Digital Inclusion and a ‘Good Society’ in the wake of COVID-19

Covid-19 Anniversary Blog

12 months ago I reimagined a good society in the wake of Covid-19. The vision was one of mutual aid, community strength and public policy, led by strong, independent and diverse voices. One year on, this vision has in some sense been enacted; yet the pandemic has revealed more obstacles on the road to a ‘good society’, none more so than the impact of digital poverty and exclusion.

The pandemic has led to passionate campaigning on many issues. Activism around issues such as food poverty have highlighted how a human values response to policy making can make fast and impactful changes. However food poverty is simply a symptom of a broader structural exclusion experienced by people on low incomes. For in reality food poverty, is in plainer terms, just poverty. With research starting to indicate that Covid itself may become a disease of the poor, it is imperative that we take this opportunity to permanently reshape our society.

Thus to return to the three imaginings of a good society from my original post, this requires a not simple a ‘repairing’ of the welfare state, or a re-imagining of a what a good society might look like, or even a move towards more meaningful collaborations between voluntary, public and private sectors. It requires a shift in our conceptualisation of poverty, and our collective response thereto.

The last twelve months have highlighted that a post-Covid vision of a good society needs to be more compassionately radical, to re-frame its reimagining around human rights and opportunity, and our right to participate in a democratic society. The curtailment of our civil liberties aside, the almost exclusive digital response to the pandemic has diminished the ability of many in poverty to participate or to use their voice.

There is no question that digital exclusion has broadened the divide between the ‘digital haves and have nots’, as highlighted by recent reports from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). The JRF UK Poverty Report and the JRF Destitution Report both highlighted digital poverty as not simply about not being able to access basic public services such as education, health, and social security; but is more fundamentally about voice. As APLE Collective, state ‘to be digitally excluded, is to be silenced’.

So to re-imagine a good society in the wake of covid-19 we must build what Baroness Ruth Lister calls ‘voice-space,’ and address digital poverty as a human rights issue. For, from digital inclusion, so comes the ability to campaign, share ideas, listen and be heard; and so voices emerge. To be truly ‘good’ our post-Covid society must take account of this.

Dr Katy Goldstraw is Senior Lecturer in the Social Sciences as Staffordshire University and is Chair of the ISR External Advisory Group.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 6th May 2020 by Katy which can be found here.

Note: ISR are playing their part in creating opportunities for ‘voice-space.’ We are running a series of webinars, which are idea sharing sessions, focussed on how you generate socially distanced, social responsibility. Join us on March 17th for Young People and the Pandemic: Doing Socially Distanced Social Responsibility.

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