A fair society means options for all: APLE Collective reflect on digital choice and opportunity
by the APLE Collective, with contributions from Just Fair
In our progressive society, it is becoming increasingly difficult to live without the internet. Many aspects of our lives are reliant upon being ‘connected’. But some people are being disproportionately impacted by the increasing use of technology.
Inequalities based on age and gender (and other protected characteristics recognised under the Equality Act 2010) mean specific groups of people have been experiencing harms to their socio-economic rights, including rights to education, social security, health and non-discrimination.
Whether we are home schooling our children, accessing our Universal Credit account, trying to get quicker access to our doctors or move home, without having access to the internet, these tasks are virtually impossible:
“I have recently moved home and had to change my doctors. The new doctor’s surgery is asking me to verify my identity and would prefer it if I sent photos of a recent bill and my passport via email to do this. I don’t even have an email let alone know how to upload a photo…. I then tried to make an appointment and they said I could an appointment quicker if I filled in an e-consult form …I’m guessing that again means doing something online. Why do people seem to think everyone is online?”
Jodie, Thrive Teesside
Being connected digitally cannot be seen as a luxury. Digital access must be seen as a ‘need to have’ and not a ‘nice to have’ by central and local governmental bodies. When thinking about our poorest communities, The Good Things Foundation recently said that ‘23% of children in the poorest families don’t have home access to broadband and a laptop, desktop or tablet.’
S.H is living alone and has no data or internet access. Having a number of health problems has led to SH request a move to supported living. To do this he needs to register with the local choice based letting system and then use this system to bid online on properties each week. This online service may help him find an affordable housing option that supports his needs. Without a device, support and access to the internet, SH is unable to do this. ‘How on earth do they expect me to bid on property, I can’t even look after myself. I don’t have a smart phone, I live alone and there is no one to help me’.
The digital divide obstructs people’s ability to access services, connect with others and realise their full potential. Online learning has increased significantly during this pandemic and no doubt reliance upon technology and being digitally connected will continue to grow. But being connected, accessing the tools and skills to utilise technology, and taking advantage of opportunities, is not the same for everyone.
Under human rights law the UK Government voluntarily agreed to take specific positive measures to ensure the protection and equal enjoyment of rights for groups, particularly affected by crises like the pandemic. When central or local governments address the human rights concerns associated with the digital divide, it is vitally important to work with people who have direct experience of this issue. We must fully acknowledge that this enables people to fully participate in the world around them.
As with all things, we must ensure that a person, in order to have a dignified way of life, has the choice and the agency to make their own informed decisions. Poverty is often not only the absence of an insufficient income, but all too often it is the absence of choice, opportunity, and options. The digital divide is exacerbating this denial of human rights.
As long as we are striving for a fair and just society, options must be available to all. We are aware that some people have zero motivations to become digitally connected. We need the option to access training on digital skills, the option to receive information and access support in a non-digital manner, the option to not be required to conform with the increasingly digital ways services are being offered, and so on.
It is important that we get the pace of our switch to digital tech right, so that more people can make informed choices along the way. As a collective, APLE members commit to ensuring that our campaigns are led and steered by the voice and the pace of those with lived experiences of poverty. This enables us to move forward in an as inclusive manner as is possible, encompassing the needs and choices of all.
Digital technology does not mean one size fits all. As we move online, we must uphold the principles of participation and dignity. If we want our society to be equal and fair, central and local governments must support all options of non-digital and digital ways of living.
The APLE Collective is a national collective of individuals with lived experience of poverty. It works together with other organisations to take positive action to eradicate poverty. For more information, visit the APLE Collective’s website, or follow the APLE Collective on Twitter @APLECollective.
This blog was written with support from Just Fair. For more information about Just Fair’s work on digital inclusion and economic, social and cultural rights, contact Just Fair’s Campaign’s and Advocacy Lead, Misha Nayak-Oliver, visit Just Fair’s website, or follow Just Fair’s Twitter @JustFairUK.
APLE Collective, “A fair society means options for all: APLE Collective reflect on digital choice and opportunity”, (Just Fair Guest Blog, January 2021), <http://justfair.org.uk/home/blog/guest-blog/a-fair-society-means-options-for-all-aple-collective-reflect-on-digital-choice-and-opportunity/>, [Date of access].