My name is Phil Parkes, and I am the Network Coordinator at Expert Citizens. I am also a member of the APLE Collective where I take part in the campaigns group activities. For those who don’t know, Expert Citizens (EC) are a lived experience organisation who advocate for people with a lived experience of an issue or issues being at the heart of the conversation regarding those issues. I was a volunteer with EC for over 5 years before gaining employment and even in those 2 short years I have been working times have changed dramatically.

I think I have spoken up before about how when I was volunteering and also in addiction, I had no regular access to the digital world at the time I didn’t feel the need for it as much as the switch to the digital world we see today had not yet happened. While today it is a necessity to be online for most daily activities, whether that is doing your weekly shop, contacting your GP for an appointment or joining support groups that have been set up to help with a variety of things including recovery from addiction which I used quite a lot in the first year of my recovery.

Being digitally active has never been cheap and a lot of people have found themselves seeking hotspots of free WiFi to get things done. Whilst it may be possible to use free connections at places like Libraries (that always seem to be closing down), on some local transport and in depots (that is very slow and unreliable) or in eateries such as McDonalds (where you have to continue to purchase things or be moved on) none of these options provide the user with the privacy they should be entitled to. I mean there are many things I need to do online that I wouldn’t and shouldn’t have to do in the public arena, why should someone have to discuss private matters such as health issues or as I previously said attend recovery meetings in the public domain? For these and many other reasons, I feel that digital access should be considered as a human right.

This when added to everything else that is going on in the world today is where the problem lies. The cost of living has risen significantly in the past few years and with fuel and energy prises set to rise again it is leaving people with difficult decisions to make and fewer options open to them. Many households already either can’t afford a contracted WiFi service or because of previous issues linked to poverty, mental ill health or another traumatic experience have difficulty obtaining contracts. This leaves the susceptible to overpriced pay monthly deals that may or may not be suitable for their needs. People will be forced to prioritise energy, rent and an ever increasing food shop over being digitally active and therefore leave themselves unable to do many of the things we take for granted. I, for one believe the time is now to take a stand to ensure the digital world is open to everyone and that the offer of support supplied is fit for purpose. 

Written by Phil Parkes.