The shocking digital divide that punishes Universal Credit claimants

Digital divide

The problem of the digital divide in benefit claims has been brought to the attention of the United Nations

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17th May 2019 by Graham Martin 1 Comment

As many as one in three people seeking help with Universal Credit (UC) in Scotland don’t have access to the internet to make their claim.

Research carries out by the country’s network of citizen’s advice bureaux (CABs) point to a shocking digital divide impacting the most vulnerable.

The introduction of UC has caused myriad problems for claimants, plunging many into misery – not least because it is an online only system.

Now the problem of the digital divide in benefit claims has been brought to the attention of the United Nations (UN).

Citizen’s Advice Scotland (CAS) has submitted evidence to Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, on the introduction of digital technologies to social security systems.  

As part of the submission the charity has produced new analysis from its client database which shows that, in April 2019, 34% of Scots seeking CAB help with Universal Credit did so because they could not access the internet.

Evidence given by CAS includes a client suffering from chronic anxiety and depression who has been repeatedly sanctioned for not updating his online journal correctly.

He has no computer skills or access to the Internet at home and e has no money at all and he is reliant on crisis grants and food parcels.

It also documents the case of a distressed client who has worked manual jobs his entire life and so does not know how to turn on a computer, let alone how to log on to and update his journal.

The rapporteur has also been told about a housebound man who has been signed off work for a minimum of 13 weeks following knee surgery, who is without access to a computer and is struggling to afford regular mobile data top-ups.

CAS policy officer Eilidh McIvor said: “The Scottish Citizens Advice network helps hundreds of thousands of people each year and this most recent data shows that one in three people seeking our support with Universal Credit are having problems with the fundamental issue of internet access.

“We think the UK government should ensure there are suitably supported offline options to help people make and maintain their claims, such as over the phone or face-to-face support, as well as home visits.

“These options should be available to all claimants, but should be specifically targeted to people with health conditions, disabilities or other complex needs. People who are vulnerable should not be penalised for having no internet access.

“Citizens Advice Scotland also believe there should be a fundamental review of the purpose and efficacy of the sanctions regime and the impact it has on people and services.

“Anyone who is having difficulty making a Universal Credit claim should know that their local CAB is there to help. Our advice is free, confidential and impartial.”

17th May 2019 by Theresa Haddon

Applications by claimants without IT can be done over the phone in England as part of the latest improvement to the system