Migrants, Multiculture

Why is it hard for Latin Americans to vote in the UK?

Voting is an intrinsic part of democracy and a key way in which people can make their voices heard – as electoral results influence who makes decisions about our local area, our city, our region and the country. By participating in elections, voters have a say in decisions that affect not just themselves, but their friends, family and communities.

Importantly, the Elections Act (2022) has changed how we exercise this democratic right. For under-represented communities, such as Latin Americans, it will be vital to be aware of the impact to ensure we can still demonstrate our civic participation at the ballots in the 2024 elections.

According to the 2016 report Towards Visibility by McIlwaine & Bunge, 53% of Latin Americans living in the UK have either UK citizenship (so they can vote in all elections) or EU citizenship (so they can only vote in local elections, the Mayor of London elections and the London Assembly elections). The next London elections will take place on the 2nd of May 2024 and will help decide things across a range of policy areas, including the protection of community spaces, for example – something that is key for Latin American Londoner

However, many Latin Americans are still not aware of their right to participate. Currently, an estimated 157,800 Latin Americans are officially living in London, making them one of the city’s fastest-growing migrant groups, with two-thirds having arrived since 2000. Thus, it’s essential to drive awareness of and protect their right to suffrage.

The Elections Act (2022) brought into force last year, has made photo identification a requirement to vote in person in England.

This presents difficulties for some Latin Americans to exercise their right to vote, as they are arguably one of the groups that is most likely to be impacted by this change in legislation and be in danger of disenfranchisement. The reasons behind this, explored in more detail below, point to barriers faced by many migrant and minority ethnic communities in the UK. Due to the difficulty in accessing trustworthy, official information, as well as guidance in community languages, like in Spanish and Portuguese, Latin Americans have to deal with constant uncertainty regarding government guidelines, or information about health and safety.

In the case of the new photo Voter ID requirement the data suggests that only 62% of ‘other/mixed’ Londoners are aware of the new requirement, which is low compared to a 76% overall awareness, making it reasonable to assume that this also poses a challenge for Latin Americans and their democratic rights.

But what are the reasons for this? What are the specific barriers Latin Americans face to participating in civic and democratic life in London? Some explanations relate to the above conditions, but three main reasons stand out.


9 in 10 of the onward Latin American population (those who arrived via the European Union, most commonly Spain) identified language as the main problem in moving to the UK, which hinders comprehension and communication. This in turn makes the enactment and protection of their voting rights extremely difficult. More specifically, the barrier caused by language makes it difficult for some Latin Americans to understand their rights, visit a GP, register for National Insurance, fill out tax forms, use the gov.uk website, register to vote, etc.

Financial hardship

1/4 of Latin Americans have low-paid, low-paid elementary jobs (such as cleaners, kitchen assistants or security guards) and another 1/5 have jobs in other low-paid sectors like sales. This means that making ends meet might be a higher priority for most Latin Americans, than learning the requirements and registering to vote.


The information about the requirements to be able to vote can be hard to understand for anyone. Indeed, nearly a quarter of Londoners do not know about the new photo Voter ID requirement, and only half know the accepted forms of photo ID, with a quarter not being aware.

If English isn’t your first language, it is harder to understand the information about how to exercise your right to vote.

To address the inequalities experienced by Latin Americans, the Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK (CLAUK), a collective formed by long-established Latin American organisations, works on behalf of and with the communities that have made the UK their home. One way these organisations collaborate is through advocating for Latin-Americans’ rights, ensuring that local authorities and the government are informed about the specific needs of a growing population of a total of more than 280,000 people within the UK. CLAUK also actively supports Latin Americans with language learning (e.g. by promoting free English classes, or securing free interpreting services from local services) and assists them in their own language as they help Latin Americans understand processes, such as registering to vote and casting a ballot.

With regards to democratic life, CLAUK has supported and continues to engage Latin Americans to raise awareness of the Elections Act (2022) in Portuguese and Spanish, as well as supporting Latin Americans who may require language and/or digital assistance in order to register to vote.

CLAUK has been offering this support since 2012, has participated in the annual London Voter Registration Week for the last 2 years, and has delivered voter registration and Voter ID awareness and support as part of the Greater London Authority’s Voter ID grants programme, since January 2023.

Voting is not only a right that Latin Americans should be able to exercise, but also a means through which they can voice their concerns, support policies that represent their interests and empower themselves to affect change. Latin Americans shouldn’t lose the hard-earned right to vote. For this reason, it is key to act now, and secure their access to information and registration, so that they are prepared for the Mayor of London and London Assembly Elections on 2 May 2024, and can get heard, in these and other future elections.

Supported by the Greater London Authority, City Hall, Kamal Chunchie Way, London E16 1ZE. Printed and promoted by Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK, Unit 9, Warwick House, Overton Road, London SW9 7JP.

(Photos: CLAUK and Pixabay)



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