This point of view is not so radical, when you think about it. So dominated are politics and the media by people not from, say, Benefits Street about what is 'normal' that we all sometimes overlook the reality for people who are less privileged. The best current example is the 'digital by default' agenda, which led the Government to set up a multi-billion pound welfare programme around the assumption that everyone should be able to claim benefits online. 26% of Quids in! readers (ie, social tenants - people most likely to be on benefits) do not have access to the internet. Just 41% would shop online, fewer still would bank there (21%) or claim benefits (19%). So why make the biggest change to benefits system since the welfare state was founded practically online only?
Anita's report on public access to internet facilities for people who don't have it at home focuses on one of four strands of our Access Granted campaign to ensure no-one is left behind as the world goes online. We believe that strategies should also acknowledge many, many people don't have the skills to get online. When they get there, information is often complex and presented badly, generally written by people assuming high literacy ability and/or IT geeks who think we all understand techie jargon. Finally, these assumptions also overlook an incredibly important issue: MANY PEOPLE JUST DON'T WANT TO BE ONLINE.
We see ads for snooping on our neighbours to report benefit fraud. Where are the ads to promote all the reasons why people are better online, which they undoubtedly are? Except for the ones by Barclays and their Better Off Online campaign. Well done, Barclays.
The RSA has just published research findings that take cultural issues into account when asking why people are so often crap with money. Their paper, Wired for Imprudence, argues that the way many of us live our lives influences how well or otherwise we manage our money. It acknowledges 6 'behavioural hurdles': "Cognitive overload, empathy gaps, optimism and overconfidence, instant gratification, harmful habits, and the influence of social norms". In short, people's habits are complicated. Their motivations are tricky. It's harder to encourage people to do the right thing, for their own good, than saying: 'Get online or we'll take away your benefits.'
I've heard well-meaning debt advisors ask 'What's wrong with these people?', as if they were a Daily Mail columnist. I should send them the RSA's report by way of explanation, plus a reminder that 'these people' are very often 'people like us', too. (I hate both those phrases at the best of times.)
Still, attitudes take a long time to change and often they're led by legislative change and then a gradual change in the world around us. Like with combating exclusion for disabled people, a good deal of infrastructure change is required before we should be pointing the finger at, or sanctioning, benefit claimants for not joining the digital revolution. If councils and job centres don't provide access to IT, how can people who can't afford their own be penalised when they don't use it? It's like saying to someone in a wheelchair 'We'll take away your benefits if you don't sign on but, no, we're not going to make the Job Centre accessible'.
We've moved on from this, haven't we? It used to be called discrimination.