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Why does digital exclusion matter? That's the question being explored by our friends at the APLE Collective during June 2021, APLE Month. We invited Tracey Herington to explore the issue in this guest blog.

About the APLE Collective

You may well ask what is APLE and why have an APLE month? APLE  is a growing coalition of groups and individuals who have experience of poverty, hence the name Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience. The emphasis here being with lived experience. All too often decision- and policy-makers have done things to people and on their behalf. Sometimes we could assume with the best of interests and other times, we could rightly say not with our best interests at heart.

The real experts

Expertise has often been associated with knowledge and knowledge has presumably connotations of formal accepted routes relating to education, certificates or letters after your name. But this is most certainly not true. Expertise and insight come in many different forms. It is the lady down the street who is looking after her grandchildren and is fully appreciative of the lack of appropriate policy responses to carers and their families. It is the guy who has been working a zero-hours contract for the past three years and has no financial security. It is the family who are suffering due to the inadequate levels of child benefit, the two-child limit and rising child care costs. My examples of real-life experiences could continue.

Digital exclusion and the pandemic

During this very challenging year, we have seen the amplification of the very real difficulties faced in our communities. These difficulties are not new, but have intensified and come to the fore. Digital exclusion is one of the many issues preventing people from fully participating in everyday life. Lockdowns led to everything going online – homeschooling, accessing services, staying in touch, connecting with others, accessing a Universal Credit account and searching for jobs. Prior to the pandemic, many people would pop to the local library to log into their journals, pay a council tax bill, meet up with others. What was once an overwhelmingly lengthy process to access entitlements – Personal Independence Payments, for example – became nigh on impossible. No face-to-face meetings, no assessments, no one-to-one support and no way of knowing where to access help because all the help and support was advertised through websites and social media.

Why does digital exclusion matter?

Imagine feeling silenced and cut off from the outside world at the best of times – what if you had no device, no data and little confidence to navigate the many social platforms? This is why the debate around digital exclusion matters. If you are not digitally excluded, how could you possibly comprehend the difficulties and limitations of this situation and how could you possibly meaningfully develop solutions that could actually work?

APLE Month

APLE don’t just talk about the issue or gather stories, we use the insight from personal experiences, coordinate ourselves, make friends, gain allies and seek support from others.

Click here to see the response to date from APLE around the digital divide 

For the month of June, The APLE Collective are highlighting and celebrating all of the organisations, charities and individuals who have lived experience of poverty or use their voice to campaign against poverty and inequality. I suppose we would rather not have to amplify the voice of silenced groups. We would much prefer to be commenting upon how fair and equal society was and then showcasing other things. We work tirelessly to ensure positive change and are proud of our members and supporters.

SPARK newsletter summer 2024

Church on the Margins reports

Church Action on Poverty North East annual report 2022-24

Stories that challenge: Sarah and Rosie’s health

Dreams & Realities: welcome to an incredible exhibition

Building hopes and dreams in Bootle

This outrageous, counter-productive Budget marginalises people with least

A sermon for Church Action on Poverty Sunday

Stories that challenge: Emma’s road to church

SPARK newsletter summer 2024

Silhouettes of eight people, against different coloured backgrounds

Stories that challenge: Sarah and Rosie’s health

Liudmyla and Stephen, with her portrait

Dreams & Realities: welcome to an incredible exhibition

Scouse writer-actor Ellis Howard has worked with us over the past year, helping people channel their experiences of poverty and struggle into powerful activism. In this new video, Ellis explains why telling your own story is like having a superpower.

Transforming lived experience into activism

My name is Ellis Howard. I  am a Scouse actor-writer.  With Church Action on Poverty, I ran a series of workshops all about how we can use our lived  experiences and transform them to activism; how we can own our stories of struggle, of  food shortages, to empower us and to help shape future policy and future lives.  

Celebrating unheard stories

For so long these stories, these experiences, these lives have been completely undocumented.  They haven’t been celebrated in a glorious nuanced way. 

Harness your superpower

Get in touch with all of those things that make you unique, and absolutely harness them, because that’s where your superpower lies.

SPARK newsletter summer 2024

Church on the Margins reports

Church Action on Poverty North East annual report 2022-24

Stories that challenge: Sarah and Rosie’s health

Dreams & Realities: welcome to an incredible exhibition

SPARK newsletter summer 2024

Silhouettes of eight people, against different coloured backgrounds

Stories that challenge: Sarah and Rosie’s health

Liudmyla and Stephen, with her portrait

Dreams & Realities: welcome to an incredible exhibition

We look at three ways the UK can begin building the society it wants by tackling inequality.

