SWU AGM 2023 Update: Motion 5 Digital Poverty

Three silhouettes of people marching in protest while holding a sign that says "BOOT OUT AUSTERITY!" with the text underneath it: Social Workers Union (SWU) Austerity Action Group

Angi Naylor brings you up to date with the Annual General Meeting (AGM) Motion 5 and asks for your support and action.

“This AGM recognises that the Austerity Action Group (Boot Out Austerity Marches On) continues to identify and lobby with and on behalf of disadvantage groups and individuals whose lives have been blighted by the ongoing effects of government driven Austerity measures imposed on them over the last decade.”

Many of these citizens find themselves ‘ghost like’ disenfranchised and unable to participate in everyday activities and systems due to Digital Poverty.

It is estimated that 20% of the population of the UK do not have access to the internet whether this be by age, ability, infirmity, inclination or lack of financial wherewithal to establish or maintain a Digital Identity. For many, the consequences are impacting on their daily lives in a way that none could foresee and which the government seem disinclined to acknowledge or provide alternatives for. With each day these people become more disenfranchised and disenchanted.

The scenes in the 2017 film I Daniel Blake crystallised that impact … when his phone credit expires before he can get through to the benefits office and his attempt to complete an online form is terminated by a timeout. These are just two examples of thousands that thwart those trying to find a way through the system. Most recently a small concession was put forward by Michael Gove, Minister for Levelling Up, who stated that “car parks must maintain a facility for people to pay by cash and not just card!”

For many children using the internet as part of their day-to-day education is routine. The pandemic brought into sharp contrast the number of children whose homes did not have internet service and whose parents did not have the money to afford to buy them devices.

SWU salutes the ongoing work of the Austerity Action Group (AAG) in identifying issues and asks for SWU members to come forward and act as Champions and make use of the newly updated Campaign Action Pack to identify and then campaign on behalf of those people disadvantaged, or unable to participate in society due to a lack of a Digital Identity and to seek ways to mitigate their situations.

I write this from a personal position. As many of you will have heard in October 2023, I had a craniotomy to remove a brain tumour and am still receiving on going chemo and radiotherapy to manage my symptoms and a smaller tumour that surgeons were unable to remove, due to its position.

The phrase is it is “treatable but not curable.” I have had to stand back from my SWU Executive and AAG roles. My plan and hope is to return to duties slowly and this article is my first venture (it is yet to be determined to what extent I will be able to achieve that goal). Over the last 4 months I became one of those 20% of the population whose daily life was affected by not being able to access the internet. For 2 months I was unable to use my PC and dare not access on line shopping or banking facilities for fear of making a mistake.

It would be a mark of solidarity to our 2023 motion and to SWU’s ongoing commitment to walk side by side with service users in the fight for social justice, if SWU volunteers could come forward and suggest ways of helping people manage limited internet access and also to lobby and challenge the government on its lack of an alternative, system, which enabled people to participate in society on their own terms.

The updated 2024 Campaign Action PackBoot Out Austerity Marches on Battling the Cost of Living Crisis the Fight Against Austerity will be being re-launched at the SWU Conference on Saturday 27th April and gives you a step by step guide as to ways to achieve this. The SWU AGM supports the AAG in its endeavour to challenge the government on its lack of alternatives. Many SWU members have been receivers of support through the Advice and Representation team and I humbly ask all members to take the words of President J F Kennedy in his inaugural speech on 20th January 1961 – Inaugural Address (Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You) – and use them in the universal way.

And so, my fellow union members: ask not what your Union can do for you but what you can do for your Union.

Angi Naylor