“Remember, remember the Fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot,” goes the traditional rhyme. I wonder what rhymes will be written about the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and Climate Change?
Lockdowns, home schooling and homeworking became the norm in 2020, continuing into 2021 impacting all our lives. Those fortunate enough to have PCs and internet connections were able to adapt to a new daily routine using digital technologies online for education and work. This has been challenging, but workable!
Throughout 2020, the spotlight on the digital divide became brighter, illuminating the real gap between those that have and those that don’t. This gave rise to quick local responses, providing IT equipment to those who shouted loudest or those who were lucky enough to live close to the benefactors. The Government stepped up providing some IT equipment to schools through the Department for Education, but this was often too little, too late. Little help was provided to school leavers, young adults, job seekers, and the general public who continue to be disadvantaged due to not having a PC and internet access.
To date, despite a surge in digital service delivery and digital support across the UK, a large number of people are still cut-off from the ‘new normal’ because of a lack of digital access. The Digital Poverty Alliance is taking on this challenge nationally.
10th December is International Human Rights Day, which is a worldwide celebration of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 2020 Theme: Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights theme related to the COVID-19 pandemic and focused on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts.
“We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.” Human Rights Day | United Nations
There are far too many people struggling to meet their essential needs and access important information. Access to the internet must no longer be seen as a luxury and a privilege. Everyone needs easy access to PCs and internet to access services, many of which are only delivered online. We all need to be able to exercise and enjoy our human rights, including our right to education, work, social security, and housing.
The COVID-19 lock-downs also showed us that we all need access to digital communication technologies to affordably engage with services, connect with friends and family, and receive much needed emotional support.
Better ConNEcted is working group in the North East of England imagining a North East where digital inclusion is a right enjoyed by all. We want people to have the skills, technology, and internet to access goods, services, and information online, in order to close the digital divide.
“Over the past 9 months, the Better ConNEcted campaign has seen the impact of digital exclusion first hand across North East England:
People on universal credit are expected to update journals and log benefit changes online. This has been, for many, impossible when libraries and other services have been closed
Asylum seekers on university scholarships have been unable to study and take exams online as they cannot afford decent data packages (due to low Asylum Seeker support). On top of this, they are ineligible for many university digital support programmes due to their immigration status
Disabled people have struggled to access food due to poor accessibility functions on supermarket websites. They have been unable to book online food delivery slots as many websites do not use correct accessibility software
Homeless people have been left without support, being told to access services online. However, charities and libraries who typically enable internet access have had to reduce their hours or to shut their doors completely
Closing the digital divide requires investment of money, time and ideas. We need innovative solutions to accessing equipment, providing affordable internet packages for those on low-incomes, and improving digital skills and accessibility. Many organisations are already doing this on a small scale and have seen remarkable impacts. We want to see this happening on a larger scale.
Ultimately, digital inclusion enables people to be more in control of their lives. It is time to change the narrative around digital inclusion. It is time to promote access to the internet as an essential part of everyday life that is crucial to our human rights. Together we can change the narrative.” Reference: A Digital Lens on Human Rights (betterconnected.org.uk)
By Andy Wake. This blog was first published on Digital Poverty Alliance on 8th November 2021.