I, Daniel Blake – and the problem of digital exclusion


I wrote an article over a year ago about my frustrations in trying to help a young mother, whose child was just starting school and who was keen to start work, to get online for Universal Jobmatch. If you are in receipt of Jobseekers’ Allowance you must demonstrate that you are actively looking for work. The preferred method is for individuals to use the Universal Jobmatch website which can track your activity.

The system and the website for this are almost impenetrable – even to a regular user of the internet. The Universal Jobmatch website and system appear not to have changed for some years now where the internet has moved on. Many jobseekers will have a smartphone but not a PC and yet the website is not available as an app nor is it mobile friendly.

There is nothing about the current system that makes it simple for people to look for work. The cynic in me feels that this is almost deliberate.

This weekend Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake was released. I went to see it yesterday. It made me extremely angry. At our community project Space4, where I regularly offer IT support, I meet people all the time that are struggling to create a CV or register with universal jobmatch. Most of the time these people have never used the internet, few have an email address and many can’t use Google or Microsoft Word.

This issue is highlighted very well in the film as Daniel is shown how to use a mouse for the first time:

He then later on visits a library where there is free access to the internet but he has to rely on the people around him for help before his session time runs out. He is unable to complete the form he needs to complete to make an appeal against his benefits decision.


Daniel is asked to put the mouse on the screen – and so he does.

The thing that is making me so angry about this is that this is not something it would be costly to change or do something about. Some government websites are very well designed, such as NHS Choices and the Vehicle Taxing Service, why is the Universal Jobmatch site still stuck in the internet of 10 years ago? Given the early deaths caused by benefits sanctions one would think that making the job search easier to do online might be a health issue as well. After all, we know how frustrating trying to get something done online can be – when it’s a matter of literally whether you’re going to get food this week it is even worse.

I would suggest that the following needs to happen:

  • make the Universal Jobmatch website mobile friendly
  • make the registration process simpler. Forget ‘government gateway’ etc. Make it that you can register with details provided by the Job Centre in a letter. Just in the same way as I can renew my road tax on my vehicle easily online, look how clear this webform is:road-tax
  • Make a free app available for tablets and smartphones
  • Change the language to make it understandable. Here is an extract from the current ‘help’ page on Universal Jobmatch: “The Universal Jobmatch website is run by Monster Worldwide LTD (*monster*) on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).This page explains the Password and User ID Reset Process, for when you have lost both your User ID and Password.

    Password and User ID Reset Process

    By carrying out this process correctly, you will be able to log back into your Universal Jobmatch account without changing your email address.” – does that make sense? No, especially not to someone who has never used the internet before.

Is there any good reason why this can’t be done, and immediately?

Sharing Faith Using Social Media – my new publication out now from @grovebooks


img_20161019_135818Followers of my blog will remember that I carried out some research for my BA dissertation in 2013 into how people share their faith online. This work is now available to read in a Grove Booklet. This short booklet outlines where we are in terms of mission today, how people are using social media to share their faith, the reactions they get when they do and how each of us can be encouraged in our own witness online. It’s an illuminating read for anyone interested in what it means to be a Christian in the online world.


May I take this opportunity to thank all of you who contributed to the research by responding to the survey – keep on sharing your faith with your friends online!

Click here to buy your copy:


Here is some early feedback  on the book:

God says yes to me


I’m preaching at our Mothers’ Union Deanery service on Monday and I’ve chosen to speak about God’s ‘yes’ to us and our ‘yes’ to God – inspired by Mary’s song of praise – the Magnificat. 

After I wrote my sermon I went on Facebook and that little reminder of what I posted a year ago today came up and it was this wonderful poem:

God Says Yes To Me

by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph 
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

“God Says Yes To Me” by Kaylin Haught, from The Palm of Your Hand. © Tilbury House Publishers, 1995. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Learning to ‘be with’ rather than ‘be for’


A couple of weeks ago we had our Clergy Conference looking at the theme of tackling poverty. We were helped in our reflections by a series of talks from Rev’d Dr Sam Wells – vicar of St Martin in the Fields (you probably know him from Thought for the Day!) He wrote a book called The Nazareth Manifesto and in it he proposes that the heart of the gospel is that ‘God is with us’. He told us at our conference that God is primarily concerned with being with us, not for us. He suggested that ‘with’ is the most important word in theology and ethics. The Israelites had to learn when in exile that God was still with them. God is with Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego in the fiery furnace – they are not rescued from the fire, God is with them in the fire (the fire representing Babylon). When we come to the New Testament, Jesus is announced as the one who is Immanuel – meaning, God with us.

