There was a lot of talk around this time last year – January 9, 2014 to be exact – when the Government announced its intention to be the “most digital government in the G8”. It cited its determination to put 25 of its major public services online, and some are already live, including applying for student loans, renewing a patent, registering to vote and applying for a carer’s allowance.
At the time, the Government’s press office claimed that “countries around the world have started to look to the UK’s Digital Strategy for inspiration”.
Well I think it’s time the UK looked to other countries in the G8 for inspiration, when it comes to helping those who can’t or don’t want to live their lives over the internet.
A quarter of the G8’s members – Canada and France – have implemented legislation in the past year to ensure consumers have the choice of having a paper bill and not being charged for it.
The Government says the savings from putting services online mount up, claiming that on average, an online service is 20 times cheaper than a phone transaction, 30 times cheaper than by post and 50 times cheaper than face-to-face. For them that may be so – though one company who decided to research this found it was cheaper to send out paper bills, since that sped up the pace of payment, and also cut down the number of contacts to the calls centre from people who didn’t understand their online offering.
But for the nearly seven million who haven’t used the internet and the further 11million said not to have the skills to complete even basic tasks online, the news that so much is being moved online can isolate them even further. I look forward to the day when people are allowed to choose how they interact with such services, which, after all, are paid for out of their taxes, rather than being made to feel disenfranchised.
Let’s hope in that respect at least, we have a happy new year.