Barclays report that 60% of people in social classes C2DE have NO access to the internet. Our own research amongst Quids in! readers across the UK, mainly social tenants, found 26% had no access and of even those who responded to the survey online (so already have access) 43% shop online, while just 31% bank and 26% would claim benefits online.
The 'digital by default' agenda promises to save the public and social housing sectors millions. On paper, or perhaps 'on screen', it offers a way to streamline access to services and provide 24/7 information, saving staff time and budgets money. Making the internet customers' first port of call, rather than a neighbourhood office or phone line, means people can help themselves at their own leisure while organisations only have to provide the information once on a web platform.
It's only what Amazon has made an everyday transaction. Banks have all moved online and are closing high street branches, buoyed by evidence of social benefit that people banking online are least likely to go overdrawn. Even the taxman is virtually, well, virtual.
But rarely since Marie Antoinette uttered those apocryphal words 'Let them eat cake' has so much been based on false assumptions. (Ignore the historical inaccuracy, it's a decent metaphor.)
'Unconscious bias' is what happens when our personal values and experiences influence the decisions we make. We see it when employers read positive messages into the responses from job candidates from the same ethnic background as their own, for example. 'Digital by default' is unconscious bias in policy form - made by middle class, IT-literate professionals.
The future clearly is digital. Those who are offline are already £500 a year worse off than others, according to Go ON UK. And those who remain off the web will soon become as disadvantaged in the digital age as people who could not read or write in the communication age.
Talking of literacy, here lies false assumption number one. Not only does the internet pre-suppose everyone can read, and spell, it largely assumes everyone in the UK is fluent in English. Arguing that GoogleTranslate is on hand is a techie red herring to throw us off the scent. The give away is that 80% of web content appears to have been written by robots who speak their own language - just look at the HMRC website to see how you need degree level education to find your way around.
Quids in! magazine is all about accessibility. It's why it looks like a supplement to a weekend tabloid newspaper. Like The Mirror and Take a Break magazine, we've learnt how to engage people who largely don't care what landlords and civil servants are cooking up for them next. It's an alien world. But those aliens are raising the game when comes to exclusion.
No-one meant this to happen but the IT guys and the early adopters have created a perfect storm where people who need access most (to support, welfare and services), are confounded by lack of facilities, poor skills, little interest and content that only alienates them when they get there. It's what happens when people with high IQs and low emotional intelligence nominate themselves to change the world.
This is not a luddite manifesto. All I'm saying is that this is too much change, too soon. Our Access Granted campaign calls for all four factors to be addressed concurrently, if we don't want already excluded people to be left behind as the world goes online: Access to IT, support and skills to enable people to use it, content that engages them, and more to sell the 'what's in it for me?' message to those who are missing out.
We are under increasing pressure to publish Quids in! online. Perception is it will be cheaper to produce and distribute. Right now I wonder, if 60% of C2DEs won't receive it, what's the point of doing it at all? Save all the money and don't bother - it's a bigger waste of money to pretend you're trying to reach those who need it most, if they're never going to read it. The print cost is minimal anyway, although postage is significant, but even if we published it as a PDF we'd still charge a unit cost reflecting the quality of the product and its impact on low income households - not least because we'd lose control of its circulation. Let's not hide behind budgets. Do we actually want to make that difference?
The Social Publishing Project plans to spend the next two years exploring how lower income households do, and may come to, consume online media. I don't believe it will be opening PDFs in email inboxes. It's going to be a mix of on-demand TV-substitute video, interactive stuff and social networking... whatever comes along to replace Facebook.
So, in the meantime, we're looking for partners who do want to make that difference and recognise OUR online lives are not those of the people who need help most. With these partners, we'll experiment with digital versions of Quids in! but closely monitoring engagement and impact. We'll look at consumption of online media and ways to keep low income households' attention, while drip-feeding content that helps them stretch their budget and take control of their finances. Just as we do already offline.
We're already trying stuff, just to see what gets people going. Check out our pop playlist on our new YouTube channel, not something you'll see the Money Advice Service investing in.
The future's exciting. And it IS digital. But that smell of burning may be us applying the brakes a little, while we help digitally excluded people catch up. Better that than what Marie Antoinette could smell around her in the finish. At least until she lost her head altogether, of course.