The Policy Exchange has published a report, ‘Simple Things, Done Well: Making practical progress on digital engagement and inclusion’, which supports greater use of the internet to deliver more personalised, cheaper and speedier public services, and recommends setting up a UK wide network of ‘silver sidekicks’ – older, tech savvy people who would be paid to go into peoples’ homes and community centres to teach them how to use the internet to carry out tasks such as renewing a driving licence or paying a utility bill. The report found that four out of ten people aged 65 or over do not have access to the internet at home, with 5.4 million having never used the internet. Only 5% of those aged 65 or above own a smartphone compared to nearly three quarters of 16-24 year olds.
Peabody has a long standing commitment to digital inclusion and has been running digital inclusion projects for over 12 years. We believe that part of our role as social landlords is to help people be online and stay online. In June we completed a piece of research in partnership with the Young Foundation, to give us a better insight into customers’ needs, preferences and use of digital channels, to enable us to offer them more choice, be more efficient and bring more of our services online.
The findings show that currently around 71% of our residents are currently online. We also found that internet usage varies significantly by age group, with younger generations being far more active than older ones. We plan to get 80% of residents online and keep them online by March 2013, through initiatives such as Net Worx. This project is run by volunteers and 35 digital champions in our sheltered schemes and community centres, and helps users communicate with family and friends, and gain access to jobs, online payments, public services, and e-learning. Last year Net Worx helped over 200 people to get online, you can read some of their stories on the Net Worx blog. We are building on the success of Net Worx to develop models of best practice for engagement and retention of older and vulnerable people on our digital programmes.
Our research also showed that cost and affordability can be key factors for not being digitally active. We have helped residents get access to laptops and PCs by various schemes for recycled computers, and have provided WIFI access on three of our estates. Our Peabody ‘Digivan’ is kitted with laptops, iPads, Wii-Fit and other equipment, and gives socially and economically excluded groups access to the internet and related services by attending roadshows across our estates. Our employment and training programme works to improve the employability of clients by increasing their digital capabilities, over 1,000 people accessed the programme last year, 300 of which secured a job.
We now live in a digital world and to be excluded digitally in 2012 is to be excluded both socially and financially. From October 2013, benefits, in the form of Universal Credit, will be an online service so it is imperative as many of our residents as possible have the skills and access to the facilities to use IT. The Government wants 80% of applications for Universal Credit to be online by 2017.
Internet access has been referred to as the fourth utility alongside water, gas and electricity. Social landlords have a key role to play in ensuring residents have the opportunity to enjoy the direct benefits which digital technology has to offer, through both access to technology and the skills, motivation and confidence to use it to improve their lives.