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Digital inclusion and democracy

Jenny Sims, a Cardiff-based freelance journalist and Co-chair of the NUJ’s 60+ Council has been elected chair of the National Pensioners Convention’s new working party on Digital Inclusion/Exclusion and reports on its first meeting.

While the Houses of Parliament shut down temporarily, democracy was flourishing elsewhere in the UK. The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) held the first meeting of its newly launched Digital Inclusion/Exclusion Working Party, voted for its first chair and agreed its terms of reference.

But undoubtedly, with a general election likely any time soon, the most urgent item on the agenda couldn’t have been more topical or important – responding to the House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies’ Call for Evidence.

They wanted views on “the effects of technology on political debates more broadly, and the wider public’s engagement with and participation in political discourse in the digital age” for a report to be published next year. With a deadline for written responses only 17 days away, our small group of seven had no time to get to know each other, but dived straight in to the task. We concluded their lordships’ questions failed to consider how non-internet users, particularly older people, were excluded from participating in political discourse and debate online and social media platforms.

As a result they are increasingly disengaged and disenfranchised, particularly with the widespread closure of printed newspapers. So, we’ve called for “more funding for digital literacy projects and services to help get more older people online on computers and phones, and to provide access and free use of computers in communities“. Meanwhile, here on home turf, NPC Wales has been making its voice heard in the media alongside Age Cymru responding to Transport for Wales’ (TfW) announcement that current concessionary Welsh passes will be invalid from 31 December. The TfW website advised people to renew or apply online and told those who could not to approach their local councils for help in doing so.

Phyllis Preece, NPC Wales Chair, who appeared on ITV and BBC news channels with Age Cymru said: “I told them 50% of older people in Wales were not online, and there would be panic if they couldn’t get a paper form”. An online form has since been posted on the website, which can be downloaded and printed off. Result!

While the NPC’s new digital working party will focus on helping more older people get online, it will also aim to raise awareness of the problems faced by people who are not – such as the difficulties of renewing a bus pass!

Approximately 1 in 5 65-74 year olds in Wales are not using the internet (National Survey for Wales, 2019).

Follow Jenny on Twitter: @Jenny__Sims