsize influence. In recent years, the nationalist-conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has gained enough signatures to force referendums on issues such as the construction of new minarets for Swiss mosques and the imposition of quotas on immigration. Some in Switzerland believe that these campaigns have damaged the country’s image and incited hostility towards ethnic minorities.

In addition, a narrow decision can raise questions about the legitimacy of the result. The slim margin (50.4%) of Swiss voters supporting immigration quotas in 2014 make it more likely that the country will be asked to vote on the issue again. This could be problematic, with voters potentially becoming fatigued or apathetic if they are asked to vote too often. In the Swiss case, the average voter turnout for all 10 of the elections and referendums held in 2014-2015 was 50.1%, although turnout fluctuated between a high of 63% and a low of 42%.

Final thoughts

For some, the EU referendum campaign has shown up the deficiencies in the use of referendums to make momentous decisions – conjecture, claims, counter-claims and inconclusive arguments. For others, it has been an important exercise in direct democracy, giving the people a chance to debate an issue of vital importance to the entire country.

Unlike Switzerland, the UK has an unwritten constitution, and there are no rules on what can trigger referendums. Only in rare cases have British governments put a single issue to the people, a feature of UK politics that is set to continue. Whatever the outcome of next week’s vote, it’s unlikely that the UK will move towards the Swiss system of direct democracy.


If you liked this post, you might also be interested in other blog posts about democracy and referendums:

Q&A with Mark Evans: “To make evidence effective you have to win the war of ideas”

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Mark Evans is the Director and Professor of Governance at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra, Australia. In this interview with the Knowledge Exchange, Mark talks about how his research is used in policy development.

How can policy makers/practitioners benefit from developing their knowledge and use of evidence?

The more I’ve got involved in the practice of decision making and developing policies, the more I’ve seen the value of evidence. To make evidence effective you have to win the war of ideas. Politicians have their own sources of evidence – internal policy, preferred sources, media etc. – and ministers are enveloped by a whole range of sources. Good evidence has to find a way of being heard and cutting through this.

Civil servants are very skilled in committees and running processes and programmes effectively. They are good at technical solutions and responses, but not adaptive developmental issues, which require time. Their ability to engage and get to the hardest to reach groups within policy, was one of the key findings of our study. How do you cost programmes which take a long time and investment, and target groups experiencing significant marginalisation?

When people talk to you about evidence, research or knowledge, what do they most frequently raise as issues?

Real time evidence – which we can only do through open data. In Australia this is difficult as we don’t have national datasets to enable large scale analysis or comparison. The UK is far ahead of us in terms of data and its use in evidence. In the UK there is no shortage of data, but it needs to be more dynamic, whereas in Australia it’s not sufficient. Resources such as Euromonitor don’t exist in Australia, so we can’t compare or contrast issues or monitor impact. Spatial modelling is very influential due to this lack of data – simulated models for different areas are necessary as we don’t have the real data.

What are the mistakes people make when it comes to developing knowledge, things which you really need to avoid?

Not understanding the political dynamics leads to failure. Not understanding that knowledge is power, and assuming that what makes good evidence is what makes good understanding, are big traps to fall into. Just because you develop good evidence doesn’t mean it will be accepted.

The most important first step is agreement around values and principles. The classic example in Australia would be the original agreement on the child support scheme:  ‘absent fathers should contribute’ was the fundamental principle and getting that agreement led to the introduction of the scheme.

What are the main issues facing policy makers in the next 5 years? What evidence will they need?

This may be peculiar to Australia, but the personalisation of politics and policies, is now impacting. The ‘Obama technologies’ approach of targeting messages to voters and the targeting of resources to particular groups, is on the rise, so policy is becoming individually relevant. If we know what people want, we can then move resources to target their needs. The evidence to help policy makers to do this successfully (i.e. generally the use of new technologies, big data, social media, getting real time data on preferences) is going to grow in importance and be in demand.

