LGA calls for all public bodies to put #digitalinclusion at the heart of #ukcare

The Universal Credit (UC) is set to be the first Digital by Default public service –  but those most likely to need it are the least likely to be online.

press release issued today by the Local Government Association (LGA) begins,

In its recently published Digital by Default strategy, Government is proposing to deliver public services online by default. This will start with the proposed universal credit, set to replace child tax credit, housing benefit, jobseekers allowance, income support, working tax credit and part of the social fund from 2013. The target is that from 2015, the default way to claim will be online.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 8.2 million adults in the UK, 16 per cent of the adult population have never used the Internet. Disproportionately represented within this group are older people, disabled people, unemployed people, people in poverty and/or on low incomes, all of whom are more likely to apply for benefits such as the Universal Credit.

To help councils prepare for the implementation of universal credit, the LGA is working with the Government to launch pilot areas beforehand. However, to ensure those in need are able to claim once it goes online, as well as avoid potentially huge and unforeseen knock-on costs of a failing online system, the LGA is calling on all public bodies to make digital inclusion a key part of their work with the vulnerable, from transforming adult social care to helping problem families.

Race Online 2012 are driving some great initiatives, encouraging everyday Internet-users to help someone they know to get online. This is certainly a good approach. The digital divide runs a lot deeper than simply not having access to a computer with an Internet connection. The biggest barriers for people are lack of confidence, skills and seeing no reason to make the effort. An introduction to something new is often daunting but far more effective when it’s with someone you know and trust.

Research by the National Housing Federation (and others) has shown that digital exclusion is part of the wider problem of social exclusion, with the potential to magnify and entrench it still further. The biggest challenge in getting people online is getting access to them. People suffering from social exclusion are usually, by definition, hard to reach but housing and care providers have a rare and privileged access to these people who depend on them.

As I have argued before, housing and care service providers should intervene here because no-one else is likely to be able to and this call from the LGA is a stark reminder of this.

Race Online 2012 have identified 1.8 million people in the UK ‘new to life online since 2009’ but my concern is that the ONS only count people who have never been online. Learning any new skill requires time, effort and persistence and this measure offers no indication of how many people are now competent and confident Internet users with the proficiency necessary to intuit how to, for instance, find out about and apply for the Universal Credit. Here too, I think housing and care providers have a responsibility because they have the resources to arrange and facilitate the ongoing support needed for people to continue their development.

Councillor Flick Rea, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said:

We’re forever told we live in a digital age, but actually for millions of people this is another world to which they aren’t connected. What’s worse is that it’s the people who would benefit the most in practical terms, such as the elderly, disabled, poor and unemployed, who have the least access.

“Digital inclusion needs to be at the heart of everything we do, from transforming adult social care to supporting problem families. It’s not just about the hardware, getting people computers and supplying superfast broadband, it’s also about educating people that it’s worth getting online. There’s already a lot of great work out there locally which we must share and build on.”

Useful links:
(If I’ve neglected to include a worthwhile link here, please let me know)



  1. Paul Nash (@penval)

    A well informed blog post James and you make some excellent points here. I have a concern that we are failing to really drill down to the real issues that underpin Digital by Default which I mentioned in: . http://www.penval.co.uk/news/a-tale-of-two-cities

    Part of my concern is that I don’t believe that the RaceOnline2012 approach will impact on the deeper causes of exclusion. While I applaud the 80% success rate what we are faced with here is the long tail of exclusion and this requires working much more closely with those agencies who deal with grass roots exclusion As I argues in my piece many of those agencies aren’t ready even now and I suspect many of those are too pre occupied with re organisation to focus on modernisation.

    Does this mean that the Raceonline approach shouldn’t be used? Of course not but we should steer clear of making an assumption that it is “the” answer to the problems. We should also find routes to supporting key organisations and listening to their understanding of excluded groups. The vestiges of the IDeA which now exists together with the LGA recently stated that exclusion was no longer a barrier to Digital by Default and there will be a public pressure to make that a fact. Their solution is Assisted Digital, and there may be mileage there in the short term, but I believe that the very groups I mentioned above are the ones who are best placed to deliver Assited Digital and as I say, they’re not ready yet.

  2. bristoljames

    Thanks Paul. Do you have any pointers for further reading about ‘assisted digital’?

    Paul makes a particularly important point in his blog (linked to above):

    “The sector [third sector and service providers], which is expected to take over the delivery of services as local authorities move to commissioning rather than delivery, is not ready for Digital by Default; ergo it is not ready for Assisted Digital. While the Government may point to the success of its digital champions and its one million UKOnline successes it has yet to address the principle client group of many Third Sector organisations, the final 20% who are the biggest users of services. The Third Sector is not ready of the impact of personalisation nor is it prepared for co-production. The difference is that as a sector it is willing to say so, it is willing to tackle the issues and it is determined to meet the needs of its client groups.”

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