CAB and Digital by default *
It makes good economic and administrative sense to encourage as many as possible Citizen-Government transactions to be done online. However 7.63 million adults (15 per cent) have never used the Internet, just under half of whom are disabled, so 3.91 million disabled adults have never used the internet. So the emphasis on online only applications for key benefits, services or redress channels risks putting at a particular disadvantage disabled people and people with low literacy levels. Premature withdrawal of non-digital channels, and the speed at which central Government plans to channel shift (for example there are to be no paper claim forms for Universal Credit) may accentuate that risk if consideration is not given to the due regard needed to equality and how alternatives or intermediary support can be provided. The Cabinet Office appear to recognise this in their statement of response to Martha Lane Fox’s review that “Every single Government service must be available to everyone – no matter if they are online or not.”
Engagement with consumers, community and other reprentative groups to understand the needs and find solutions that work in assisting digitally excluded people to access services is key to making the appropriate policy adjustments and meeting the Equality Duty. Over the past few years the Citizens Advice service has been involved in a variety of projects and initiatives to help people access digital or online services and empower them to use those services independently. These projects include:
- The Sheffield Channel Shift project showed the advantage of working partnerships with the local council, DWP Jobcentres, the Government Digital Service, the Online Centres Foundation, Citizens Advice and other local partners. The project has led to a 53% increase in the number of people getting support from the self help section of the local partnerships website.
- Northampton CAB has become an approved UK Online Centre. They are running a scheme supporting people getting online with a specific focus on job seekers especially those being made redundant from traditional local industries.
* Source: Public Sector Equality Duty: Submission to Government Equalities Office Review, Citizen’s Advice [April 2013]