DURING the Queen’s Speech in 2019, it was announced that the Tories planned to bring forward a bill to introduce mandatory photo ID requirements to vote in elections in the UK. The reason being that they wanted to crack down on electoral fraud.

With Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, the plans were put on the back-burner, but this week it was announced that the UK Government intends to bring these plans back by introducing an Electoral Integrity Bill before the summer.

I have spoken in the past about how most right-wing policies skate by on the fact that, on the surface, they often sound reasonable. A great example of this was the bedroom tax. It sounds reasonable to say that people are sitting alone in three-bedroom houses, and if they aren’t willing to downsize to make room for those who need these larger homes, they should pay a tax on it.

However, as we all know, once you scratch beneath the surface you see that the houses people are supposed to downsize into don’t exist. You see that people have lived in these homes for sometimes 40 or 50 years, making moving an extremely distressing and difficult task. You see that moving is actually an expensive thing to do and people in poverty, even if they have a larger house, can’t afford to move.

You see that some disabled people need a separate bedroom for their partner because they use medical equipment that is noisy. What the bedroom tax is – once you apply even the slightest bit of scrutiny to it – is a tax on the poor for being poor.

The same is true of voter ID laws. On the surface it seems reasonable to ask people to produce a piece of ID when they go to vote. Most people have ID on them at all times, anyway, right? Well … no. Not everyone does.

In particular, the elderly, those in poverty and racial minorities are less likely to have a form of photo ID according to the electoral commission (www.electoralcommission.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf_file/Proof-of-identity-scheme-updated-March-2016.pdf, page 12, section 3.3).

It’s easy to get a photo ID, right? Well … no. Getting a passport costs up to £85. Even getting a provisional driving license can cost anywhere up to £43, plus the cost of postage and getting photos taken. The Electoral Commission recommends instituting a free “Voter Card” system to be administered by local councils to combat these cost barriers.

Given the bedroom tax example I mentioned earlier, I don’t trust the Tories to decide to do the right thing and offer a free piece of ID to everyone, do you? An additional little tax on the poor for being poor, alongside an upcoming £20 cut to Universal Credit seems far more likely.

Aside from the morality of mandatory voter ID, it is arguably just a massive waste of time. The Electoral Reform Society has a great chart on its website showing how many cases of voter fraud there have been in UK elections since 2015 (www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaigns/upgrading-our-democracy/voter-id).

In looking at elections since 2015, you can clearly see how rare incidents of voter fraud actually are. For example, in 2019 there were more than 58 million votes cast and only 34 allegations of voter fraud. That is roughly (and my feelings on maths are well known at this point so forgive me if my sums are wrong) 0.00006% of total votes cast.

The Electoral Commission estimated that implementing voter ID laws with free voter cards would cost up to £10.8m. Why – at this time of economic crisis, when we are dealing with the tandem blows of Brexit and Covid – would we waste almost £11m on something so unnecessary? The reason is clear: it only hurts voters that this Government don’t like. Voters who don’t vote for them.

If we are to have electoral reform, it should be to open up elections and make them more inclusive.

The Scottish Government has led the way on this by extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds.

I am particularly proud to live in a country that allows people to vote based on residence over citizenship. Everyone who lives here lives with the consequences of elections, and so everyone should have a say.

While we’re at it, we should introduce automatic registration for voters. Elections should be inclusive and voter ID laws are, by their nature, exclusive.

Whenever we are told that such ID laws are necessary, we should always scratch beneath the surface to find what problem, if any, is actually being addressed. It usually becomes very clear, very quickly, who really benefits.