Susan Hedley – written evidence (DAD0057)

 

From Susan Hedley, private citizen, supermarket checkout operator, and widely floating voter with no paid or voluntary office.

 

SUMMARY

1          THE NEED TO AVOID CREATING NEWLY EXCLUDED GROUPS  

2          NEW OPPORTUNITIES WITH DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES

3          EXAMPLES OF USEFUL WEBSITES FOR DEMOCRATIC INCLUSION

4          EXAMPLES OF OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION

5          RECOMMENDATIONS TO AVOID WIDENING DEMOCRATIC INEQUALITIES

 

 

1           THE NEED TO AVOID CREATING NEWLY EXCLUDED GROUPS  

Every alteration seems to put up barriers for, or exclude, more ordinary people who aren’t in a particular recognised group, even as it includes a wider diversity of groups.

Alterations should be increasing the number and diversity of voters, not just altering it by reducing voters in one group in favour of increasing them in another.

Any alteration should be THOROUGHLY TESTED AS TO BARRIERS AND EXCLUSION, AND SHOULD NOT BE CARRIED OUT IF IT IS LIKELY TO RESULT IN A SINGLE CITIZEN WHO NOW PARTICIPATES FINDING IT DIFFICULT OR IMPOSSIBLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE FUTURE.

 

 

2           NEW OPPORTUNITIES WITH DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES

2.1        Even though I have no digital access except when I can get to use the public access computers at the library around workshifts and bus times between my rural village and the town where the library is, and the charge for use is £1 per half hour after the first two free hours per day, this ALLOWS ME TO

- keep up with meetings, agendas and reports from Parish Council, County Council, and Combined Authority, and above all follow the links which they contain, which was all impossible when it was all on pieces of paper added after the event to an unmanageable array of files kept in libraries or obscure offices

- check members of committees so that I know who is who when I go to watch them,

- email elected representatives or do social media posts to let other people know about meetings, reports etc. without having to pay for writing paper, envelopes, stamps, or extra copies for multiple recipients, and easily and quickly check facts from primary sources whilst drafting them,

- so spreading the word to others about what primary sources are available and how to access them.

 

2.2    Since my online time is limited, the only social media that I use is Linked In, because even if I was prepared to give up the amount of privacy and security which other forms of social media would require, I still wouldn’t have enough online time to use it to follow conversation threads etc., whilst feeds from the organisations which I follow on Linked In usually take me straight to the PRIMARY DOCUMENTS which might have had an extremely brief mention on the radio if they are lucky.

 

2.3    REDUCED OPPORTUNITIES FOR INFORMATION FROM OTHER SOURCES: My sources of information are listening to BBC Radio 4 and the World Service, reading the local weekly papers for our rural area, and, when workshifts allow me to get to use the public access computers at the local library, which is my only online access, reading the parliamentary and local government press releases.  I have had no TV since 2012, and since the changes in TV licensing and online access a couple of years ago, can no longer access BBC TV written or televised material on the public computers at the library. I sometimes buy the local daily paper which covers both urban and rural areas, but never buy a national daily paper.  ALL newspapers were withdrawn from the library three years ago.

 

 

3        EXAMPLES OF USEFUL WEBSITES FOR DEMOCRATIC INCLUSION

3.1     By chance, some years ago when observing a Parish Council meeting in my village, I was given some information about a Transport Select Committee inquiry about Bus Services in Isolated Communities, and through that I found

 

3.2.1     the https://www.parliament.uk/ website, which is exemplary, with a selection of up to the minute parliamentary news on the home page, explanations of how parliament works, links to contact details for parliamentary members, details of select committees and inquiries and how ordinary people can contribute to them, and links to bill progress details, Hansard, and information on House of Commons Library, and to get alerts from all of the bills and committees etc that I want to keep up to date with, as well as from other sources such as ONS whose reports are often mentioned in the news, and currently, the EU, for which I have also responded to some consultations before the referendum.

3.2.2  I like the way that various parts of thIs website are trying to keep up-to-date with improving accessibility, such as offering Easy Read versions of calls for evidence (e.g. Transport Committee) and e.g.

https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/commons/media-relations-group/news/house-of-commons-adopts-new-accessible-visual-identity/

 

3.3       Being online also allows me to go on the https://www.gov.uk/ website, check membership of Government departments, consultations and outcomes, and full text of speeches which have been briefly touched on in the media, and contact the departments.  The different forms of the consultations is interesting, ranging from facilities to send in technical papers to tick-box consultations for members of the public, and it allows people to see and comment on the full detail of proposals which might affect them, including equality impact statements.

