My Digital Democracy Strategy

Free high speed networks — installing a free high speed broadband network service would be fine but most people in poverty don’t have a phone line — they use a mobile phone to avoid telephone line rental charges. So there needs to be a greater emphasis on a free 4G data network.

Libraries — need to give free high speed access to a data network — and also a much lower cost printing service. Charging the poorest in society typically 10p or 20p to print an A4 sheet but £1 to login to print it is not acceptable. This is most damaging to the poorest unemployed who have to print evidence for the jobcentre. It can cost the poorest about £5 per month to print out a record of their job search.

Council services are at best digitally disorganised — particularly in terms of payment online. You can log in to your council tax charges — but then payment for the poorest is via external bodies like Civica. So these services are not joined up. Getting a notification of payment requires you to input an email address — forget and you don’t know whether you’ve paid. This creates chaos for the poorest. The council tax charges and payment side needs to be integrated so you see the amount owed decrease after you’ve paid online.

Court services and payments — courts still send out a mass of paper work for a court summons. The people most likely to be going to court are the poorest in society for non-payment of council tax or their TV licence. 100,000s of the poorest end up in court with fines to pay. But paying a fine by installments is haphazard. After a payment is made — you do not get told how much you have paid or have to pay. For the poorest in society with chaotic lives this means they can easily forget and end up back in court for non-payment or more likely with bailiffs coming to demand payment or take away their goods. Their only excuse is ‘I forgot’. Which seems absurd to the organised middleclasses who pay by direct debit. But forgetting to pay is something that everyone does — but only the poorest pay a heavy price for it — in terms of bailiffs calling or going to court again or even prison. The installment payment system for court fines needs to provide a running balance for court fines — via email or text message. A recent study by the government showed that when people received a text message 30% avoided bailiffs calling to their home. But surely if they had regular texts before the payment was due and not wait until they fail would be a much better strategy for poorest in society.

Voting — most techies say it is not possible to vote anonymously online — but yet companies like seem to have solved it. I challenge any techies to prove this system doesn’t work. I believe the poorest in society would be more willing to vote online.

Smart meters — smart meters are being rolled out across the UK. But I suspect the priority is not to the poorest in society who need to be able to pay for energy quickly and online instead of trips to their local corner shop — in snow, wind or rain. The priority needs to be for the poorest to get Smart meters first with online payment.

Lottery — the poorest in society buy the most lottery tickets. Perhaps they waste £5–10 per week. If lottery terminals were replaced with £2 premium bond terminals with a chance to win £1m every week — they could be saving up to £40 per month with a chance to win £4m. That £40 could then be loaned ‘with interest’ to the government to buy public services. This could result in savings by the poorest of £4–6 billion per year — which the government could borrow to build schools and hospitals or people at a reasonable interest rate.

Banks — the poorest can access a debit only bank account. But even these can be breached if you pay for example in a store like B&M who I suspect reduce their banking costs by not validating payments immediately. These payments appear the next day. This teaches the poorest to find these loopholes to get a form of credit. But they may be helping people with basic bank accounts get into debt and lose their banking altogether. They also need to make payment online easier not harder. I imagine banks want people to change to Direct Debits (DDs) so they earn revenue — not make adhoc manual payments themselves. But the poorest need to receive reminders to make these payments 3–5 days prior to payment. Most workers are paid for example the last Friday in a month whereas DDs are triggered by date. The last Friday payday in a month typically varies from the 24th to the 31st. So having a DD on the 28th of a month may fail 25% to 30% of the time. People with low incomes or with poor mental health need to have DDs moved to match to payment dates to avoid failed DDs, fines or late payment charges. Banks add to the chaos for the poorest.

Only by removing chaos and restoring order into the lives of the poorest can you begin to tackle poverty.

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