Second class "refuseniks" - for wanting paper!

12th June 2014

Cabinet office minister Frances Maude has been in threatening mood this week. During a speech to an audience of civil servants at the Treasury, outlining the savings that have been and will be made by moving Government services online, he reportedly said that older people will have to go online or risk losing access to key Government services.

He was quoted as saying that people who were not used to the internet would get a one-off lesson to be trained up as part of the Government’s assisted digital help scheme. Just one lesson to capture everything you need to know about using the internet, protecting yourself when using it, how to fill in forms, everything. And he reportedly called the elderly “refuseniks” who appeared to be denying what Mr Maude alleges is true – that internet use “is a better thing for people’s lives”.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m firmly in the camp which says – how does he know? There are still more than 6 million people who have never used the internet, and millions more who do not have the basic skills needed to do what Mr Maude is suggesting.

Has he spoken, as we have, to some of the people who physically can’t use the internet – like the Eclipse group who have said no amount of training or motivation will get them online because using computers can make them literally ill? Or to some of the people terribly wary of handing over their personal details – especially some financial ones – when they hear the headlines of data breaches taking place.

As one of our supporters wrote, “His arrogance and tunnel vision make me want to lock him in a room with glasses that impede his vision and gloves that impair his hand movements and tell him to fill in a 48-page government form on screen without help!” Caroline Abrahams of Age UK agreed, “no-one should be locked out of any services simply because they don’t use the internet” while Saga’s Lisa Harris added, “the Government needs to ensure we can all ride the technology wave, and not leave some to drown unaided because they don’t choose to ‘conform’”.

For some people, yes, the internet is a boon, and will make filling in Government forms all the easier. For others, as Dot Gibson, from our supporter the National Pensioners’ Convention, says, “the idea that we all have to be digital citizens or else we end up as second-class citizens is wrong”.

All we are asking for Mr Maude, is choice – not threats.   

Judith Donovan