It goes back to that question of cost versus value. I saw a case study recently of an elderly Asian woman who was struggling with day-to-day life because of her mental health. Even going to the shops to buy food was a problem and her family were having great difficulty in supporting her. She contacted specialist support from social services and slowly she was able to take greater control of her life and become a more active member of society. She knew about that support because she read about the service in a council magazine. That kind of response and its effect on her life challenges any kind of evaluation but, surely, has to score highly as to its value.
Likewise, the temptation to do everything digitally because it's cheap doesn't stand up to much scrutiny especially when considering the most vulnerable in our society. The recent report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS - Internet Access 2010) reveals the gaping chasm that is the digital divide.
More than nine million adults have never used the internet, the majority of whom were aged over 65. The lowest use was in the North East (at 71%), and two-thirds of those employed in semi-routine and routine occupations had used the internet compared to 91% of professionals. Almost 40% of those with an illness or disability had never used the internet. The rate of internet use decreased in line with income and almost three out of ten adults on an income of less than £10,399 had never used the internet. So digital may be relatively cheap and easy but may not be the right answer to every communications challenge.
Communications used to be so much simpler. Winston Churchill could broadcast to the nation in the sure knowledge that his message would have been received by pretty much the whole population. Those days have long gone. We live in a complex, and confusing, jungle of communications and messages. It's not just about money or technology, but about being smarter in how we use the multitude of channels at our disposal to empower citizens. Citizens' entitlement to know their rights and responsibilities has not changed and is fundamental in a modern democracy. Perhaps it's time for a new call to arms – ‘No taxation without information’.
Neil Martinson is director of news & PR at the COI
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