I was asked to write about my thoughts on digital exclusion and you would think I would immediately think of all the lockdown stuff and how so many people are being left out of this whole ‘new normal’ world. Instead my first thoughts were more aligned to how much this has always been a major problem than needed addressing.

For years it has been expected that everyone on Universal Credit, people that sometimes struggle to put food on the table and electricity and gas on the meter or even to keep a roof over their own heads which in my opinion are all basic human rights are expected to record everything online. They cannot even set up a face to face meeting to explain they aren’t able to access all the online features without being online which doesn’t make sense to me. Yes there is a library with internet access in most major towns but what if you don’t live in a major town or because of health reasons, mental or physical, you cannot use the local library. To me it seems that there has been a historic indifference towards people of low income that needs to be addressed.

Jump to COVID-19 and the current climate where everything is now online due to social distancing rules and the divide is even clearer, if your unlucky enough to need mental health treatment or your in recovery from addiction and you have no access to a laptop, a tablet or even a smart phone you are kind of being left to your own devices which is quite dangerous and adds an increased risk of relapse or a mental breakdown that can have devastating effects. That along with the fact that if any of these happen, your only option right now is telephonic or online help means that this divide needs to be rectified and more needs to be done in the name of inclusion.

Its not only no access to these things but even limited access that can cause problems, myself for instance, I suffer from Bi-Polar and I am currently 16 months sober. For the past year before lockdown I have been going to meetings and spending every day I could going to the Expert Citizens offices, sometimes to work and keep myself busy and others just to sit around and have a coffee and a chat with everyone in the office which when you are not able to do so you actually realise how important this is. Since lockdown started I have been having telephone CBT and been taking part in various meetings and conferences online, but without a laptop I have been using my mobile and while it was workable I did feel slightly out of the loop. Luckily I work with some great people who understood all my intricacies and have worked hard to get me access to a laptop and keep me on target to stay sober and made sure I have been looking after my own mental health. I understand not everyone has had this luxury and it has really hit home that if the difference between me using a laptop rather than a smart phone in meetings seems so big that even the small changes we can start to make now would be a huge help to everyone.

Getting more people access to a device that can be used online as well as making data easier to access be that mobile data or Wi-Fi can only improve things for us all. Companies will have more access to open communication with their customers and the general public will have more ways to keep up to date with the fast moving digital world in which everybody should have the same fair access too.

Volunteer at Expert Citizens.