This month, the UK Government published its updated Digital Inclusion Strategy. Dave Brown, Director of Strategic Development and Performance at the Wales Co-operative Centre, asks what this might mean for Wales.
The UK Government Digital Inclusion Strategy describes succinctly the scale of the digital exclusion issue as it affects the whole of the UK.
“Today, the web has 2.4 billion users worldwide. To put this incredible speed of adoption in some context, radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users, television took 13 years, web took 4 years and Facebook took just 10 months. In 2013, 89% of young people now use a smartphone or tablet to go online, up from 43% in 2010.
The web has transformed almost every aspect of public, private and work life. It has underpinned our new economy; from changing the way every workplace communicates to creating entire new industries. It is reshaping government through improved public services and improving transparency through open data.
And it has improved people’s lives, whether through cutting household bills, finding a job or maintaining contact with distant friends and relatives. For business and voluntary organisations, going online can provide ways to reach more customers and reduce operating costs. The internet also provides broader benefits, by helping to address wider social and economic issues like reducing isolation and improving health.”
So what is to be done about the half million or so people in Wales who are left behind: those that lack the skills, confidence, motivation or opportunity to get online? There is little in the UK Government document that relates to our specific Welsh context. What we have got in Wales is a proud history of putting our money where our mouth is, when it comes to funding digital inclusion support. The Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme is run by the Wales Co-operative Centre, and has had a huge impact on the lives of those most excluded and most affected by poverty.
As Wales moves on from Communities 2.0, to the next phase of digital inclusion support, we need to build on the strong foundations of partnership laid down by Communities 2.0 initiatives. Yes, practical digital inclusion activities need to be integrated into the mainstream. But for this to be effective it needs support, coordination and leadership. Nothing like the revolution in information and communication described in the UK Government document has ever happened before. As Wales, as a nation, responds to this challenge, it seems right to give the issue the particular attention that only a dedicated strategic project can bring.
For the past three years, the Wales Co-operative Centre have been funded to work with private rented sector landlords and their tenants, local authorities, credit unions and support providers. The aim of our work has been to improve tenants financial capability, and in turn help then to sustain their tenancies or access more appropriate and affordable housing.
Jocelle Lovell, the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Financial Inclusion Project Manager, said credit where credit is due, Swansea City Council are taking a really proactive approach to working with their private rented sector (PRS) landlords.
Last night, I attended the annual PRS Forum at the Guild Hall, in Swansea, along with 80 to 100 other landlords.
The agenda wasn’t too busy, which helped to keep the evening focussed, and we heard short presentations from:
- Welsh Governments Simon White on Housing Act (Wales) 2014, Renting Homes Bill and what the model contracts will look like
- Anne Rowland (seconded to Welsh Government) on Regulation of the PRS Housing Act (Wales) 2014, the Housing Act and landlord registration and licensing and how this is going to work
- Both of which are of interest to the Centre’s own work with the Welsh housing sector, through both Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion and the Co-operative Housing projects.
The presentation which really caught my attention was by Marcia Williams of The Wallich, about the new PRS access scheme they are developing with Swansea City Council. Having consulted with landlords, they are now developing a scheme which will bring together the various local authority departments relevant to housing including environmental health and planning, along with support and advice. This one stop shop model will focus purely on the PRS, offering a wide range of services that will include; advice, pre tenancy and in tenancy support and housing management functions to landlords and their tenants.
Swansea clearly recognises the significance of the PRS and its role as a strategic housing partner, developing a very proactive approach to engaging with the sector, in order to make more properties available to meet the growing demand for affordable housing options.
The evening ended with a Q&A sessions and the raffle, where winning ticket holders received bags with Carbon monoxide detectors and small fire extinguishers amongst other things.
Support for people who are digitally excluded is one of the key planks in the Welsh Government’s tackling poverty strategy. For the last six years there has been a significant investment in this support through the Communities 2.0 programme, which is run by the Wales Co-operative Centre. The programme is shortly coming to an end, and the Welsh Government is developing its approach to digital inclusion support in the future. As Dave Brown, the Centre’s Director of Strategic Development & Performance, writes, it therefore seems reasonable to ask: does publically funded digital inclusion support actually lead to permanent, positive changes in behaviour around computers and the Internet?
We know that Communities 2.0 has been hugely successful in providing targeted support to individuals. Over 52,000 people have been directly helped so far. Countless more are supported by local delivery partners. But do these people actually end up online? Do they get the benefits of being connected? Do they continue to use and develop their skills? Thanks to a new longitudinal study by BT and Citizens Online, we know the answer. And it’s a resounding “yes”.
