Everyone is talking about digital exclusion – but what does this fancy term really mean? And does it matter? Nada Savitch, the coordinator of our Digital Skills Project, discusses why tackling digital exclusion is important for us at CSM and how volunteering as a Digital Champion can make a big difference.

The term ‘Digital Exclusion’ has been used a lot in the past year of lockdowns. It’s a strange phrase and can mean different things to different people. If you’re reading this as a blog on the CSM website, you probably don’t give a second thought to your inclusion in all things digital.

But lockdown has shone a spotlight on the digital haves and have nots. In the first lockdown, many of us were surprised when online supermarkets were rationing their services and there were virtual queues to get onto bank websites. The sudden demand for everything to be online happened almost over-night. We all became experts on Zoom not for work but for our social lives: pub quizzes, dating, fitness training all went online. But what about the people who have been left behind in this race to go digital?

In her blog about how Carers Support Merton has been responding to the pandemic, our CEO, Tracy Weight explained how successful we have been at moving many of our services online. But she also highlighted the need to make our services easily available and inclusive, and bring the most isolated carers online in 2021.

If you want to renew a parking permit by phone, apply for a passport by post or meet a person to talk to about your benefit claims you are at best an afterthought and at worst a nuisance.

In truth, the gradual switch from the physical world to online has been happening slowly for years. Covid-19 has hastened the departure of some high street store and boosted the profits of online stores, but the ‘death of the High Street’ has been forecast for years. Banks are closing branches citing the lack of footfall because of people banking online.

Most importantly, but almost under the radar, many government and local government services have become easier and quicker to access online. Using these services online is very convenient for most people. But if you want to renew a parking permit by phone, apply for a passport by post or meet a person to talk to about your benefit claims you are at best an afterthought and at worst a nuisance.

So what is ‘digital exclusion’? Increasingly, it means being excluded from day-to-day activities which other people take for granted.

ONS statistics for early 2020 found that 96% of households in Great Britain had internet access, up from 93% in 2019 and 57% in 2006 when comparable records began. However, households with one adult aged 65 years had the lowest proportion of internet connections (only 80%). With statistics like these, it’s difficult to argue with the trend to moving practically everything online.

But we are interested in those small percentage of households who are getting left behind.

We believe that informal unpaid and family Carers in particular can benefit from being online.

For example, many carers find it difficult to leave the house to do the routine stuff of everyday life. So being able to do a weekly shop online could be invaluable for some people: It could mean freeing up hours in a week or give Carers the freedom to ‘do the shop’ when they can grab a few minutes at any time of the day or night.  
In addition to time and convenience, if used well, the internet can be a treasure trove of information, guidance and advice. The internet has online support groups for every known health or wellbeing condition. Carers can find tips and advice or just a sympathetic ear, or a place to have a laugh with someone who really understands.

We are calling our volunteers Digital Champions. They are not computer whizz kids, but will have enough knowledge to get people started, and enough confidence to ask questions if they don’t know the answers.

Our Digital Skills project offers Carers a supporting hand to give them the confidence and skills to get online. We understand that time is precious for Carers. So we will work at a pace that suits the individual. We will take a flexible approach that focuses on each Carer and what they would like to achieve by being online. We hope we will be able to explain some of the jargon that surrounds computers which excludes people and help people to understand how to deal with possible dangers without being frightened.  

Although our resources are limited and we can only offer a few sessions, we hope that by focusing on what an individual Carer wants to achieve we will be able to boost their confidence and enable them to find other, more formal, training if they want it.

Volunteer as a Digital Champion

We will not be able to do any of this without the help of some wonderful volunteers. We are calling our volunteers Digital Champions. They are not computer whizz kids, but will have enough knowledge to get people started, and enough confidence to ask questions if they don’t know the answers. We will be working closely with Merton Library and Heritage Service and their project called Connecting Merton which is loaning computer equipment and providing support vulnerable and isolated people in Merton.      

We hope that over time we will create a supportive inclusive community of volunteer Digital Champions and learners who will support each other to learn and practice that learning together. If you or anyone you know would like to be part of the project – as a volunteer or learner – please get in touch with Nada or Debbie.

[email protected]

[email protected]

Learn more about the Digital Skills project here

#NationalVolunteersWeek