Over three quarters of Scottish benefit claimants say they will struggle with new rules forcing them to apply for their benefits online, and so may lose their only source of income as a result.
The UK government’s ‘digital strategy’ aims to make all benefit claims online. But a number of charities have been expressing concerns that many people are not able to use the internet, and so were unable to access the support they need and are entitled to. To assess the extent of this problem, Citizens Advice Scotland undertook a major survey in March, surveying 1,200 people who came to the CAB with a benefits enquiry, asking them about their ability to use the internet.
We publish this research today in a major report – Offline and Left Behind. The figures show that the majority of Scottish CAB clients who are on benefits would struggle to apply for benefits or jobs online, and that they face a number of barriers to accessing and using the internet. The full report will be sent round later today, but the main findings include the following:
- Although 54% of CAB clients have an internet connection at home, just 24% said they would be able to apply for a benefit on their own with no problem.
- 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.
- 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, no problem.
- 36% of respondents said they never used the internet and a further 11% said they hardly ever used it.
- Just 55% of CAB clients had a computer at home. Of these, 40% said could use one ‘very well’, compared with just 8.3% of those without a computer at home.
- 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%).
- Unsurprisingly, CAB clients in the youngest age group (16-24) were the most likely to use the internet often (65%), compared with the oldest group (75+) where 75% said they never used it. However, 44% of those aged between 45 and 59 also said they never used the internet, compared with just 26% who said they used it often.
Publishing the figures, CAS spokesperson Sarah Beattie-Smith says,
“The internet can have a hugely positive impact on the lives of those who are able to use it. It can improve peoples’ access to benefits, jobs, leisure and consumer opportunities. So in principle we support moves to help get people online and encourage them to open up their lives.
“However, we are aware that many Scots are unable to use the internet - either because of lack of access, lack of training and skills, or having a disability. These people already face a disadvantage, which is now being compounded by the UK Government’s drive to move access to benefits and jobsearch facilities online.
“The UK Government’s ‘digital by default‘ strategy includes an expectation that 80% of benefits applications will be completed online by 2017. This comes at the same time as the Government’s unprecedented changes to the welfare system which, coupled with at least £18 billion of cuts to the welfare budget, will cause significant upheaval for people who are currently reliant on benefits.
“Our concern is that this strategy does not take into account the reality that many people are currently unable to use the internet, because they don’t have access or they have not had the support or encouragement to develop those skills. To force such people to apply for benefits and jobs online will exclude some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of society from accessing the very services they rely upon.
“We call on the government to recognise the reality that huge numbers of people are not prepared for this change, and need support. Moves to empower people through greater use of the internet are welcome, but they must be based on encouragement and support, not on compulsion. And above all, nobody should lose their benefit income because they are unable to use the internet.”
The report - Offline and Left Behind - is attached https://www.cas.org.uk/publications/offline-and-left-behind
For more info, media interviews etc. please contact Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010 or 07774 751655.
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
CAS published a brief report on this issue in February 2013, focusing on case evidence from across Scotland. We have now undertaken research with 1,118 CAB clients in 38 CAB offices across Scotland to gather detailed evidence about their internet access and capabilities. This report details the findings of that research.
NB This was a survey of Scottish CAB clients who are currently on benefits. We believe it is representative of this group, but we are not claiming it is necessarily representative of society as a whole. We hope that this research adds to and helps to illuminate some of the data already in existence regarding the proportion of people in various social groups who have access to the internet. There will be a debate in the Scottish Parliament on this issue, on Tuesday 14 May at 5pm. That debate is on a motion by Christina McKelvie MSP, which refers to an earlier report we did on this issue, in February. The motion is given below:
S4M-05676# Christina McKelvie: Voices from the Frontline, Digital by Default—That the Parliament notes the recent report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), Voices From the Frontline, Digital by Default, which was published in response to the UK Government’s digital strategy; notes CAS’s concerns that moves toward services being applied online only could exclude those in society who are vulnerable and marginalised from receiving the benefits that they rely on to survive; understands that the digital strategy admits to not covering local government services or the NHS and does not consider ways to increase the digital capability of citizens; believes that a citizen’s advice bureau in West Scotland has reported that a client, a 60-year-old ex-labourer with dyslexia with limited computer literacy or access to a computer, was penalised for failing to apply for jobs online, and notes calls for more work to be carried out to ensure that any moves toward online applications are implemented in an open manner that is fully mindful of the needs of those who do not have internet access or are less able to use it to apply for benefits or jobs.