The study looked at people helped by the Get IT Together project, which is supported in Wales by Communities 2.0. They tracked people attending training sessions and surveyed them when they did the session, and again two years later. The study found that 60% of those who did not have home Internet access at the start went on to install it. Many without a home connection accessed the Internet through public points like libraries, or used connections of friends and family. Clearly the message is getting through, to the extent that most beneficiaries go on to invest in the “gold standard” of digital inclusion: broadband at home.
It is the direct support to the person who is digitally excluded that brings the benefits. But digital inclusion sessions don’t organise themselves. One of the huge successes of the Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme has been the way the Wales Co-operative Centre staff have led the planning and co-ordinating of digital inclusion activity locally. We have brought together partnerships, secured funding and driven organisational change to put digital inclusion at the top of the agenda.
The challenge for us now is to keep it there.
Tackling poverty runs through everything we do at the Wales Co-operative Centre; from helping people in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas to improve their financial capability, to supporting people to get online and learn new skills that can help them back into work or start a business. We also work with social enterprises and co-operatives, to help develop stronger, more sustainable and better businesses.
Here, Jocelle Lovell, Financial Inclusion Project Manager, discusses the role of financial inclusion in tackling poverty…
This week (Tuesday, 4 November), I was invited to speak at ‘Advice & Support’, Carmarthenshire’s Network Event in the Halliwell Centre, Trinity St Davids, Carmarthen. The topic was ‘What financial inclusion really means and its significance in the fight against poverty’; the challenge was taking something that I could talk about all day and putting it into a 20 minute presentation.
So I started with the three key elements of Financial Inclusion:
- Accessibility – being able to access the financial services and products needed to participate fully in modern-day society and manage money effectively
- Literacy – having the ability to understand the words and numbers used in financial products
- Capability – having the ability to interpret the information and use it to make informed decisions appropriate to an individual’s circumstances.
Have people got the tools, the knowledge, the right environment and the confidence to manage their personal money? If not, they are financially excluded. Why is this a problem? Well here are just a few examples;
- If you do not have a bank account with a direct debit facility you will pay more for services & utilities
- Poor or no credit history may well exclude you from low interest loans from mainstream lenders (banks, building societies), often leaving no option other than high interest loans, payday loans or a worst case scenario using a loan shark.
- Your choices are limited i.e. buying a product online at the best price versus using the likes of BrightHouse or Provident
- Lack of understanding or choice can lead to ‘costly’ inappropriate decisions.
People who are financially excluded are more likely to need support from publicly funded services. The likely impact of paying more for their products and services is that they will remain in poverty. Living in poverty is becoming a social norm. Poverty is not a new problem, but following the recent years of economic decline, it is becoming more and more prevalent across our communities. There are many good initiatives across Wales that are trying to address these issues, both locally and nationally. But we still have 1 in 5 working and non working households across Wales living in poverty (Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Wales), along with:
- Increased demand on foodbanks
- Increased high street presence of modern day pawn brokers and loan companies
- Increased demand for Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP)
- Increased number of services being transferred online banking, welfare benefits
- Closures of local banks and post offices.
So tackling financial exclusion must be a priority if we are to reduce the number of people living in poverty across Wales. For many, this will mean changing attitudes and behaviors towards money and educating people on the responsible options available.
Where there is challenge, there is opportunity…
In light of Welfare Reforms, reduction in public spending and recommendations from the Williams Commission, is now not an opportune time to radically rethink how we deliver services, fund local delivery strategies and generate sustainable job creation?
eud y defnydd gorau o’r rhyngrwyd a thechnoleg ddigidol.
Tackling poverty is one of the Welsh Government’s top priorities.
With this in mind, the Wales Co-operative Centre is about to embark on its latest anti-poverty campaign. ‘Tackling Poverty Fortnight’ will run from 13th – 26th January 2015. The campaign will promote solutions that are helping people in our most disadvantaged communities. It will seek to highlight new approaches that could make a big difference to reducing poverty levels in Wales in the future.
The inaugural campaign, held almost exactly one year ago, received public recognition from AMs in the Senedd, with a series of blog posts demonstrating the ways in which the Centre’s work supports the wider tackling poverty agenda in Wales.
