At the risk of sounding like a Luddite I worry about the council, and indeed the government, expecting us to do more and more things online.
Brighton & Hove Council leader, Cllr Jason Kitcat recently spoke about the council’s new-look website, saying “It’s the next step as we radically change how people access council services,” and Iain Duncan Smith MP has stated that every benefit claim will have to be done on the web when his Universal Credit comes into play, well, soonish (ho ho). He’s already forcing claimants to use the much-derided Universal Jobmatch site to prove they have been looking for work or have their benefits sanctioned.
When I read things like that I think of my old mum, 77, who can’t even use a bloody mobile phone let alone a computer. Now, I hear you say, that’s not really fair: the younger generation have mostly grasped the net nettle and are all pretty computer savvy, aren’t they? Well, yes, but when did all this ‘kids fingers glued to keyboards’ thing start? Not very long ago in, the grand scheme of things. My son is 14 and is one of this generation. He often has to rescue his wailing mum when she can’t even work out how to turn the volume down on her PC (yes, I’m that stupid).
But putting ALL council and official things online, right NOW, with no easy way to opt out? It’s just not fair.
Belive it or not, there’s still a large number of adults (7.5 million according to the INS 2012 report) who have never used the internet at all, and guess who these people mostly are: the disabled, the old and the poor – the very people who will have the most need to claim benefits, and to contact their councils.
It’s often claimed today, mostly by idiots, that the price of a broadband connection is ‘affordable by all’. This is bullshit for a number of reasons. Firstly, ‘affordable by all’ is a stupid statement in itself, and secondly, yes, you can get the service pretty cheaply if you live in a well-connected town or city, but what happens if you live in the middle of the countryside like me? £50 per month is what happens. Yes, £50. Bit of a difference there from the £2 unlimited broadband from Tesco that was in the news last week, isn’t it.
‘Libraries!’ is the cry. ‘Get thee to a library, there to sign on, do thee internet banking, and search for ye olde job!’
Here’s why this is not an option for a lot of people:
A: This stupid, idiotic government, this smash-and-grab government, are closing the buggers down.
B: Not everyone lives near one of the last of the libraries so it costs in petrol or bus fares to get to one in the first place. If you’re old or disabled you may not be able to get to one at all.
C: What do you do if you manage to get on a library computer and there’s no one there to show you how to use it?
D: Security. Universal Jobmatch has already come in for much criticism over its lax security features. Using a public computer to do very private things (no, not that sort) is a recipe for disaster.
I reckon that councils, for the time being, won’t make you take to the net to do vital stuff. They’ll actively encourage you to use the net as, of course, it costs them less if you DIY, but they will always be a phone call away for most things.
The government, on the other hand, seem dead set on an ‘our way or the highway’ approach to accessing services on the net. I wonder if they could perchance have a hidden agenda. ‘No, never!’ I hear you cry. ‘This government? This sainted government? A hidden agenda to dissuade people from claiming benefits by making it so complicated and offputting that people just abandon even trying? Not them, oh no.” Oh no indeed.