After unpacking this a little more Sam then suggested a matrix  to help us to think about how approach our work in the community:

  • Working for
  • Working with
  • Being with
  • Being for

Usually, we tend towards the idea of ‘working for’ others; but in doing this the person we are ‘helping’ remains a stranger to us, a problem to be solved. Sam encouraged us to consider that surely the goal of Christian mission must be ‘being with’. Being with others enables us to receive from one another, enables us to see the ‘other’ as a loved human being rather than a ‘problem to be solved’.

We have a community project in our parish and over my time of being involved I am slowly learning to ‘be with’ rather than ‘work for’ the people I encounter. It is so tempting and easy to find something to do for another person and then give myself a pat on the back for doing a ‘good turn’. Being with requires much more humility, but the more I reflect on it, the more I find that that is the way of Jesus. When he meets Zacchaeus, Jesus doesn’t tell him that he needs to stop extorting money from his customers, Jesus says ‘I’m  coming to your house for tea’ (well, in the Sunday school song that’s what he says!) After being with one another and sharing food and drink Zacchaeus seems to discover for himself what he needs to do. When Jesus sends out the 72 he sends them to go and receive hospitality from others. Why is this not our model of mission? Probably because it is a lot easier to do things for others than to be with others, to be truly present to other people.

The last few weeks at our community project I have been doing jigsaws with one of our regular visitors. Each time I came away feeling guilty that I had sat for an hour doing a jigsaw. It felt like I was doing nothing. But actually I was ‘being with‘. I was experiencing companionship and so was my friend.

Maybe we’re not very good at allowing God to be with us like that as well? Maybe we have a skewed relationship with God if we constantly focus on God’s ‘working for’ or ‘being for’ us. God is of course ‘for us’ but the more I look at the ministry of Jesus, I realise that his focus is on ‘being with’ – the name of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, means ‘the one who comes alongside’. God’s very being as Trinity is about ‘with’, this surely says something about how we should view one another, interact with one another.

I think I need to go and do more of the jigsaw!





Unity – an art project that reveals that we are all connected to one another


In this current climate we each need to be reminded that there is more that unites us than divides us. I was really inspired by this art project showing how well connected we all are. I would love to try this out in our community.

Watch the video here:

Or here:

UNITY is circular arrangement of 32 poles in a large field. Each pole is labeled with an identifier. For example, “I’m a parent,” “I speak English as a Second Language,” “I identify as LGBTQ.” With yarn, participants tie to each pole with which they identify. A canopy of interconnectedness forms as more people participate. In the end, we see that we are all connected by something. This project celebrates the uniqueness of individuals and raises awareness of how labels impact our perception of and interactions with the world.

Read more: http://www.unityproject.net

Checking my privilege – thoughts on #brexit


Now the dust has settled slightly in my mind since yesterday’s news, I have begun to feel more and more a sense of unease with my own privilege.

I was reminded of an interview with Rowan Williams after 9/11 – he was present in New York and had to seek shelter in a building as the dust billowed through the streets of Manhattan. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury then and the interviewer wanted a comment. He responded by saying that what he had experienced was nothing unusual, it was happening all around the world every day – people fleeing terror and bombs.

A little niggly thought I had yesterday in the middle of my grief (and yes it was a grief reaction) was ‘perhaps it is my turn to see what it feels like to be ignored’.

A little over half of voters yesterday voted to leave the EU. Most of my feelings against those who voted to leave ranged from snobbery, to anger, to patronising them as unthinking and stupid. To brand all those voters with the same brush of xenophobia or stupidity is not fair – that is just dropping to the same level as those who exploited the whole debate to espouse their racist views. Over half of voters, that is the person next to me on the bus, that is half my congregation at church, that is people that I know and love in my family.

