Are You Receiving Me? 

Reported by Anne

Published on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022

Digital Inclusion/Exclusion Healthcare Access Support and Relationships Welfare Benefits

Are You Receiving Me? 

Written by Anne

Published on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022

Digital Inclusion/Exclusion

Healthcare Access

Support and Relationships

Welfare Benefits

You’re sitting on a sleeping bag outside CostCutter – as was a young man I spoke to recently – in the cold, in the dark, it’s midwinter. Sick, scared and alone. What do you need? At the very least a phone. But is it enough? Are the services you require accessible, do they exist in a meaningful way?  

Possession of a smart phone for many people in precarious housing or on the street is a lifeline. This has been recognised. Rick Henderson, Chief Executive of Homeless Link notes, “Digital literacy can help to grow people’s confidence and independence, and become an incredibly empowering influence on their lives.” 

Homeless Link have created a valuable resource for organisations and individuals stating,Despite the huge growth in ownership of smartphones, people who experience homelessness – particularly those who sleep rough and/or have multiple needs – are often socially and digitally excluded. They can face barriers to getting online and using online services.” 

Their Online Centres Network “made up of over 5,000 grassroots organisations” via an interactive map. But, you guessed it, is accessed online. The Online Centres Network is designed to “tackle digital and social exclusion by providing people with the skills and confidence they need to access digital technology.” 

Back in August 2020 The Guardian reported Crisis was planning, in response to the pandemic, “to hand out 2,500 handsets and data packages in England, Scotland and Wales after Covid-19 exacerbated an existing digital deficit faced by many homeless people with the lockdown of walk-in services including council offices and job centres.” 

It continued, “While thousands of homeless people were housed in temporary accommodation during lockdown in a government initiative … without adequate further protection people risk being forced back on the streets or into crowded shelters.” 

By “further protection” read funding. Yes funding. I’m sick of hearing privileged people who have no idea of the price of a sandwich, who don’t have to juggle eating and heating, say, “You can’t just throw money at the problem”. No, that’s right. That is just the beginning of the process. Funding means staff training,  longer opening hours, access. 

Furthermore figures suggest the Everyone In scheme barely put a dent in the street homeless problem.  According to the CHAIN Annual Report 20/21 there were more people sleeping rough than ever before and more of them new to rough sleeping. 

While it’s obvious digital literacy and access are vital, particularly for obtaining Universal Credit, I’m dubious about the – tech solves all – rhetoric which is levelled at pretty much everything from the Climate Emergency to women’s safety on the streets. The changes required are cultural and systemic. There’s little use to a phone if the services are simply not there or so hard to reach they might as well not be. 

Yes there is a “digital deficit” but there is also an immense, looming and long standing deficit in provision of housing, health services, social care, mental health services during a well documented cost of living crisis. 

The NHS has been underfunded for decades. The overlong waiting times for operations are not just a result of the pandemic. In the summer I was sent to A&E by my GP with suspected shingles. I was assessed as “urgent care” and still had to wait over six hours before I saw a doctor who confirmed the diagnosis. That said staff were thorough and compassionate. 

Even making a GP appointment is not easy. At my surgery the only way to get an appointment is to phone at 8.00am. One is put on hold in a queue. Last time I was 15th in the queue. After about 35 minutes I finally got to speak to a receptionist. The time before I made the mistake of calling at 8.07am and was 25th in the queue. At some point I hung up. 

We’re living at a time with so many messaging apps, email, ubiquitous social media we are more connected than ever before in human history and yet, arguably, have never been less connected in a real and meaningful way.Face to face, together, in the same moment. Even then it’s often behind a mask which doesn’t quite hide a smile but conceals more subtle expressions.  

That said, if I were to say “data is life” it might sound like a strap line to one of the dystopian fictions I’m so fond of. But actually, for some people, like the homeless man I met recently, with only credit on an android, it’s not far from the truth.  

Anne is a writer, poet and housing activist:

Written by Anne

Anne Enith Cooper is a contributor to The Pavement Magazine, an activist, occasional public speaker and recent writer-in-residence at Cressingham Gardens which led publication of 306: Living Under the Shadow of REGENERATION. Born upside down, born blue, under a waxing gibbous moon, a little after midnight, six months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, diagnosed bipolar 34 years later. She has been described as, “the love child of Fox Mulder and Patti Smith, secretly adopted by Leon Lederman.” In this incarnation she has created collage, montage, concrete and matter poetry, the collection Touched, workshops and live literature events. She is the founder of The Way of Words. Anne’s writing draws on auto-bio, myth, popular culture and current affairs. Her poem-essay 21st Century Guernica was described by the former MP Tony Benn as, “Powerful and deeply moving.” She is a member of NAWE, Poets for the Planet and Malika’s Poetry Kitchen. Her elegiac poem This is A Prayer features in their 2021 anthology Too Young, Too Loud, Too Different. She has performed in London and New York. She believes another world is possible saying, “I’ve felt her breathe on my face.”

Read all of Anne's articles


Digital Inclusion/Exclusion Healthcare Access Support and Relationships Welfare Benefits

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