The Great Divide?

Residents of social housing are , pretty much , excluded from access to the internet. If you believe everything you read.

Grant Shapps MP once said Social Housing tenants live in a “digital apartheid”

Martha Lane Fox has said that “Almost half” of the UK’s adult population who do not use the internet live in social housing.

This week Jake Berry MP  went even further-saying the ‘vast majority’ of people living in social housing have no access.

So what are we to make of this?

Of the last 300 working age customers to join Bromford , 99% said they DO have access.

My conclusion? None of us have any idea what we are talking about. Me included.

Talking about this on Twitter yesterday made me even more certain that these statistics could be leading us up the wrong path:

Boris Worrall shared some of the work Orbit are doing – which indicates that far from being a “vast majority” – about a third of residents remain offline.

This comment from Nick Atkin pretty much goes to the heart of the matter. We are still obsessed on counting fixed access in the home in a world that’s gone mobile.

Kingsley Iball made the great point that there are huge knowledge gaps in some users of smartphones about their capabilities.

Broadband. Mobile. Wifi. 3G. 4G. The problem for UK Housing is many of our customers don’t understand this. People simply aren’t sure whether they have access or not.

And the drive to get everyone online can disguise the real challenge. Digital literacy.

“If you want to work on the core problem, it’s early school literacy.” 

 – James Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape

Both my Mom and Dad have “access”. In the home. Decent broadband. Good kit. But they are a world away from being the 21st Century “Digital Citizen”. Dad can check the Wolves scores and Mom can find Waterloo Road on iPlayer. That is pretty much it.

We need a different dialogue with social housing customers.

It’s why every new Bromford Customer now gets a Skills Assessment – including online capability.  It’s a plan that we will start rolling out to existing customers. And we will use the people best placed to do it – members of the community that have seen the benefits of life online.

There are real barriers against access to the internet , most notably in rural communities and amongst the elderly.

But let us get our facts right and make sure we solve the right problem.


14 thoughts on “The Great Divide?

  1. Hi Paul, absolutely agree. Up to about three years ago, I had major concerns about a number of groups being digitally excluded. Not only is every young person connected but biggest growth in Facebook, for example, is the over-65s.

    Well done for nailing this myth.

    Best Wishes

  2. Good piece Paul. When we are set up properly, it would be good to meet up and get some master classes fromy you guys on this issue.

  3. It might be worth noting that “digital literacy” is a not a single phenomenon. It’s just a phrase. In practice, in real situations, most people can function at some level and nearly all people get stymied at some point. What matters, much more than being connected permanently to broadband, is being connected to a trusted someone who is available to help and to show as and when problems arise. In the old pioneering days we all needed, and in turn acted, as a “guru” as part of a large community of people who were willing to share what they had learned. Setting up the social networks around the access people do have might be more fruitful than providing training and isolated support.

    1. Thanks Sam for your insightful comments. I absolutely agree with your “guru” analogy. The focus being on the setting up of social networks around access is spot on and useful for me in articulating how we move forward.

  4. Interesting debate, and I think it’s right that we don’t have good enough information on this. We recently did a survey among people who were being let their first property and who needed a donation of basic funrniture to set up home (unlikely therefore to have much in the way of computer equipment). We found 66% did have access to the internet. Also 84% of bids to our choice based lettings system are made online and 75% of housing applications are done online. However, we do provide computers for customers in our town centre office.


    1. Thanks Michael – that is really interesting. I think the lesson here is not to make presumptions. Don’t know whether you saw but a recent survey amongst homeless people found 3 out of 4 used facebook…

  5. In a world of choce based lettings and access to housing to the most vulnerable on line, statistics show via the web is where the majority of people from all groups browse their housing options.

    1. Thanks Kathryn for reading and commenting. It’s right – people have to apply online so they find a way. The only problem I have when things are made difficult for people who need the right support. Online has to have the right offline service support

  6. Hi Paul, I agree that a lot of people who make up the stats have no real experience of what it’s really like on the ground.

    The really big issue is the assumption that their are millions who have never used the Internet, and that there is a quick fix to this. That assumption is wrong on both counts. In fact there are millions who have used the Internet but who struggle to use it effectively without support. Many of these people are assumed to have no needs because they are not counted among the digitally excluded. You can call this digital literacy, I prefer to call it digital fluency. And I think it is a massive problem that is not being dealt with, because there is no quick fix. It requires patience and understanding.

    1. Thanks John and I agree. There is no quick fix – and I doubt ever will be. I know you have posted in the past on the rapid changes in technology and the challenge of not just being fluent but remaining so. I can see a whole sector in the future of jobs just helping people stay afloat. Many people have a very limited idea of what the internet can offer. Just yesterday I heard a conversation with a group of people at the airport discussing how they would keep in touch. It was mentioned that a few of them “didn’t use computers but could stay in touch on Facebook”. These were not “old people”. Getting people online is one thing. Getting them fluent in exploring the possibilities of being there is an entirely different challenge.

      1. Too true, Paul, and you’ve hit on another of my pet subjects, the lack of consideration of mobile technologies.

        Of course, those people keeping in touch on Facebook, but not using computers, will be using it on their phones. Mark Zuckerberg knows this, hence the imminent introduction of the Facebook phone and Facebook Home for Android. This is simply replicating the way many people use the internet on their computers. They use Facebook as their gateway to the web.

        A lot of the senior policy makers don’t get this, because, even those who use computers and understand a lot about the web, don’t always use smartphones to access the internet. Some of them might think they do, but they are probably using BlackBerries which give a really false perception of what the mobile web is like by making it clunky and user-unfriendly. That puts many people off. The mobile web allows people to communicate wherever they are, whenever they want or need to. Expecting them to be tied to fixed computers is holding the cause back.

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