Something that arrested my anger and vitriol yesterday was the arrival at my house of my cleaner (who is 22). Already I am cringing slightly by saying that I have a cleaner, but we do. She is bright and conscientious and just an all round lovely person. She arrived and I said ‘sorry, I’m quite upset today, not quite myself’ and she said ‘oh, is it because we’ve left?’ and I said ‘yes’. She then told me she’d voted leave. Then she said ‘but I heard that Farage saying this morning that there wouldn’t be the money for the NHS, but it was on the leaflet!’ She had quite sensibly read up on both campaigns and thought that it sounded like a good idea to give £350m a week to the NHS instead of to the EU and cast her vote. She then said ‘I was quite chuffed as it’s the first time I’ve voted for something and we’ve won!’

I posted on Facebook yesterday that one of the saddest things about this whole affair was that it wasn’t ultimately about the EU. It was about the fact that increasingly there is a huge gap between Westminster (and London) and the rest of the country; that we have a Tory government making cut after cut to public services; that people feel that nothing ever changes so to put a cross in the ‘leave’ box was a punt, like buying a scratch card, that may or may not bring about some change.

So many people in this country feel they are not in control of their lives, for the first time this referendum meant that every vote counted, so people did take back a little bit of control and were able to say ‘up yours’ to those rich people who govern the country without a care for those in real need.

The consequences are terrible, many people voted on gut instinct, I know a few people who only decided once in the polling station. We are so used to our votes not counting for much (cf. 4m people voting for UKIP and getting 1 MP) that many of us thought it wouldn’t really matter.

I’m challenged to think: yes, this is what it feels like to be ignored, not listened to.

I am challenged to think: how can we reform our country so that everyone feels they have a say?

I am challenged to think: what contribution am I going to make?

It is tempting to blame those who voted leave as idiots and to leave the blame for the fall-out of Brexit at their (or indeed at David Cameron’s) door. But we are literally all in this together, we are all part of this culture that has developed that has led to this monumental change to our political landscape. I just hope we can rebuild now, using the inspiration of Jo Cox’s example, to heal our fractured nation.13495313_10153916708875756_2588083424066735906_n

The prayer of St Francis comes to mind, I know that I need more to seek to understand than be understood.

May the living God guide us into all truth.


Click here to make the pledge to keep going, together.


Update Sunday 26th June

Although we are now all in this together that does not mean we should be complacent. I feel a bit like I’ve gone back to the anger stage of grief! I am very angry about the lack of a plan from the Leave campaign. It is becoming increasingly obvious that neither Gove nor Johnson thought they would win. We need a new political movement and we must call our government to account.

Review of my trip to Tallinn, Estonia


This week I’ve returned for a solo trip (long story about clashing annual leave dates) to Tallinn in Estonia. I lived here for my gap year in 1999/2000. Back then Estonia was a bright new country forging its way ahead, desperate to shake off its Soviet shackles. Now it’s a confident place, fully in the EU and eurozone and feels affluent and buzzy.

Things that are different :

– Bigger and new buildings in the new Town including the very upmarket Solaris centre which has a Whole Foods-style supermarket, a lovely big bookshop and a multiplex cinema
– It’s far more expensive! I expect joining the euro put prices up but has brought the country in line with its Scandinavian neighbours (which is where it’s always placed itself). Having said that, a pint is about €3.
– There are a lot more tourists and tourist attractions and the churches have sensibly started charging a modest entry fee (I can remember climbing up the Oleviste church tower with some students and swinging on the bell ropes in 1999 – wouldn’t get away with that now!)

Things that are the same:
– The Estonian people! Still have excellent English. They can still come across as a little surly although I had some lovely chats in broken Estonian with shop keepers.
– A few of my old haunts are still there: Kloostri Ait, Hell Hunt bar etc
– Kadriorg Park is still fab – in fact even better

Here’s what I got up to:


I spent the morning exploring the old town, it truly is a medieval wonder and that it’s survived this intact is a miracle. It was lovely to return to Holy Ghost church where I worshipped when I was here, I think the painted panels have been restored – I remember we fundraised for that in 1999.

In the afternoon I went to Kadriorg Park and to the new (well, it opened in 2006) KUMU art museum. This is a great building designed by a Finnish architect and fits perfectly into the park setting. It has a couple of permanent exhibitions of Estonian art and other changing ones. It was superb, just the right size to get something out of it without being overwhelmed.


