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While digital technology is regarded as an integral part of everyday life, and remote, virtual and online living bring benefits to some people, research shows that specific groups of people do not have access, or are unable to use, digital processes.

The COVID-19 Committee is a House of Lords Select Committee which considers the long-term implications of the pandemic on the economic and social wellbeing of the UK. The Committee launched an inquiry which looks at the long-term impact digital technology may have on our social and economic wellbeing and, in particular, on four key drivers of wellbeing: physical health, mental health, social interaction and quality of working life.

What did we say in our submission about living online and the impact on wellbeing?

Our written submission of evidence to the  COVID-19 Committee‘s inquiry looks at the economic and social rights implications of digital technology on people’s wellbeing in the UK.

We make recommendations based on human rights measures we think should be taken by the UK Government going forward to ensure no group of people is disproportionately affected or disadvantaged by the increasing use of digital technology in society.

What evidence did we provide in the submission?

The submission includes evidence provided by:

Better ConNEcted, a collaboration of organisations and individuals across the North East of England who are working in some way to tackle digital inclusion.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), a national organisation led by disabled people working on educational issues and, in particular, working to promote the right for disabled students to be included in mainstream education.

Inclusion Barnet is a Peer-Led Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisation (DDPO), based in Barnet, North West London.

Why did we submit to the House of Lords COVID-19 Committee inquiry?

Just Fair is a UK-based charity that is working to realise a fairer and more just society by monitoring and advocating for economic and social rights in the UK. We ensure that law, policy, and practice comply with the international and domestic human rights obligations pertaining to economic and social rights. We are committed to increasing public awareness of human rights law and the capability to use it.

Inequalities based on disability, age (and other protected characteristics) and/or socioeconomic status are leading to people being disproportionately impacted by the “digital divide”. As a result, people across the UK have been experiencing a number of violations of their socio-economic rights, including their right to protection from non-discrimination and this will have a long-term impact on their well-being.

The digital divide has been made worse by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social and economic rights are afforded to all without discrimination and are included in a number of international human rights standards that successive UK Governments voluntarily ratified and with which the UK Government is obliged to comply. In particular, the UK has ratified seven legally binding international human rights treaties which relate to economic and social rights and protect all people.

Any measures taken by the UK Government or public authorities which increase or decrease the extent to which people are ‘living online’ should have human rights at its core in order to adequately respond to the needs of the population.

There are many issues related to living online that the UK Government could address in order to improve long-term wellbeing, particularly for people who are being disproportionately affected or disadvantaged by the “digital divide”.

What are our main recommendations to the UK Government?

In order to promote digital inclusion and positive wellbeing, the UK Government should:

• Minimise obstacles for certain groups of people identified as those who are digitally excluded, and provide inclusive, assistive technologies and alternative accessible processes.

• Provide information, which is accessible to all people, including but not limited to through Easy Read formats, braille, British Sign Language and in hard copy.

• Invest in personalised support that is flexible enough to meet individual needs, an individual, person-centred approach is key.

• Support and involve the participation of people, who are disproportionately impacted by the digital divide, in decision-making processes which affect the design and use of technology.

• Ensure that remote/virtual service provision remains an option for those who have benefited, including continuing to allow remote welfare benefit appeals and medical assessments in line with the feedback and experience of many disabled service users.

• Comply with its human rights obligations under international and domestic human rights law where it makes decisions or takes steps to digitally transform the justice system.

• Collect and make available in the public domain disaggregated data on the use of digital technology in the justice system, to support research by external experts.

• Collect and make available in the public domain disaggregated data on the level of demand for digital assistance across all areas of social welfare law, assessing the impact on the provision of legal advice services created as a result of an increased digital demand on front line service providers as digital justice processes are introduced in the justice system.

• Increase funding for social welfare advice and legal support across all sectors providing front line advice services to members of the public.

• Develop a process to monitor and evaluate the economic, social, and cultural rights impacts of ‘living online’.

For more information about our work on digital inclusion, contact our Campaigns and Advocacy Lead, Misha Nayak-Oliver.