I, Daniel Blake – and the problem of digital exclusion

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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.

put-the-mouse-on-the-screen

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?

Other press articles

This week, I Daniel Blake has very much been in the news and the subject of much commentary. Here are some related articles that are worth reading:

Of course Toby Young understands what life is like on benefits – he knows what ‘rings true’ – Mark Steel in the Independent

I am Daniel Blake – and there are millions more like me – Jack Monroe in the Guardian

Benefit sanctions forcing people to use food banks, study confirms – The Guardian

We, Daniel Blake: readers on the UK benefits system – stories from Guardian readers on their experience of the benefits system