In November 2012, the UK Government launched its Government Digital Strategy . This paper sets out how the Government will transform the way it delivers services to citizens, including moving services online – a change in ethos to “digital by default”. The strategy includes an expectation that 80% of benefits applications will be completed online by 2017 . This new strategy comes at the same time as the Government’s changes to the welfare system which, coupled with at least £18 billion of cuts to the UK welfare budget, will cause significant upheaval for citizens currently in receipt of benefits.
Citizens Advice Scotland is concerned that a digital by default approach to welfare benefits could exclude some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of society from accessing the very services they rely upon. We published a brief report on the impact of this approach in February 2013 as part of our Voices from the Frontline series, focusing on case evidence from across Scotland. We have now undertaken research with CAB clients across Scotland in order to gather quantitative evidence about their internet access and capabilities. This report details the findings of that research.
Key findings include:
- Only half (54%) of CAB clients have an internet connection at home.
- 36% of respondents said they never used the internet and a further 11% said they hardly ever used it.
- Just a quarter (24%) said they would be able to apply for a benefit on their own with no problems.
- A total of 76% of CAB clients said they would struggle to apply for a benefit online including 39% who said they could not apply online at all.
- Nearly three quarters (72%) of CAB clients said they would struggle to apply for a job online, with just 28% saying they could complete an online application on their own with no problems.
- Almost half (49%) of those CAB clients who said they would be completely unable to complete a benefits application online said that their main barrier was that they had never used a computer before. Another 16% said that their main barrier would be health related, including physical disability (5%) or mental health problems (4%).
Listen to a short clip from the author of the report here