Posts Tagged ‘Wales’
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.
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.
Martin Lewis says ‘The modern UK has a nasty debt habit’ and he is right. I don’t say this from a judgmental perspective (and I am sure he doesn’t either). But, if you take a step back and look objectively at how we manage our personal money lives I don’t think many people would disagree.
The alarming rise of pay day lenders, their use, and attempts to curb their use, is only one symptom of the problem. So is legislation and regulation the answer? Should financial literacy be a compulsory part of the curriculum and local authorities have a duty to promote financial inclusion?
As anyone that reads my blogs regularly might predict, my answer to that is …it’s complicated.
Research from a plethora of sources, including the Money Advice Service, shows that young people learn about money primarily from their parents. The financial environment that they, as families, live in is demanding and complicated. Input at school would help, but these messages need to be echoed at home. This means that some parents need to learn to manage their money better, first.
Then there is the matter of financial services. It’s all very well to tell people to be ‘prudent’. Life’s ups and downs are often partnered with money ups and downs. If someone needs to borrow a small amount and the bank won’t lend it to them, where do they go? Sadly more and more people are turning to pay day lenders instead of responsible lenders like credit unions.
Interestingly, for some, the introduction of much more stringent ‘money behaviour’ checks for mortgage applications may be surprisingly effective at changing attitudes to money. No longer will the use of pay day loans (whether paid off, or not) be acceptable – and I am not surprised. It may only be a matter of time before other kinds of lending follow suit. Indeed many credit unions already have these conversations with borrowers.
The National Assembly for Wales is currently considering a proposal for a Financial Education and Inclusion Bill. Take a look at our response to the consultation related to this Bill. It’s complicated, but not impossible.