Key policy issues are ageing, the cost of care and pensions, funding the social security gaps and climate change. There is also a rise in the development of preventative health and generally the funding of higher education.

How do you think people will be carrying out evidence, research and knowledge development in five years’ time?

Technology, everyone always says technology! Normally there is a lag between the technology and its realisation in public policy – this was certainly the case up until recently.

Largely because there is an association between technology and productivity, there is an inverse relationship between use the use of consultants and productivity. There is only a productivity gain in the public sector in the digitisation of services and the consolidation of the use of technologies.

There is a presumption of localism in policy, but actually technology development is leading to more centralisation. This can be a positive thing for the availability and reliability of data, but negative for understanding very local issues.

If you had a ‘best-kept secret’ about research, evidence and knowledge, what would you recommend, and why?

An approach which is useful in thinking about the context of evidence and policymaking is to ask “I am in my ‘cockpit’ (desk, computer, books, advisors, people I know), but what is in your cockpit?” We’ve found that the more experienced policy officers all had mentors, all had experts, they knew about data, and could do policy relatively quickly. This contrasted with younger policy makers (the ‘Wikipedia policy makers’). Fast-track policy making is being done (ministers deciding and the policy maker sent off to write the evidence base) but if their ‘cockpit’ isn’t complete then the policy making can have holes.

Finally, what led you to a role developing knowledge institutions and focusing on research and evidence development? 

In 1999,  I established the international development unit at York, looking at post-war recovery study. It was just before Afghanistan and Iraq so we became the ‘go to’ place for it, and started to look at the interface between evidence and politics. Many were disregarding the evidence – it’s really all about jobs and poverty; people move towards radicalisation when they have no hope no future.

I came to Australia for the better relationship between government and academia, through the National School of Government.  I have been able to do things in Australia that I wouldn’t have been able to do in UK, bringing together theory and practice. The UK is good at collaboration, and I have taken that to Australia aiming to be the ‘collaborator of first resort’.


You can follow Mark on Twitter @MarkEvansACT and you can follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Read some of our other blogs on the use of evidence in public policy:

Involving young people in local political systems and decision-making

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Image from Flickr user UK Parliament via Creative Commons

Our latest briefing focuses on the involvement of young people in political processes and decision-making. You can download the briefing for free from the Knowledge Exchange publications page.

While the media was focused on young people’s participation in politics at the national level during the recent General Election campaign, in this briefing we take a step back and look at the involvement of young people in local political processes and decision-making.

Research by the IPPR in 2013 found that alongside those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, young people are the group least likely to vote at elections. At the local level, research by the National Centre for Social Research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that young voters are even less likely to turn out for local (and European) elections.

Our briefing highlights a range of reasons suggested by existing evidence as to why young people have low levels of engagement with political systems and decision-making. These include:

  • A lack of trust in politicians and their parties.
  • A focus on policies that do not directly impact on their lives.
  • Today’s generation of young people do not see voting as a civic duty.

Also highlighted are the reasons why it is so important that more is done to encourage young people to engage with political and decision-making processes. These range from legal factors (children and young people have the legal right to have a say in all matters that affect them, according to Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) to examples of positive contributions that children and young people have made in the shaping of local services.

The briefing includes advice on how organisations including councils can help to encourage and facilitate young people to become more involved in formal decision-making processes. This includes tips on practical considerations (e.g. venues, timing of meetings), safeguarding issues and how best to communicate with young people.

A number of examples of good practice are identified, including Dorset County Council’s Youth Inspectors scheme. Established in 2009, the project aims to enable young people to learn about and influence local services in their area.


 

The Knowledge Exchange specialises in public and social policy. To gain an insight into the commentary it offers, please explore our publications page on the Knowledge Exchange website.

To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Idox Elections: delivering modern democracy

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by Stacey Dingwall

It was impossible to avoid: the UK held a General Election on 7 May 2015. Voting aside, the election experience was somewhat different for myself and a team of colleagues from across the company. This time, we joined the Idox Elections team for the period leading up the election in order to help deliver the company’s Postal Vote Management System (PVMS) in local authorities across the country.

