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Can we stop people being left behind in the drive to digital?

Can we stop people being left behind in the drive to digital?

Posted on 15th June 2020

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In the days when I was able to look around the Be-IT office and see my colleagues hard at work (most of the time), one thing was obvious. As an (almost) exclusively millennial/Gen Z team, we are all extremely comfortable with technology.  Of course, as IT recruiters, we need to be, as, obviously, do our clients and candidates.  Anyone who is not computer/web-literate is, let’s be honest, of no interest to us.  And yet…

The coronavirus crisis has been an exceptional event in our lives. I pity those in power who are trying to steer society and the economy through this morass, trying to overcome an unseen enemy that can bring death where least expected. 

Technology has had a fundamental part to play in our response to the pandemic  Our ability to crunch big data and model trends has been key to developing our understanding of the virus, but recently the letters’ page of one of the broadsheets made me think about how we need to ensure that those who are unable and/or afraid to access web-based technology are not left behind.

Specifically, a letter to the Telegraph reported that those without a computer are stuck when it comes to getting a test for Covid-19. Given the importance of tracing and testing, this is a major problem. The government’s guidance is that you should order your test online, but if you don’t have a computer then you should call 119.  However, when the letter writer called 119, he was told “no email, no test.”  Apparently, a friend with a computer could help, “so long as they didn’t object to other people having access to their confidential test results.”  

I checked the figures for internet access for Scotland.   In the last Scottish Household Survey, for 2018, some 87% of the population have access to the internet, an all-time record. Unsurprisingly, the report then goes on to tell us that 13% do not use the internet at all.

For the UK, ONS data from last year suggest that 10% of the British population have not been online in the last three months.  As in Scotland, most of these are either older and/or those living in deprived areas. Now you might not think 10% is a lot but, in reality, it’s over six and a half million people. That is a lot. And, given that a lot of these people are in the older cohort who are most at risk of the virus, this is a real issue for those trying to track and trace the spread of Covid-19.

Add in the drive towards contactless payments caused by the understandable reluctance of shops to use cash and it’s clear that, while I and my colleagues may be relaxed about the internet, there are still a lot of people who need, somehow, to be helped to use it, or alternatively we need to find a way to assist them without the use of technology. I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I do know that finding an answer is very important.

Matt Druce, Be-IT

Posted in News, Opinion

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