Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Using technology to create a fairer, safer and more caring society

During the last 3 decades, technological advancements have transformed our lives. New technologies have made it quicker and cheaper to communicate over increasingly longer distances, creating many opportunities that simply did not exist previously.

In 2006 over £130 billion of business was conducted over the Internet in the UK. 7 out of 10 UK businesses communicate with customers directly through their website. Investment in ICT is linked to higher productivity growth. 17 million adults in the UK now choose to manage their finances with online banking. In Britain over 50% of 16 – 24 year olds use social networking websites. 20.4 million UK homes have a digital TV service. Britons send 1 billion text messages every week.

Technology has become so central to our society that our government considers ICT to be the third skill for life after literacy and numeracy (21st century Skills UK education department). Technology use is seen as a key determinant of social inclusion.

But not everyone in the UK is benefitting from the opportunities provided by new technologies. For example:

· 11% of adults do not use a mobile phone
· 20% of adults do not have digital TV
· 33% of households do not have a PC
· 800,000 school children cannot go online at home
· 10% of 16 – 24 year olds do not use the Internet
· 27% of adults have never used the Internet

So why aren’t these people taking advantage of new technologies?

· Some people chose not to
· Some people have no access or lack the skills
· Some people have more pressing challenges in their lives

Often they are disadvantaged, suffering from “social exclusion”, having 3 or more big problems in their lives, including:

· No job
· No home
· No money
· Poor health
· Victim of crime
· No public services
· Poor education and skills

Technology use rises with wealth and socio-economic status, and falls with age and disadvantage. 75% of people do not use the Internet. That’s 7 million adults. 35% of disadvantaged people do not use mobile phones. That’s 3 million adults.

Why is “social exclusion” our problem? Because we want a fair society. Because we want a caring society. Because we want a safe society. Because social exclusion creates a cost for us all. Tackling problems associated with our 1.3 million most disadvantaged people costs an average of £44,538 per person – for the UK that’s £57.9 billion each year.

As a growing number of people in the UK enjoy the benefits of technology in their daily lives, disadvantaged people without these opportunities are being left behind. Now that UK Government is shifting services online, people already struggling in life may find it harder to access the services they need. Social exclusion is a barrier to closing the digital divide. Digital exclusion limits the lives and life chances of the disadvantaged.

We need to shift efforts from “treatment” to “prevention” and break the cycle of disadvantage. We can take the opportunity to use technology as a tool for improving lives and life chances, or face the risk of increasing economic and social costs. This will require the co-operation of central government, local government, social care practitioners, voluntary sector, community groups, private sector and the ICT industry.


Sheffield SafetyNET is a bold attempt to prevent important information getting lost. It aims to improve communication between teachers, social workers, nurses and doctors. It encourages professionals to work together.

Barnet Council’s Children’s Service Mobile Solution is a project which enables social workers to access their diaries and email without having to come to the office. This mobile solution has saved Barnet Council’s Children’s Service £380,000.

Telecare enables older and vulnerable people to live safely in their own home and community. Electronic sensors around the user’s home can provide regular reminders or alert carers if a problem arises. Telecare has saved Northamptonshire council £1,504,773 in 21 months.

The Gorbals REAL Learning Centre provides technology training in an area of Glasgow with low skill levels and high unemployment. 9 out of 10 residents joined the learning centre. Over half have attended IT classes. 105 people have been helped into work.

Technology offers endless opportunities for innovating social care. It can deliver social inclusion outcomes.

“An open, inclusive information society that benefits all people will not emerge without sustained commitment and investment” – Kofi Annan.

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