PVMS is one of the key products delivered by Idox Elections. It works by comparing voters’ original Postal Vote Application (PVA) with the Postal Vote Statement (PVS) they complete at the same time as their ballot paper. The software compares the two forms using two unique identifiers: signature and date of birth. This ensures that the postal votes that go forward to the count on polling day are authentic.

Postal voting: a brief history

Postal voting ‘on demand’ became possible for the first time at the 2000 General Election, following the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the Working Party on Electoral Procedures. The Working Group, chaired by then Minister of State at the Home Office George Howarth, recommended that:

  • Absent voting should be allowed on demand.
  • The application and voting procedures for absent voting should be simplified.

The first recommendation was implemented by the Representation of the People Act 2000, and the second by the Representation of the People (England & Wales) Regulations 2001. Prior to this, those wishing to vote by post were required to state a reason for applying for an absent vote, or to obtain proof of illness, for example, from a medical practitioner or employer.

The 2000 Act also made it possible for local authorities to apply for permission to trial new methods of voting for local elections, including all-postal voting. According to a review of these trials by the Local Government Association, all-postal voting was the “only new electoral arrangement to have significant potential for increasing local election turnout”.

Despite concerns over abuse of the system and fraud, the Electoral Commission maintains that there is no evidence of widespread and systematic abuse, and that it would not be ‘proportionate’ to scrap postal voting. There are many indications that postal voting has led to increased electoral turnouts, with the Post Office reporting that the number of postal votes issued increased by over 1.6 million between the General Elections in 2005 and 2010. Written evidence submitted to parliament by the Electoral Commission also highlighted that at the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections, where turnout was notoriously bad, postal votes accounted for 48.9% of the vote. During the Scottish Independence Referendum, some local authorities reported postal vote return rates of almost 90%.

Countdown to the election

For those of us new to the Elections team, work started the week beginning 27 April, almost two weeks before polling day. From the Monday, we started to arrive on-site to set up the system and meet the temporary staff employed to open and scan the PVS and ballot papers. The scale of this operation varied from one local authority to another: some of the smaller ones had 8,000 voting packs to get through before election day whereas sites like Glasgow (with an anticipated 66,000 packs) would sometimes process more than that in one day.

Polling day

On the actual day of the election, work in Glasgow began at 6pm. This was due to the fact that postal votes can legally be handed into polling stations until 10pm – we had a long night of verifying votes ahead of us. In Glasgow, we had moved from the council building to the Emirates Arena for the count, where our work continued as media outlets from across the country prepared to report the events of the night ahead.

Of course, we didn’t let the pressure get to us and the last of the postal votes were safely delivered to the council to go forward to the overall count around midnight. While the days were sometimes long, I thoroughly enjoyed my ‘sabbatical’ from the Idox Information Service team and the chance to be involved in the delivery of something as important as democracy: roll on the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016!


 

Our recent white paper ‘Democracy and voting: key organisations and individuals‘ is an overview of who is influencing thinking in elections research.

Idox Elections is one of the premier election service providers in the UK, providing outstanding expertise and knowledge across all areas of election management.

Who’s influencing thinking on democracy and voting in the UK?

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Ahead of next week’s general election, the Knowledge Exchange has published its elections white paper, Democracy and voting: key organisations and individuals.

The white paper provides an overview of the following key themes in elections research:

  • Accountability and transparency
  • Representative groups
  • Voter participation and engagement

It highlights areas of overlap across these themes, and the different organisations which are producing research in each area:

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The paper highlights different democracy campaign groups, and provides summaries and biographies of think tanks, research institutes, government departments and individuals involved in UK elections research.

The briefing also includes summaries of a selection of recent publications on democracy and voting from some of the organisations listed, which are available on our Idox Information Service database.

We’ve written blog posts on a range of issues in relation to democracy and voting, which you can view here. We’ll also be publishing more elections material in the coming week.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on democracy and voting, to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Is our electoral system going through the biggest change in a generation?

