UK Democracy Fund

The electoral participation challenge

As many as 8 million people across the UK may still not be correctly registered to vote. These people are not evenly spread across the population. They are predominantly young, from ethnic minorities, born overseas, renting their homes or living more precariously.

Why does it matter? Governments are less responsive to the concerns of those who do not vote.  Unequal participation in elections spells unequal influence for significant parts of the population. And it does not stop here. Political inequality entrenches other inequalities shaping peoples’ lives. This undermines trust in our political system and makes our democracy profoundly unfair.


The UK Democracy Fund exists to address this

The UK Democracy Fund (the Fund) is a pooled Fund set up by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) in 2019 and supported by a group of committed funders, including a number of charitable trusts. Independent and non-partisan, the Fund is helping build a healthy democracy – one in which everyone can participate and where political power is shared fairly. The Fund addresses the challenge of funding democratic participation and tackling political inequality. It has three broad goals:

Enabling everyone to vote: Building support for reforms to ensure a simple, seamless and accessible voting system fit for the 21st Century.

Extending the right to vote: Advocating in support of expanding the franchise for 16- and 17-year-olds and settled UK residents from overseas.

Increasing participation of everyone in our elections: Making an effort to raise the turnout of low-propensity voters to improve fairness in our democracy.


In the run up to the next General Election, the Fund is seeking to resource ambitious non-partisan efforts to register and turnout a million new voters from priority demographic groups, creating a step change in closing the participation gap.

This work will specifically focus on engaging and working to register and turnout:

  • Young people, especially those with characteristics that make them less likely to vote.
  • Those ethnicities and nationalities least likely to vote particularly: people of African heritage; people of Caribbean heritage; people of South Asian heritage; Commonwealth citizens; EU citizens who experience racism or are from racialised minorities.
  • Those who move house frequently, private renters and the vulnerably housed.
  • Those with lower incomes, particularly those without educational qualifications.

There is a window of opportunity to plan early, and to achieve an ambitious shift in electoral participation in the UK. The learning from the first phase of the Fund has provided a basis to target funding to approaches, strategies and methods where we have higher confidence, and to focus on scaling some types of action. We are seeking to support ambitious campaigns and approaches that use evidence and practice of what works, and systematically experiment to increase participation.


Find out more

You can find out more about what we have funded here. And read about our learnings so far here.

If you are interested in applying for a grant please see our funding framework.


What we will not fund

  • Partisan activities: The Fund operates on a non-partisan basis supporting applicants to encourage people to register to vote and encouraging people to vote but not for anyone in particular – see Electoral Commission guidance. We will want to talk to applicants about how they will ensure their planned activities are non-partisan, taking account of content, tone, timing and calls to action.
  • By-elections and local election activity: we will not fund by-elections or local election activities unless we are learning or testing something specifically that will enhance closing the participation gap and can be built upon at the next General Election, or in our plans for reform.
  • Small-scale outreach work: we will not support small-scale campaigns, unless they seek to generate new learning on how to reach a specific audience, or clearly demonstrate how they will contribute to new evidence in the field.


How does the UK Democracy Fund operate?

The Fund operates on an independent and strictly non-partisan basis. It does not seek to influence the outcome of an election.

The Fund is operated and managed by JRRT.

JRRT directors make decisions on which applications contribute most effectively to the Fund’s desired outcomes.

The Fund is open to contributions from a range of sources, charitable and non-charitable. JRRT ensures that charitable funds are used for charitable purposes, and that all funds are allocated in line with electoral law.

We recognise that there are others working to improve the health of our democracy, and aim to contribute to an ecosystem of donors, activists and others keen to engage everyone in the voting system.

If you would like to support the work of the UK Democracy Fund, please contact:


Contributors to the UK Democracy Fund

The following funders have contributed to the UK Democracy Fund: Barrow Cadbury Trust Ltd (Registered Charity: 1115476.); Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (Registered Charity: 210037); John Ellerman Foundation (Registered Charity: 263207); Scurrah Wainwright Charity (Registered Charity: 1002755); Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust (Company No. 2608087); The Tinsley Charitable Trust (Registered Charity: 1020294); The Blagrave Trust (Registered Charity: 1164021); Unbound Philanthropy and the Family Office (Company No. OC384120); Paul Hamlyn Foundation (Registered Charity: 1102927); Porticus UK (Registered Charity: 1069245); The Symondson Foundation, a giving fund within the Master Charitable Trust (Registered Charity: 1139904)

JRRT contributes directly to the Fund and additionally provides the grant management, office and finance services.