The traditional view that technology is widening the divide between those who have access to information and those who do not is challenged by a report from the Social Exclusion Unit. Rather than widening inequality, the report shows how technology is already improving life chances and public service delivery, and is being embraced by excluded groups.Citing successful examples of mobile phones being used by homeless people to avoid the stigma of not having a permanent address by leaving a mobile number on job applications, and the ability to receive medical results by text without someone else answering the phone. The report also shows examples of how modern technology can improve public service take-up, reconnect the isolated and provide a lifeline for those groups on the margins.
The report highlights how excluded people already use technology extensively and it argues that there is an opportunity to build on this enthusiasm. The digital divide needs to be bridged and e-government public services should be delivered in such a way that excluded people will find them easy to use. The telephone can be as significant as a computer and services provided by a ‘phone are identical whether an individual is calling from a castle or a caravan.
Examples from successful ICT projects that reach the socially excluded include an Open Christmas Internet Café, a web based system which allows professionals from different agencies to record and share low level concerns about individuals and an education initiative for improving achievement which supports personalised learning, focusing on attendance, self organisation and learning skills.
Crisis, the homelessness Charity, are developing a ‘Virtual Life Portfolio’, a secure web based life management tool, which will provide homeless people with a means of owning, storing and managing key personal data as well as accessing vital information on service and support. There are also a range of Telecare service for the elderly which provide peace of mind for the users with devices such as fall detectors, flood sensors for over-flowing taps and reminders to take medicines and attend appointments.
Proposals in the report include setting out the action for Government to develop information sharing about excluded groups while building protocols and safeguarding privacy. There is also a call for expanding access to ICT facilities in hostels for the homeless and proposing that community centres in deprived areas be wired with broadband services. The report also recommends that local authorities should explore the potential of bundling in internet capabilities, such as e-mail and other local information feeds, when telecare systems are installed in an individual’s home.