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Digital divide claims 10% of pop: CAB

Paul Brislen, Editor. 31 August 2020, 7:32 am

For many of us, if not most, using the internet as a gateway to government services and interactions with suppliers during lockdown has been second nature. We're all used to buying goods, ordering takeaways, renewing insurance or moving money around online, and we have a variety of devices and apps to do so.

But the same is not true for everyone. Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) says its latest report - "Face to Face with Digital Exclusion" - shows around 10% of Kiwis don't have reliable access to the internet at a time when almost all services are being provided online, and that's causing many to miss out on support they might very well need during the COVID-19 crisis.

CAB, which offers support and advice for those who need a human face and whose clientele often include the elderly or those for whom English isn't their first language, is seeing a rise in demand for its services along with added cost as government departments no longer provide paper-based versions of their forms but require the applicant to print them off. Difficult to do if you don't have a computer or a printer. Those costs tend to fall on the CAB.

This digital divide isn't restricted to the elderly either, as man have suggested, but is spread across the age spectrum.

"Our report challenges the current approach being taken by government in its digital transformation of the public service - including the retreat of agencies from being physically present in communities. It's getting harder to access human support from government agencies, but people's needs for face-to-face services are as real as ever," says CAB chief executive Kerry Dalton.

While CAB would like government to "pause and take stock" of its approach to digitising the New Zealand economy and interactions with government in particular, there are a number of other avenues to take, including up skilling Kiwi families and ensuring devices and internet connections are more readily available to those who need them the most, including rural users as well as those in lower socio-economic sectors of society.

"Interacting with government services is often about accessing rights and entitlements and it's important that there aren't any barriers in the way. There needs to be genuine choice for people about how they can interact - whether online, face-to-face, through others or by phone. Particular attention must be given to the needs of Māori and Pacific Peoples who are being disproportionately disadvantaged," says Dalton.


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