Sunday, 14 April 2013

Welfare reform and digital skills training through Get IT Together Bristol.

The benefits system is changing. From April 2013 a new Universal Credit will be introduced to replace many current benefits, including Housing Benefit and Job Seeker’s Allowance. The Government wants 80% of applications for Universal Credit to be online by 2017.

Francis Maud, Minister for the Cabinet Office said,
“Central Government where possible must become a Digital Organisation.  These days the best service organisations deliver everything online that can be delivered online. This cuts their costs dramatically and allows access to information and services at times and in ways convenient to the users rather than the providers”

The Department for Work and Pensions though has warned that welfare reform could falter without greater digital inclusion. Mike Shakespeare, from DWP, told a  seminar organised by digital skills body, Digital Unite and others, that digital inclusion work is vital for the government’s flagship welfare reform policy.  He said:

“No matter what other problems we encounter with this benefit, and I think we will encounter one or two, if we can’t get people online it will fall at the first hurdle.”
Helen Milner, chief executive of UK online centres reports that 16 million UK adults are not frequent and competent internet users with 51% of those being over 65.  She went on to state that of the 12 million people affected by Universal Credit its estimated that 6 million people don’t have the skill level to currently interact unaided.

The role for organisations like Get IT Together Bristol is to do something to help those 6 million people.

Our learners sign up for a course in Bristol for a variety of reasons… for communicating with friends and family, pursuing hobbies, from curiosity in what’s going on or of what they might be missing, for playing games or writing letters, for emailing the council and so on.

54% of households without internet access stated that motivation was the main reason they haven’t got connected (they felt they didn’t need a connection) after the reasons of skills and equipment.
So far none of our learners have come with the specific reason of wanting to learn how to access benefits online but I foresee a change in this.

Citizens Online’s aim through digital inclusion is to improve lives. Perhaps we will see some new learners sign up to our courses due to a need rather than a want.  I hope that the knowledge and confidence a learner could gain accessing their benefits online will enable them to reap the other extensive benefits being online can have on someone’s life.

The Get IT Together Bristol Project was set up to tackle the issues of digital exclusion and currently runs 9 computer clubs a week in Bristol.  We offer free courses to anybody over the age of 55 and people with disability and their carers. There are many other providers in Bristol that run courses and training for all sectors of the population.

You can sign up for one of our courses by phoning me on  07785 462 568  or emailing you can also find our course locations, information about the computer reuse scheme and a list of other providers in Bristol on our website.

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