On the initiative of Tory Cllrs Yvette Hopley and Sara Bashford Monday’s Council meeting debated the problems of the digital divide in Croydon an issue I have been highlighting for the last couple of years.
Hopley proposed the following motion:
‘Whilst accepting that online access to services is significantly cheaper and suits many younger residents’ lifestyles, this chamber is concerned that the push to digital-only access is discriminatory against the 14% (or more) of residents who are not digitally enabled and that appropriate non-digital points of access to all services should continue for as long as there is a need.’
After amendment by Labour’s Mark Watson and Oliver Lewis, the following motion was agreed:
‘Whilst accepting that online access to services is significantly cheaper and is increasingly the only way to access many services, this chamber is concerned that the 14% (or more) of residents who are not digitally enabled will continue to be disadvantaged and therefore welcome this Councils Basic Digital Skills Action Plan, which includes a target of 40 digital zones being established across Croydon, to ensure that appropriate points of access to basic digital skills training should continue for as long as there is a need, while still providing services in cost effective ways which ensure no one is left behind.’
‘I am pleased to have the opportunity to propose this motion. Whilst I am great supporter of technological advancement it has been brought to my attention that many residents in our borough are being left behind unable to access key services. These people are finding themselves isolated and completely out of touch. This is discrimination.
We know that 14% or more of residents do not have the means or skill to use the internet and I know for a fact that the number is much higher throughout the borough. Statistics show that many elderly have no computers or can’t afford them and even with assistance from our much loved library struggle with the complex forms that are now a matter of the only choice for many of the services on offer.
The Fairness Commission has outlined that our elderly residents are “living in isolation” a serious problem highlighted in their report. Sometimes the telephone is the only method of communication they have and to receive a complex message only to say that the service can only be met online leaves them frightened and worried.
The Council’s Basic Digital Skills Action Plan, which includes a target of 40 digital zones being in place does not address this problem. Currently the training has been a disaster. The Croydon Adult Social Services Users Panel training at Fairfield Halls proved to be a complete failure with the key operatives being unable to access the networks to the system let alone being able to train anyone. So systems such as Go On UK and Browse Aloud UK are not as simple or useful as they seem and are certainly not the answer to many of the questions which need to be raised before taking up services.
The Croydon Adult Social Services Users Panel also produced an extremely important report on the problems encountered with accessing the council services. Many of this group are vulnerable with disabilities. They have been told that they are “not a priority” and the report they produced is still awaiting many of the recommendations such as simple requests for staff to have a correct telephone number and means of leaving a message for those that can’t email a request.
Cllr Woodley you have seen at first-hand how difficult it has been for this group to access information and I am asking for your intervention in this matter and ask that you ensure they are made a priority. This is blatant discrimination. I ask you to stand up for those vulnerable people that you represent. Those with learning disabilities or indeed any disability. Everyone needs to be able to fully engage with the council and access services. I ask that you stop this discrimination.’
Developing Digital Skills
Meanwhile the Government used the launch of Croydon Tech City’s 2016 activities to announce a mentoring scheme in schools to help pupils into technology and engineering careers.
Speaking at the launch the Digital Minister Matt Hancock congratulated the work of CTC.