By Steven McGinty

The biggest change in a generation? Quite simply: yes.

Last year, we saw an unprecedented focus on the democratic process, with high profile votes such as the Scottish independence referendum, as well as revolution in the way in which citizens vote through the introduction of the Individual Electoral Registration (IER). It’s likely that this degree of interest in the political system will continue as we move towards the general election in May, with a number of related topics being up for debate.

I’ve therefore decided to highlight some of the most notable election and referendum-related issues, as well as look at which might come up in the general election campaign.

Individual Electoral Registration

The introduction of IER in June 2014 was a major step in the delivery of digital government services. It was implemented to provide a more modern service and to help combat electoral fraud. The IER system is essentially a hub that was built by the Government Digital Service. The hub links up with the Electoral Management Software (EMS) in each local electoral area. There is no central database of voter details and the data has been received and saved locally, and is deleted from the Hub within 48 hours.

Yet although these changes have been introduced to improve the system, Dr Toby James, Senior Lecturer in British and Comparative Politics, suggests that they could have the opposite effect, and lead to reduced levels of voter registration.

Political engagement

The Scottish independence referendum was described by some as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, which would have permanently changed the political landscape of Scotland. The plebiscite saw 84.6% of the population voting, the highest turnout a nationwide election has had since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1918. The election also gave 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote, which resulted in 109,533 young people signing up before polling day.

It will be interesting to see if this high level of political engagement and the lowering of the voting age will be reflected across the UK in the future. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has already accepted proposals by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to lower the voting age in Holyrood elections permanently; although a House of Lords committee has raised concerns over these plans.

European referendum

The referendum on Europe could potentially be the big issue of this year’s general election. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Conservative Party have promised to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union if in government. However, the Labour party, at the moment, are against the idea of a European referendum.

Due to the fragmented political environment, it is quite possible that there will be another coalition government. In this scenario, parties will negotiate and smaller coalition partners may change their stance. At this stage, other parities including the Liberal Democrats, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Green Party and the SNP may also have an impact.

The latest polls are too close to call: with Ipsos MORI showing the Labour Party leading the Conservative Party by 1 point and YouGov showing the Conservative Party leading the Labour Party by 2 points. If the Labour Party win, it’s unlikely that there would be a referendum on Europe; however if the Conservative Party win, it’s likely that there will be.

Boundary changes

Boundary changes, although not as high profile as the debate on Europe, could also figure in the next parliament. In 2013, a Conservative backed plan to reduce the number of constituencies was rejected by their coalition partners and the opposition parties.  However, there are currently a number of electoral reviews being carried out by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England. For example, North Dorset Council will make changes to their boundaries that will come into force at the local elections in 2015.

Devolution

Greater devolution within England is also expected to be a major general election issue.  Although directly elected mayors have been part of the political landscape since the early 2000’s, not many cities have chosen to introduce them due to low voter turnout. However, in November 2014, the chancellor, George Osborne announced that Greater Manchester would have a directly elected Mayor, who would have a host of new powers for the region. This increase in powers, alongside a greater desire for more local decision making, may lead to a higher voter turnout than has previously been seen. It will be interesting to see if this triggers demands for mayors from other regions.

Police and Crime Commissioners

The spotlight will also be on the role of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC). Similar to the mayoral elections, turnout has been very low for PCCs elections, with the average turnout approximately 14.7%. If the Conservative Party wins the general election, it is likely that PCC elections will continue across England and Wales, despite their low turnout. Conversely, if Labour wins the election, it is likely that they will scrap PCCs, arguing that the Conservatives have wasted millions of pounds on PCC elections.

Whatever the result of the UK election, 2015 looks like being another big year for all aspects of elections management and voting.


Idox Elections is one of the premier election service providers in the UK, providing outstanding expertise and knowledge across all areas of election management.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on elections, democracy and political engagement. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further Reading: