'Asking questions about preserving universal access to all basic services'

EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY APRIL 9 File photo dated 04/03/20 of a woman using a laptop on a dining roo

Many people are being denied access to vital services due to being 'digitally absent' - Credit: PA

A couple of weeks ago I Zoomed into a cracking seminar run by Tottenham’s Bridge Trust about 'digital exclusion'.

The term is a catch-all for those unable to fully access services offered digitally by councils, health care, other agencies or commerce.

There are many reasons why people struggle. Some simply won’t be able to afford the kit and, as inflation soars, have less to spend on an internet connection. Others will have long-term conditions that make screen time difficult or impossible. Then there are old gits like me: born into an analogue world and finding the transition to the digital one challenging.

During the session, it occurred to me that 'digital exclusion' is a misnomer. Rather, some are digitally absent: missing from the ether.

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David Winskill says that 11% of the population are digitally absent - Credit: Archant

For years, councils, health providers, banks, and government agencies have been pushing service users online and, if we can’t hack it, they end up excluding many older and vulnerable people.

Haringey’s population is about 270,000. National estimates of the digitally absent vary between 5 per cent and 11pc; using the mid-point that means about 22,000 having difficulties getting general advice, paying parking fines, booking hospital appointments, checking bank balances or applying for benefits.

The implications of this are serious.

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Take health. The Inverse Care Law says that those most in need of care are those that will find it hardest to access that care. This is the same group that is most likely to have problems getting online.

CEOs of many agencies tend to go all Steve Jobs when talking about the wonderful digital opportunities (of which there are many).

I remember an NHS director envisioning how it would soon be possible to get blood-test results from a clinic in Truro while mountaineering in Cumbria! 

For less digitally able and poorer groups the switch to digital channels has effectively become a way of rationing care and access.

Unless this this is challenged by people, campaign groups and politicians, we risk perpetuating and expanding an underclass.

Our elected members have a crucial scrutiny role and they should be challenging and asking questions about preserving universal access to all basic services.

David Winskill is a campaigner from Crouch End.