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Shocking poverty figures provoke call for more digital inclusion support

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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 Money Made Clear Wales website is a great example of where people can get financial advice online

The Money Made Clear Wales website is a great example of where people can get financial advice online

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

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How will the new UK Government Digital Inclusion Strategy help tackle poverty in Wales?

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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.

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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.

Written by Mark Smith

November 17, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Does digital inclusion support do any good?

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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.

Written by Mark Smith

November 10, 2014 at 4:48 pm

What financial inclusion really means and its significance in the fight against poverty…

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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:

  1. Accessibility – being able to access the financial services and products needed to participate fully in modern-day society and manage money effectively
  2. Literacy – having the ability to understand the words and numbers used in financial products
  3. 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.

Plans announced for accelerated rollout of Universal Credit after success in the North West

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On September 29th in a DWP press release, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Ian Duncan Smith, said; “Universal Credit will be rolled out to all Job Centres and local authorities across the country from early next year”. This marks a significant acceleration in one of the government’s biggest reforms and is a sign of the success of the policy so far. This expansion will be for new claims from single jobseekers.

The Wales Co-operative Centre’s Financial Inclusion Project Manger, Jocelle Lovell, asks is this the calm before the storm, and what does this mean for Wales?

This signals the start of things to come, for a long time we have been waiting on a clear timeline in respect of the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) and here we have it. Whilst it is only starting with ‘new claims from single jobseekers’, which many will argue are the easiest people to work with. It still signifies a commitment to drive forward the changes, and sends out a clear message to us all that we need to be prepared. This means a joined up approach, mapping and knowing the services available within a local authority area, referral routes to support including face to face, online and over the phone. The local support services frameworks that will underpin UC are currently being tested in 11 sites across the UK, two of which are in Wales, Carmarthenshire and Blaenau Gwent.

Alongside this are some great examples where LA’s and service providers have come together in a one stop shop model including Cardiff and Flintshire while others like Caerphilly are maximising the use of library facilities to deliver digital Friday sessions. But we still have some way to go to cope with a full UC roll out.

For a long time the Centre has been working to address some of the key concerns raised by the introduction of UC, including financial & digital inclusion through our Financual Inclusion Champions, Communities 2.0 and Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion (THFI) projects and moving people closer to the jobs market through the Social Enterprise Support Project (SESP)  and Communities 2.0.

Back in 2012, the Centre developed and launched the moneymadeclearwales.org website. Its main purpose is to provide an easy to use site that directs people to expert money and debt advice and other support, without them having to trawl through different websites and endless pages of information. Our experience has shown that people who are less financially and/or digitally capable can be intimidated by the way some websites look & respond, and by the language they use. This, in particular in Wales, is a big concern given our low literacy level (the National Survey of Adult Skills in Wales in 2010 revealed 12% of working age adults have below entry level literacy skills). We have further developed the site to include a work and money section, that is aimed at those people who are less financially or digitally able and are moving closer to world of work.

Written by Ieuan Nash

October 2, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Rural Development Plan – Digital Inclusion

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We welcome the inclusion of investment in ICT, particularly digital inclusion, as a key area for intervention in tackling poverty and supporting communities through the Rural Development Plan. Digital inclusion is an important tool in tackling poverty. ICT is an essential skill for accessing benefits and benefit advice, when seeking work and also in reducing social isolation. Digitally excluded individuals often find themselves as financially excluded as a result.

For people living in rural areas, particularly those with poor public transport infrastructure, digital inclusion can reduce isolation and social exclusion. In areas where it is difficult to access services, digital inclusion offers the opportunity for equitable access to services and to online and distance learning.

For example, Cantref Housing Association have support from Communities 2.0 to deliver the ‘On your Doorstep’ initiative. This provides a digital outreach vehicle with internet access to visit Cantref’s 35 housing estates. Since May 2012, they have engaged with 270 tenants across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, North Pembrokeshire and Machynlleth. The scheme allows staff to provide information and support to tenants but it also allows tenants to receive support in getting online.

Written by Ieuan Nash

May 30, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Reflecting on the last 12 months – part 1

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With the new financial year barely a week old, Derek Walker, our Chief Executive, has taken the opportunity to look back on the last twelve months at the Wales Co-operative Centre….

Derek Walker

Derek Walker

I was recently looking through the posts on our blog site from the last twelve months. I was struck by the realisation that we have covered an awful lot of ground as an organisation. In addition, the scale of our output is matched by the quality and impact of our work.

It’s a healthy thing to look back at what has gone before, as you can learn from experience and take confidence from what has gone well. Another thing that occurred to me was the rich diversity of our work.

Since the start of the last financial year, some new clients have emerged. To highlight just a few – AFS in Swansea, where former Remploy staff came together to form a worker co-operative that has already proven successful. The Cambrian Village Trust social enterprise, in Clydach Vale, was supported to open a new, world class, all-weather football pitch. PS Services, a social business run by mental health charity Gofal, won the ‘One to Watch’ category at the UK Social Enterprise Awards. Many other businesses that we’ve supported have gone from strength to strength, showing that co-operatives and social enterprises are models for growth, as well as sustainability.

Elsewhere in the Centre, we’ve received additional funding from Welsh Government and the European Regional Development Fund to expand the area covered by Communities 2.0, to now help people in the most deprived parts of Cardiff, Newport, Vale of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire make the most of computers and the Internet. Communities 2.0 has also seen a number of county-wide initiatives launch in the last year, heavily based on strong partnership work – bringing the people and organisations together than can make a real difference.

Accommodation Furniture Solutions Ltd

Accommodation Furniture Solutions Ltd

Our co-operative housing project has been extended for another two years. More groups around Wales are talking to us, and our partners, about the potential to develop co-operative housing schemes in their community, giving people more direct control over their living arrangements.

The year’s watershed moment came with the publication of the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission report. Led by Professor Andrew Davies, the Commission has concluded that “conventional approaches to economic growth and development are not sufficient alone to achieve the improvement in the social and economic wellbeing of people in Wales”, adding “co-operatives and mutuals offer significant economic, social and environmental benefits compared with ordinary businesses. Their development must be central to transforming Wales’ economic fortunes”. These words come as a clarion call to those involved in the co-operatives and mutuals sector, as well as those on the fringes who have yet to realise the full potential of co-operative approaches to economic development. The report’s recommendations are currently being discussed at a series of consultation events and it will be interesting to hear how others think they should be taken forward. The report’s recommendations have the Centre’s full support.

Join us for the second part of this blog post, later in the week…

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