As a key part of the UK Government’s welfare reforms, Universal Credit is designed to be ‘digital by default’ and will primarily need to be claimed online.
Speaking at the Volunteering in a Digital Age conference in Swansea, the Minister said while digital technologies and the Internet are transforming people’s lives, there will still be people in Wales who are digitally excluded.
In 2010, figures suggested that around a third of adults in Wales did not regularly use the internet. More recent ONS figures suggest around 20% have never used it.
Addressing delegates, Jane Hutt said:
“To be included and engaged in our modern society, the need to be digitally included is now a necessity. Digital exclusion can reinforce social and financial exclusion. The continuing development of technology can introduce new types of exclusion. So we must guard against complacency. Those who are still excluded are most likely to be those who are in need.
“In our current economic climate, we should all have an expectation that public services will make full use of digital technologies to deliver more accessible, useable services and drive out costs from delivery. But this cannot be at the expense of the users – people living in our communities across Wales.
“Whilst we are concerned about the way universal credit is being introduced as 'digital by default', we want to do all we can to help people access and enjoy the many other benefits that being ‘online’ will bring them – reducing isolation, saving money, increased participation and better employability.”
Programmes such as the Welsh Government-funded Communities 2.0 initiative have already directly helped more than 15,000 people in some of the most deprived areas of Wales to go on-line and start accessing the benefits and opportunities so many take for granted.
Jane Hutt added:
“I see digital inclusion as a real and pressing issue. As a Government, we will continue to ensure that our policies, strategies and initiatives - whether it is growth and prosperity, public service delivery, tackling poverty or independent living - match our vision of a digitally inclusive Wales. The economic potential of more people being online is huge and must not be lost."