Meg T on 01 April 2021
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Q. Are you claiming Universal Credit?
Q. UC is a digital benefit. How do you feel about computers making decisions about benefits?
Hello there. I am fortunate to be computer literate having had one of the first home PCs back in the 1990s. Yes Windows 95 and a dial-up modem! Back in the day I never thought that I would actually need a computer to do anything. Boy was I wrong. If anything, my main gripe these days is that I spend too much time on the Internet. I find computers and the Internet crucial tools in my ability to maintain my independence as a disabled person for example shopping online and also in my fight against poverty through the ability to look up the best deals online, use cashback services, and also to find the information I need in order to know my rights for example having to prepare for DWP tribunals of which I have worn three so far since becoming disabled. So the short answer to your question is that I don't have any qualms about computers making decisions about benefits in so far as the ability to calculate one's entitlements. However, my main concern is regarding people's access to digital inclusivity, because there are still people out there subsisting on very low income that simply cannot afford internet access and all the equipment with which to access it. Another concern about universal credit is that you, from what I've heard, need to be available 24/ 7 to pick up messages from your UC account and if you miss them this can lead to sanctions. This is why we need a human face to the behemoth that is the DWP because mistakes can be made as algorithms can never take into account the complexities of human existence. Furthermore, I come from a time that, before I became disabled, I entered the system at the DWP due to fleeing domestic violence. One of my first jobs was to secure an income from my family as I fled whilst on unpaid maternity leave. At that time the job centre was somewhere you went that was welcoming and helpful. There was no need for security guards on the door. As a lone parent, I had a dedicated lone parent adviser who was wonderful. She was there to help you decide through benefits calculations whether you would be better off in work or not and ensured that you were in receipt of all the benefits to which you were entitled. As someone suffering from depression and trauma at the time, to have someone be there and guide you through was amazing. Although if push came to shove I would have been able to do it for myself, to have someone even though they were in a position of authority to help me in a kind and compassionate manner at a time when I couldn't even trust my own judgement because my self esteem and confidence was in tatters was immeasurable. So the longer answer to your question is that computers should only be ever used as a tool by decision makers to assist in their decision-making; never the sole arbitrator of a financial decision that can sweep someone already living in poverty into further destitution.
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