This time around, we will again be showing how our work provides co-operative solutions to tackling poverty but we are also doing something different and exciting. We are writing to a number of organisations around the UK, that are all involved in work that aims to reduce poverty in some way, to invite them to identify new ways of reducing poverty in Wales in the future.
We’re asking these organisations to submit ideas in the form of blog posts. Each idea needs to be something that is not already happening in Wales – at least not on a large scale. Ideally it should be something which is having a demonstrable impact in reducing poverty in the UK or globally but could be rolled out or adapted to work in Wales.
The blog posts need to be submitted by mid-December and will then be published during ‘Tackling Poverty Fortnight’ (13th-26th January). The publicity for each idea may, in itself, be enough to give it the momentum it needs to become a reality in Wales. We will gauge reaction from the ideas and are keen to work with interested parties to take some of the ideas forward.
Our campaign was first mentioned at this week’s ‘Towards a Wales Without Poverty’ conference, hosted by the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation. During this event, policy experts, researchers and practitioners led debates that largely looked at how poverty in other parts of the UK had a bearing on Wales and whether approaches that were being taken to reduce poverty elsewhere could work here.
During the conference, my colleagues Dave Brown and Matthew Lloyd ran a breakout session that looked at how digital inclusion work, primarily through Communities 2.0, was not only hugely relevant to the poverty debate but how it was helping to tackle poverty in disadvantaged communities.
The conference painted a bleak picture at times, paying particular attention to child poverty, in-work poverty and how issues such as the living wage, Universal Credit, food banks, equal pay, government strategies, piloting anti-poverty schemes, poverty in rural areas, valley areas and cities are all relevant factors that are very much in the melting pot when it comes to the issue of poverty in Wales.
We’re interested to see what kind of response we get to our invitation to organisations, to provide ideas to reduce poverty in Wales to help make some sort of improvement.
Dave Brown, Director of Strategic Development and Performance at the Wales Co-operative Centre, examines the role of digital inclusion in tackling poverty in Wales…
“Today, the Wales Co-operative Centre is putting Digital Inclusion at the heart of the Tackling Poverty debate when we present at the Bevan Foundation / Joseph Rowntree Foundation conference “Towards a Wales without Poverty”.
The conference explores what we mean by poverty in Wales: in order to begin to solve the problem we must first be clear about what we mean by it. The Bevan Foundation argues that poverty means more than low income, though there is a pressing need to address this issue. Poverty is also about access to resources, such as housing warmth and food, and access to essential skills. Here, the Foundation single out digital skills and financial literacy as prerequisites for a Wales moving out of poverty and managing its consequences.
The Wales Co-operative Centre leads financial inclusion development in Wales. The Welsh Government support our Financial Inclusion Champions project which drives support at a strategic level. From this we spin out specific projects which directly benefit those living in poverty. We have recently been awarded Comic Relief funding to increase our work with private rented tenants.
Our focus at the “Towards a Wales without Poverty” conference is the impact of digital exclusion. The Wales Co-operative Centre runs the Communities 2.0 project, the Welsh Government’s flagship digital inclusion initiative, which has helped over 50,000 people get online. Our workshop presentation today explores a recent editorial statement in the press:
“But being disconnected isn’t just a function of being poor. These days, it is also a reason some people stay poor. As the Internet has become an essential platform for job-hunting and furthering education, those without access are finding the basic tools for escaping poverty increasingly out of reach.”
Wales Co-operative Centre officers will look at our experience of leading digital inclusion in Caerphilly, where effective co-ordination and innovative delivery models have radically changed the lives of many in the county who live in poverty. We also have a stand at the conference and would love to talk to anyone interested in what we do.”
Co-operative housing is a community-led approach to housing, where residents democratically control and manage their homes.
The Welsh Government sponsored Co-operative Housing Project aims to stimulate and increase the supply of co-operative housing in Wales. It supports the development of a variety of different housing co-operative models and aims to improve the skills and expertise of members of co-operative housing schemes in Wales to ensure their long term sustainability.
Here, Wales Co-operative Centre’s Co-operative Housing Project Manager Dave Palmer offers an update on developments in Wales.
There is an appetite for co-operative housing in Wales. Co-operative housing appeals to ‘reluctant renters’ – people who are currently priced out of the owner-occupied sector and who are unable to access social housing.
The Co-operative Housing Project initially focussed on general needs housing but is now also networking with providers in social services and health sectors. Housing co-operatives can provide more than just housing, they can also promote well being and provide care services for their members.
