I was interested to read this week’s article in ComputerWorldUK, on suggestions that the new Universal Credit system may be built “mobile first” due to the higher number of people accessing and claiming the new benefit through mobile devices (including phones and tablets) than predicted.
I’ve blogged plenty before on what mobile means for digital inclusion, and although I would definitely describe myself as a convert, I’d like to offer a word of warning to the Department for Work and Pensions.
Andy Nelson, the CIO of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who made this suggestion at the Public Sector ICT event earlier this week acknowledged that implementation was small scale, with around 4,000 claims made so far.
For me, the real test for Universal Credit will be when the roll-out goes wider. Those that are claiming currently are new claimants with no dependents, who don’t receive any additional benefits and who don’t own their own home. These are the less complex claimants, and they’re likely to be younger, less socially excluded and more skilled. This will mean that the 25% of people who are currently claiming using a mobile device will fall considerably once the more complex, less skilled claimants come on board.
Mobile devices are great in a lot of ways. They help me check my emails wherever I am, help keep things like Twitter fresh, and mean lots of our centres can take learning with Learn My Way out to people where they are in the community. But they’re not helping everyone. The Oxford Internet Survey (OxIS), 2013, says just 1.6% of smartphone users rely solely on this one device to get online, and Ofcom’s 2012 Consumer Market Report says 55% of those in socioeconomic group AB use a mobile phone to go online, this is just 33% for socioeconomic group DE. The same report shows that only 11% of households own a tablet, and this is likely be lower in more deprived households (in particular those claiming benefits) due to the high costs of buying them. OxIS is clear that internet access on a tablet or Smartphone is complementing not replacing going online using other devices – and they ask people if they download music, or update a social media status, with their phones or tablets, it’s not just a ‘do you use the internet’ question.
Having internet access at home is another issue that needs considering. The same Ofcom report shows only 63% of DE households have the internet at home, compared to 92% of AB households. For these people, public access to computers in UK online centres, libraries and jobcentres will be vital to them claiming Universal Credit, where they’ll often be relying on slightly less modern kit.
Andy Nelson said that the Department are working closely with Government Digital Service as they roll out Universal Credit more widely, and this gives me huge faith that the channels chosen will fit the target audience or audiences. GDS has done some great work in user testing with the least digitally skilled users, ensuring services work for those who lack not only digital skills, but other skills, including literacy and numeracy. This is the kind of work that will ensure that services really do get built with those who need them most in mind. And while this may be mobile for some (including me!), I think it will be a while before we see the death of the laptop altogether.