How do we make sure everyone is included in the UK’s pandemic recovery?

How do we ensure the injustices and inequalities exposed and exacerbated by covid are not made worse still when the country gets going again?

There has been much talk of roadmaps in the past few months, but let’s also talk about destinations. Where do we want to go as a country – and how to get there? We can’t have a recovery where some speed off down the road, while others are left behind on the hard shoulder. We need to address inequality.

And, before we set off, we need to make sure all the systems we rely on are roadworthy.

Where do we want to go?

Covid has caused us to reassess our priorities as a country. We have been reminded of the importance of community, the value of neighbours, and the extent to which we all rely on one another.

There are signs also that many of us want to see a more just society, with less inequality. Polling data has shown that 62% of us think the Government should take measures to reduce differences in income levels, while only 12% disagree.

What might action look like? 

There is much work to be done in the UK to narrow the many gaps between those of us who are economically privileged and those of us who are not. This blog looks at just three potential steps: one simple and immediate policy decision, one medium term strategy, and one profound long-term change, all of which would help to reduce inequality.

1 - Protect Universal Credit

43% of Universal Credit claimants experienced food insecurity

Millions more people have been receiving Universal Credit in the past year, as a result of the economic upheaval caused by covid. It is not a great system. The security it provides is flimsy and volatile, and frequently insufficient.

Data released this year showed that people on Universal Credit were eight times as likely as the national average to be food insecure.

Universal Credit should be increased, but instead the Government is planning a cut. It intends to reduce weekly payments by £20 a year from the autumn, which would reduce many struggling people’s incomes by £1,000 a year. That would increase inequality rather than reducing it. We should all be included in the post-covid recovery, but that won’t happen if the Government leaves people without enough fuel in the tank. 

The public want the Government to reduce income inequalities. It should start by abandoning this cut, and keeping the Universal Credit lifeline.

2 - Carry out an MOT on the benefits system

Protecting Universal Credit is a vital first step, but we need to go further. The benefit system needs to be made roadworthy. Just like other vital public services, it needs to be invested in and kept up to date, so it is fit for purpose when needed.

A fair assessment of our benefits system would likely reveal that it does not generally meet the cost of living, and that it is too detached from the people it is meant to support. Payments undoubtedly need to be increased and reviewed annually to ensure they keep pace with living costs. 

More fundamentally, the DWP needs to change the way it works, to ensure the system is designed in conjunction with people who have used the system. Groups such as Poverty2Solutions and the APLE collective (Addressing Poverty Through Lived Experience) have shown how systems and services can be enhanced when people work together. We can’t hope to narrow inequalities in the UK if the primary support system is sub-standard.

3 - Address the UK's underlying power imbalances

There is a more fundamental reassessment that we all need to take part in, which is to address the underlying power inequalities in our society. Only if we do that will other inequalities ever be resolved.

There are inequalities in the UK, around gender, race, region, class and sexuality. Each of these linked injustices harm individuals and hurt society as a whole. Inequality violates people’s dignity and curtails their opportunities, meaning countless dreams and possibilities go unrealised, meaning the whole society always falls short of what it could be and do.

None of these inequalities is new. They may even feel entrenched, but they are not inevitable and they can be addressed. 

All of them stem from an unjust distribution of power, which allows inequalities to perpetuate. We need to break the cycle by truly challenging where power lies and why, by speaking up loudly against systems that allow injustice and inequality to continue, and promoting work that redistributes power.

Initiatives such as participatory budgeting and Poverty Truth Commissions have shown what can happen when communities are entrusted with decisions, and when people meet as equals to find solutions. Such work needs to be supported, encouraged and accelerated if we are to make lasting changes to inequality.

SPARK newsletter summer 2024

Church on the Margins reports

Church Action on Poverty North East annual report 2022-24

Stories that challenge: Sarah and Rosie’s health

Dreams & Realities: welcome to an incredible exhibition

Building hopes and dreams in Bootle

This outrageous, counter-productive Budget marginalises people with least

A sermon for Church Action on Poverty Sunday

Stories that challenge: Emma’s road to church

Sheffield voices: We need higher incomes and more for young people

Cost of living scandal: 7 truly useful church responses

Stories that challenge: Alan & Ben

7 ways a Your Local Pantry could help YOUR community in 2024

SPARK newsletter summer 2024

Silhouettes of eight people, against different coloured backgrounds

Stories that challenge: Sarah and Rosie’s health

Liudmyla and Stephen, with her portrait

Dreams & Realities: welcome to an incredible exhibition