Shocking poverty figures provoke call for more digital inclusion support
Nearly a quarter of a million people in Wales want a job but do not have one. More than 8,000 households were homeless in 2013 and 79,000 people needed food aid. One in three children lives in a low income family. This is the stark backdrop to the Bevan Foundation’s new report “Rethinking Poverty – Implications for Action”, which is of great interest to us at the Wales Co-operative Centre and the work that we do that supports the wider poverty agenda.
The report argues that digital and financial skills are essential to help people out of poverty, or at least mitigate its impact. About digital inclusion, the report says:
“Digital skills are an important adjunct to literacy and numeracy, as more and more services are either available only online, or offer time and/or cash savings if accessed online. The shift towards online benefit claims is a particularly strong driver of change. People without access to the internet and without the skills to use it are disadvantaged. There is a marked income-effect in digital exclusion – in 2013, only 1 in 10 (9%) of those in managerial and professional occupations did not use the internet compared to more than three in ten (31%) of those who had semi-routine and routine occupations.
“It is very welcome that digital skills have a relatively high profile in the 2013 Tackling Poverty Action Plan. The plan includes the Digital Inclusion delivery plan’s targets, the targets for which have mostly been met. The commitment to digital skills and inclusion should continue, with challenging targets for people in low income groups, with programmes of sufficient scale and impact to achieve them.”
The achievement of the targets in the Digital Inclusion delivery plan was due to the Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme, which is led by the Wales Co-operative Centre. How is this going to work then when Communities 2.0 comes to an end in March next year? Well, we need everyone in Wales working to tackle poverty to take digital inclusion seriously. Our experience is that the current practice is too patchy. And to get this consistency we need a strong, lean leading digital inclusion project to help all front line services deliver effective digital skills support.
The Bevan Foundation report is blunt about the nature of the challenge. For the last eight years, there has been no improvement at all in the number of Welsh people living in poverty. And that number is set to rise. Yes, we need an informed debate. But we also need action.
Dave Brown is the Director of Strategic Development & Performance at the Wales Co-operative Centre