We'd all like to believe that we live in a democratic society in which the needs and opinions of everyone are considered, regardless of gender, age or social status. But is this actually reflected in our political system?
In an ideal world, the answer would be 'yes'. However, the major caveat is that political inclusion is reliant on participation, something that is far from guaranteed.
This was illustrated in the recent local elections which, as the results poured in, proved to be one of the most fiercely debated in recent memory. A significant aspect was the fact that only around 36% of UK electorate the voted.
Whatever you think of the result and whatever your political preference, the reality is that if you didn't vote, your voice may have gone unheard. Making your choice at the ballot box is the most direct way to express your views and influence the decisions made that impact your life.
Low levels of turnout can mean that some sections of society do not get their voice heard This is a particular issue amongst residents of social housing and homeless people with many missing out and unable to have their say at elections because they are not on the electoral roll. As a result just 55% of social housing tenants voted in the last General Election.
A combination of factors contribute to low turnout at elections, but research shows that disillusionment with politics is a major concern. The Hansard Society's annual Audit of Political Engagement indicates a feeling that politicians are out of touch with the general public: around half (51%) of people agree that Parliament 'debates and makes decisions about issues that matter to me', whilst 67% agree politicians 'don't understand the daily lives of people like me.'
Unfortunately, the relationship between disillusionment, lack of engagement and low election turnout is self-perpetuating and creates a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break. Residents of social housing and homelessness services have particularly low levels of engagement with politics and, if left unchallenged, this pattern is likely to continue at the 2015 General Election.
With this in mind, Homeless Link and the Hansard Society have launched the Your Vote Matters project, with support from the Cabinet Office, to engage these groups with local and national politics by showing the difference they can make to their lives and communities. We are running workshops across the country that empower people to register to vote and have a say in the issues that are important to them.
Registering to be on the electoral register is, in itself, beneficial. Being on the electoral register is one of the key checks that are made in any application for personal credit - for example, for a credit card or a mobile phone contract. Being registered makes other areas of life easier to manage.
Now registering to vote has just become quicker and easier with a new online system. By providing a few details, including national insurance number and date of birth, the whole process can be completed in minutes.
You can register to vote by clicking here.
Homeless Link and the Hansard Society are aiming to get as many people as possible from social housing and homelessness services to register to vote to ensure that they have a say in who represents them and makes the decisions that affect their lives. For more information about the project and how you can get involved, visit www.homeless.org.uk/yvm or keep up with what our supporters are doing using the hashtag #yvmatters.