The government’s policy of forcing people to apply online for jobs and benefits is causing huge challenges for those who don’t have internet skills or access, according to a new report by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).
The CAS report, published today (Friday) shows the impact of the government’s digital strategy as seen by CAB advisers across Scotland. It includes evidence of people being penalised by the jobcentre for not applying for jobs online – even though they were unable to use a computer and had applied for a number of jobs in writing and by phone.
CAS spokesperson Sarah Beattie-Smith says,
“The internet has transformed our lives, and those who use it regularly often forget what life was like without it. But there remains a significant number of people who aren’t online – either because they can’t access the internet, or because they don’t have the skills. Two thirds of the lowest income households in Glasgow, for example, don’t have broadband at home.
“The government’s digital strategy forces benefit claimants to apply for their benefits online – regardless of whether they have reliable internet access or whether they have the skills and abilities to use it. The same is true of unemployed people: in order to qualify for Jobseekers Allowance you are now expected to only apply for jobs online. And if you apply instead for jobs in writing or face-to-face, for example by responding to a card in a shop window, you can actually be penalised for not using a computer.
“Of course we agree it would be a good thing for everyone to be able to use the internet. But the government’s strategy should aim to encourage and support people, not compel them, and not restrict their choice of how to communicate with the world. When it comes to jobseekers, surely it makes sense to let people use every means possible to find work, and not constrain them in any way.
“This process of forcing people to use the internet comes along with the deep cuts and significant changes that have been made to the welfare system. It’s just another step in that process, which has the potential to be devastating for the most vulnerable people in our society.
“So in this report, we are calling on the Government to change tack and base their digital strategy on support and encouragement, not on compulsion. People who are entitled to benefits should be able to access them in a way which suits their needs, resources and capabilities. And benefit claimants and jobseekers who don’t have the skills or access to use the internet must not be penalised for this. Rather, Jobcentres should support people to gain those skills and find work, and more broadly the Government has a duty to support the roll-out of internet access to all parts of the country.”
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