In 2012 the project started with eight pioneer schemes. There are now over 25 schemes at varying stages of development.
These schemes will deliver 124 completed homes before the project ends in March 2016. If all emerging pioneer schemes progress, there is the potential for over five hundred co-operative homes across the whole of Wales.
The project is supported by Welsh Government and three of the original pilot pioneer schemes, in Newport, Cardiff and Carmarthen, have received a total £1.9m social housing grant as work is progressing on site.
These three ‘Pilot Pioneers’ were identified early on in their development process, as having real potential for delivery of homes. They were encouraged to prepare business plans and bid for Welsh Government grant support.
In Newport, funding has been used to support Shared Ownership co-operative houses within a large mixed tenure ‘Garden Village’ style development called Loftus Gardens. As construction work progresses on site, the new co-operative is forming and currently there are four potential member homeowners. The aim is to recruit more members, in order to have ten member homeowners by Christmas and twenty members by June 2015.
In Carmarthenshire, funding has been used to support 27 co-operative Intermediate Rent homes being developed by the County Council in partnership with Gwalia Housing Association. These are designed in two rows of short terraces in Jobswell Road, in the centre of Carmarthen. Public meetings have been very well attended and members of co-op are being recruited. One of the homes will be shared housing with the support integrated into the community.
In Cardiff, the Funding has been used by Cadwyn Housing Association to support the delivery of a further 10 co-operative social rent properties within their ‘Garden Village’ style Ely Farm housing development. The plan already includes 31 homes for social rent and 41 Co-operative houses and flats. Members have been elected as Officers of Home Farm Village Housing Co-operative. As the homes are being built on site, members are looking forward to moving in as a Community in June 2015.
There are also several advanced projects that have the potential to deliver homes in the near future. These include:
West Rhyl Community Land Trust (CLT) – West Rhyl – A proposal for the refurbishment and conversion of properties to provide 4 apartments, a commercial unit and 8 new build houses has been submitted for planning by North Wales Housing Association, in partnership with West Rhyl CLT, who already have 3 co-operative refurbished homes. Work on site is expected to start with demolition in early December 2014 and completion of the scheme is expected to be October 2015. The Community Land Trust already has a waiting list of over 80 prospective tenant/members in place for these homes.
Beechley Road – Cardiff –Cadwyn Housing Association is proposing to develop a Tenant Led Housing Co-op in Pentrebane. The residential element will be new build with 11 houses and 2 flats. Completion will be in August 2015.
Gellideg Flats, Merthyr – A proposal has been submitted to Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council by Merthyr Valley Homes to form a Leasehold Co-op to refurbish some blocks of flats in Taff Fechan. This will be a special purpose vehicle (SPV), which will lease the properties to the newly formed housing organisation called ‘Gellideg Co-op’, and registered under the Co-operative Benefit Societies Act 2014.
‘Ty Cyfle’ Garndiffaith, Torfaen – Bron Afon Housing Association with ‘Afon Youth’ have refurbished a 4 storey block of 8 flats to provide separate flats, training and community rooms. The young people have been involved in the building works as apprentices 2 days a week and the project is nearing completion. The group is currently working on Terms of Reference for the Management Committee of this co-operative project.
The Wales Co-operative Centre has received matched funding from Nationwide Foundation which will provide over 375 hours of support to these co-operative housing schemes, over the next 20 months.
Exciting developments are beginning to appear all over Wales with self-build schemes in Wrexham, housing association let schemes in Presteigne and Hay On Wye. Developments are planned in Lampeter and St David’s as well as the potential for a large scale Community Land Trust organisation in North Wales.
Finding affordable housing is difficult for people trapped in the gap between social provision and being able to afford to step onto the housing ladder. Co-operative housing offers a solution that many people find attractive as it supports ownership and encourages community. There is a massive untapped potential for co-operative housing in Wales and this project aims to develop real co-operative communities and bring the approach into the mainstream.
The success of the Welsh Government programme is evident in the number of new co-operative housing schemes being incubated. What has already been achieved in a comparably short period of time is remarkable given the standing start from which this work came.
The project is working hard to bring all the pioneers together to learn from each other and support each other through their development. Ultimately the aim is for these new pioneers to help support other new housing co-operatives in to the future creating a sustainable legacy for this project.
To find out more about the Co-operative Housing project visit the website http://www.walescooperative.org/cooperative-housing or if you would like to discuss an idea for a new co-operative housing project, call Dave Palmer on 0300 111 5050.