– For the transport system get an ühiskaart (like oyster card) from a kiosk. They all speak English, you can top it up for 24 hours for €3. It’s quite hard to find bus stops, you just have to persevere! Make sure you validate your card by swiping it when you get on any transport.


I spent most of Wednesday visiting the Open Air Museum which is a half an hour bus ride up the coast. This is one of my favourite museums in the world! It has houses from all over Estonia moved piece by piece and rebuilt in a beautiful setting by the sea. I hired a bike there to ride around the grounds. It took me quite a while to get used to the bike as it had no brakes! Lunch in the old barn was just as good and authentic as I’d had there before.

In the afternoon I went to vespers at the cathedral on Toompea. I was very impressed that the service was in English and Estonian!

After that I got dinner at Olde Hansa,  the medieval restaurant that was here 16 years ago. It’s still great, slightly hammy waitresses in medieval (but authentic)  costumes and medieval style food – not a potato in sight! I would still recommend it.


I met with an old friend Regina and we went together to the new museum of the occupations of Estonia. This is an important place that tells the story of the oppression experienced by the Estonian people in the 20th century. It was a privilege to go with Regina as her grandparents were exiled to Siberia by Stalin’s regime. The horrors experienced by the people are unimaginable.

My only criticism of the museum is that it would have benefitted from more personal stories – Regina was able to tell me her family’s. The impact of history, I think, can only truly be felt if you can connect with the human side to tragedy. The museum had a lot of artefacts and old reel footage but not many individual stories – I think it needs more of those so that this dark period of Estonian history is not forgotten.

After that I had a nostalgic wander to my old halls of residence and a favourite cafe called Kohvik Narva that has been on Narva Maantee since 1947 and the interior certainly hasn’t changed since I was there in 1999! It still boasts an amazing array of delicious pastries and is still very cheap (was about €3 for coffee and a big piece of cake). Worth a 10 minute walk from the old town if you’re visiting!

Later in the afternoon I watched the England vs Wales match in Hell Hunt bar (where I am currently writing this blog post!)


Today I went for a bus ride to the TV tower. It was built for the Moscow Olympics in 1980 (rather cunningly really as it improved communications no end across the country). I went there with my then boyfriend (now husband) in 1999 when the tower had a revolving restaurant at the top! It was very Soviet and a bit bleak back then. A decision was made, after it had become unsafe, to revamp it and it reopened in 2012. It now has a great exhibition both about the role the tower played in Estonian independence in 1991 (foiling a coup – 4 men defended the tower from Soviet troops by sticking a matchbox in the lift to stop it working!) and the contribution Estonians are making now in the world – eg. Skype is an Estonian invention! There is a nice bistro where I had a light lunch and you can also walk around the edge and get views of Tallinn and the surrounding countryside. There is the opportunity to do an ‘edge walk’ for €20. You walk right on the edge of the lip of the top of the tower all the way around attached by ropes. I was tempted but decided that it was something to do with others that you dare each other to do! That’s my lame excuse!

It’s been great to be back here and find the old and familiar and be surprised and impressed by the new. Estonia is really a country on the up. You can see the positive impact being a member of the EU has had.

As someone in my church here said to me back in 2000 – you will always carry a bit of Estonia with you – he was right, I will!

Highly recommended for a delightful holiday break.

Here are some photos from my trip in a slightly mixed up order!


New monument to those who died for Estonia's freedom in Freedom Square


Danse Macabre detail at Niguliste church


The tower called Fat Margaret!


View of the town hall


Olde Hansa medieval restaurant


Interior Holy Ghost church


Town Hall





Interior Holy Ghost church


Monk sculpture near the walls


Town Hall dragon


Funny back Street sign


Horse at the Open Air Museum


Inside a house at the Open Air Museum


Entrance to Kumu


Traditional Estonian food at the Open Air Museum


Open Air Museum


Open Air Museum - think it's some kind of may pole


My bike at the Open Air Museum


Cases on display at the Museum of Occupations


Vespers order of service


Narva cafe - here since 1947


Me at my old halls


View from the TV tower


TV tower entrance


Occupations Museum


TV tower


Old guildhall of the Black Heads



Danse Macabre detail at Niguliste church


My feet over a viewing hole at the top of the TV tower!