Online government causing frustration, stress, exclusion: CAB

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Government initiatives to put services online and wind back face-to-face-access is leaving New Zealanders of all ages stressed, frustrated and excluded, says the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

It says people are struggling because of difficulties with reading and writing, financial barriers such as being unable to pay online, disability, and language barriers.

The CAB is calling on government to “pause and take stock of where things are headed and to recognise that digital is not always best for every person or every situation,” and also for ongoing funding from government to help it support people struggling with online services.

CAB has released a report - 'Face to Face with Digital Exclusion' - that it says was informed by more than 4000 enquiries from clients facing barriers participating fully in society because of information and services being online.

CAB chief executive Kerry Dalton said the report had been produced following strong concerns expressed by CAB volunteers at the number of people struggling to interact with government online services.

"We're asking government to pause and take stock of where things are headed and to recognise that digital is not always best for every person or every situation,” she said.

“We’re also calling on the government to fund the CAB in a sustainable way so we can continue to provide our vital service and help bridge the gap for those who are struggling. We must ensure that the way forward is one where's people's wellbeing is uplifted and no-one is left behind,”

CAB national advisor and report author Sacha Green, said: “Our report challenges the current approach being taken by government in its digital transformation of the public service - including the retreat of agencies from being physically present in communities.

“It’s getting harder to access human support from government agencies, but people’s needs for face-to-face services are as real as ever. … Our CAB volunteers are seeing people daily who feel like their choices are being taken away by the government’s focus on digital services.”

She added that Māori and Pacific peoples were being disproportionately disadvantaged, and that some people lacked motivation or confidence to be online, preferring to deal directly with another person.

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