There is – for good reason – no let up in the drive to add to and deepen the range of government services available online, most recently expressed in the Digital Britain report. But it’s important to remember that that assumes a level of choice and opportunity not open to everyone.
As a useful reminder, Leeds CAB has published a report on the challenges some people experience in accessing services by phone, particularly mobile phones, and particularly pre-pay mobile phones. It is very clearly written and very powerfully argued. There can be no doubt that there is a problem here which needs better solutions, though the available solutions may not as directly address the problem as the authors of the report suggest. At root, this is an example of the broader problem that in important ways life is more expensive if you are poor than if you are rich: pre-pay mobile users trade the certainty of not running up debts and being able to manage the amount they spend against high marginal costs in actually using their phones. Even expressing that as a trade-off is misleading: the alternative of a contract supported by a credit check and and active bank account is simply not an option for many. That’s a much wider problem than access to public services – but even if public service providers cannot hope to solve the problem, they must have a responsibility to consider how to mitigate it.
(thanks to Dan Harrison for the pointer)