 

3.4    The only problem with all of this is that most people don’t know that it is open to them or where to find it, [and if they did the volume would make it unworkable], SO AT PRESENT ONLY THOSE WHO ARE IN THE KNOW CAN DO IT AND ARE ALSO MORE LIKELY TO HAVE THE TIME TO DO IT, OR THE MONEY TO PAY A MEMBER OF STAFF TO DO IT, AND IT IS GIVING THEM MORE VOICE, AND THEREFORE THOSE WHO ARE EXCLUDED PROPORTIONATELY LESS VOICE AS THE DIGITAL GAP BECOMES BIGGER.

 

e.g. my Linked In postings on 05/09/19

BBC Radio 4 Digital Future: the New Underclass (Dr. Josie Barnard)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000823p

The best that I have heard on the wider range of groups who are, or are in danger of being, excluded, including many of those regarded as digital natives, and how this is. Mostly concentrated on economic exclusion, but exclusion from community and democratic information and participation are huge and growing issues as well.

 

 

Digital Democracy – Call for Evidence

https://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/Digital_democracy/Digital_Call_for_evidence.pdf

 

 

4        EXAMPLES OF OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION

4.1    Until Brexit took over so much Parliamentary business earlier this year, I have probably been averaging at least 3 submissions to Parliamentary, Government, and Local Government inquiries and consultations per month for the last 4 years or more.

 

4.2     The reason that I do so many of these is that they seem to be largely dominated by organisations or their members who have a significant pecuniary interest in the subject or are self-appointed and purport to speak for a group of ordinary people, even though most ordinary people have never heard of  them.

I try to redress the balance of these submissions to those of private citizens by sending in submissions based on my personal experience as a bus passenger, dealing with thousands of customers at work, or being a customer in the high street myself.

 

4.3       For details of how digital technologies could be opening up vast new opportunities in democratic participation, but actually SEVERELY INCREASING THE INEQUALITIES IN HOW MOST ORDINARY PEOPLE WHO ARE TOO BUSY TO EVEN KNOW ABOUT THIS CAN HAVE THEIR EXPERIENCES AND CONCERNS RECOGNISED AND PROPERLY ACTED UPON IN OUR DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM,

please see

section 1.3 in my submission

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/rural-economy-committee/rural-economy/written/89277.html  (House of Lords).

 

and section 14.2, a request for an inquiry into the Quality and Validity of Public Consultations, which links to my submissions

 

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/housing-communities-and-local-government-committee/overview-and-scrutiny-in-local-government/written/70775.html

 

http://data.parliament.uk/WrittenEvidence/CommitteeEvidence.svc/EvidenceDocument/Communities%20and%20Local%20Government/Overview%20and%20scrutiny%20in%20local%20government/written/48572.html - particularly Annex G, point 2

 

 

5          RECOMMENDATION

5.1.1      WHATEVER ELSE HAPPENS, THERE SHOULD CERTAINLY BE AN AUDIT OF WHO CAN GET ACCESS TO EFFECTIVE MEANS TO OBTAIN, MAINTAIN, AND OPERATE DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY TO THE

EXTENT THAT THEY CAN HAVE EQUAL ACCESS TO DEMOCRATIC INFORMATION AND PARTICIPATION – this is where the traditional census might be a better vehicle than collecting information about people from a variety of data sources, because those who are most likely to be missed out of democracy in digital technologies may well be those who are most likely to be missed out of other commonly used databases.

5.1.2      e.g. the many grandparents, particularly widows, who tell me that they have an old computer which their husband used, but they don’t know how to work it, and when they ask their grandchildren to show them, they don’t really understand, and don’t like to keep asking.

5.1.3      For full details, if submissions are ever published, please see section 3 [in answer to question 8] of mine to

https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/electoral-registration-act-2013-committee/news-parliament-2017/call-for-ev/    .

 

5.2     ENSURE THAT THOSE WHO DON’T HAVE TIME TO PARTICIPATE IN DIGITAL DEMOCRACY OR TO CHECK THE VALIDITY OF WHAT THEY DO SEE ARE GIVEN EQUAL MEANS TO INFORMATION AND PARTICIPATION VIA OTHER CHANNELS in order to redress para 3.4.

 

 

8th October 2019.

 

 

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