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.

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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

Trying to register with Universal Jobmatch – a nightmare process that needs to be completely overhauled

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This week I helped somebody to register with Universal Jobmatch. Universal Jobmatch is the online service where you can search and apply for jobs and if you create an account this enables you to allow DWP (ie. the Jobcentre) to see your job seeking activity. We were only able to register on the site because I have been working with computers and the internet for years and I am au fait with registration processes online.

The current system is almost impossible to use if:

  • your literacy skills are low
  • you are underconfident in using computers
  • you do not have easy access to a computer or laptop

I registered someone this week and once the account was created I said ‘do you have a smartphone?’ This person did. So I said ‘great, let’s download the Universal Jobmatch app as I know you don’t have access to a computer at home’. I went on the app store (she had an iPhone) – there is no app. A bit disappointing. My next move, however, was to try and look up the site on her phone with her so that she could be searching for and applying for jobs on her phone when she got home. To my horror, the Universal Jobmatch site does not have a mobile version. This blog you are reading this on does – if you’re reading this on a phone it should be easy to read and navigate. Why on earth doesn’t the Universal Jobmatch site have a mobile version given that the vast majority of job seekers on benefits do not have a PC but do have a smartphone?

I wanted to reproduce the process here to highlight how important it is that this essential service is overhauled to become as user friendly as other government websites such as NHS Choices.

This was a tiresome process for someone with good computer skills like mine. It feels almost as if this system was created deliberately to put people off wanting to search for work. If the government want to encourage people into work the very least they could do and, for not very much money, would be to create a more user-friendly website in plain English that includes a mobile version.

Here are a series of screenshots from my Nokia Lumia phone showing how I tried to register with Universal Jobmatch on a phone.

Step 1: Google ‘Universal Jobmatch’ and navigate to the site

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So far, so good, nice clear mobile site.

Step 2: Login to register

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Note that the ‘new user, register here’ button is obscured. I managed to click on it which took me to:

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Note here that there is no reference to Universal Jobmatch but I realised that I needed to create a Government Gateway account. Also note that it is a very bare bones registration page that is not friendly at all, very much in computer-speak.

Step 3: Register with Government Gateway

 

wp_ss_20150822_0008You have to jot down this almost impossible to remember number as there seems to be no way of retrieving it again easily after you navigate away from this page. It is really unclear what this number is or what you need it for.

Step 4: verify your account

After creating your Government Gateway account you must click on a link in an email sent to you. This is the email I received after registering verbatim:

You recently specified an email address to be verified against your Government Gateway account.  In order to complete the email verification process, please click on the link below or paste the link into your browser address bar.  The verification link will expire on 05/09/2015 09:13.

If you do not complete your email verification before the verification link expires, you will need to login to the Government Gateway, go to the Your account section and re-request verification of your email address.https://myaccount.gateway.gov.uk/Pages/EmailVerification/Activate.aspx?gwv=1.0&gwrealm=urn:TransformingLabourMarketServices&gwlang=en-GB&gwtheme=directgov&gwreply=http://jobsearch.direct.gov.uk&code=2A85392754A24E17ADD8068418C0FD84

If you did not register for a new Government Gateway account or request verification of the email address associated with your existing Government Gateway account, please click on the link below or paste the link into your browser address bar.  The verification removal link will expire on 05/09/2015 09:13.

https://myaccount.gateway.gov.uk/Pages/EmailVerification/Misuse.aspx?gwv=1.0&gwrealm=urn:TransformingLabourMarketServices&gwlang=en-GB&gwtheme=directgov&gwreply=http://jobsearch.direct.gov.uk&code=2A85392754A24E17ADD8068418C0FD84

This is an automatically generated email. Please do not reply as the email address is not monitored for received mail.

To someone who doesn’t generally use the internet, this reads like gobbledegook. Because I have registered on numerous sites, I knew to click on the first link. I knew that if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to login to Universal Jobmatch. Would you have known that?

Step 5: Login to Universal Jobmatch

 

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So to login I needed my Government Gateway User ID or GG number (as it had been described) – so I typed this in along with the complex 8 character password I had created. Then I clicked on login after pinching the screen so that I could read it clearly.

This was the next page:

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I almost lost the will to live trying to complete this form having to pinch the screen so that I could see the boxes to type in my details.

I call for DWP to overhaul this website as a matter of urgency to enable people to find and get work. Currently the cards are stacked very much against those who are motivated to find work, let alone those who need to be encouraged.