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Assumption That 'digital Is Best' Excludes NZ’s Vulnerable

As government services shut their doors in communities and drive people to interact online, the wellbeing of New Zealand's most vulnerable people is being diminished, says the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

CAB has released the report 'Face to Face with Digital Exclusion' to spotlight the impacts of government digital services on inclusion and wellbeing in society.

CAB Chief Executive Kerry Dalton says the need for this report became apparent following the strong concerns of CAB volunteers at the number of people struggling to interact with government online services.

"People of all ages are coming to us stressed, frustrated and excluded when trying to access Government services," says Dalton.

"Our report challenges the current approach being taken by Government in its digital transformation of the public service - including the retreat of agencies from being physically present in communities. It’s getting harder to access human support from government agencies, but people’s needs for face-to-face services are as real as ever," says Dalton.

“The report was informed by more than 4000 CAB client enquiries between September 2019 and November 2019 where people faced barriers participating fully in society because of information and services being online,” says CAB National Advisor and report author Sacha Green.

"This is just a snapshot. People are facing a range of barriers and lack of access to a computer and low levels of digital literacy are just a starting point. People are also being excluded because of difficulties with reading and writing, because of financial barriers including not having a means to pay online, and because of disability and language barriers," says Green.

The report also identifies that some people lack motivation or confidence to be online, and prefer to deal directly with another person.

“People often come to the CAB because they want to talk to someone and get help to work through issues. Our CAB volunteers are seeing people daily who feel like their choices are being taken away by the Government’s focus on digital services,” says Green.

The report highlights that for some people, the Government’s shift to digital services is increasing vulnerability.

"Interacting with government services is often about accessing rights and entitlements and it’s important that there aren’t any barriers in the way. There needs to be genuine choice for people about how they can interact - whether online, face-to-face, through others or by phone. Particular attention must be given to the needs of Māori and Pacific Peoples who are being disproportionately disadvantaged,” says Dalton.

"We're asking Government to pause and take stock of where things are headed and to recognise that digital is not always best for every person or every situation. We’re also calling on the Government to fund the CAB in a sustainable way so we can continue to provide our vital service and help bridge the gap for those who are struggling. We must ensure that the way forward is one where's people's wellbeing is uplifted and no-one is left behind,” says Dalton.

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