During the COVID lockdown, many support organisations have been forced to deliver their services online. This has exposed an acute accessibility gap within public housing communities. Prompted into action by the digital divide, Counterpoint Community Services and REDWatch have approached the technology hub at South Eveleigh to work with government to pilot potential solutions.
Writing in The South Sydney Herald, Counterpoint Executive Officer, Michael Shreenan, said: “Tenants need access to free wifi; equipment such as tablets, laptops and smart phones; personal monitoring and medical assistance equipment; duress alarms and free access to training so they can embrace the opportunities technology can offer. For this to happen we need urgent investment from both government and the private sector.”
Counterpoint is pursuing grants to provide families with computers and data packs and, with REDWatch, is currently lobbying for free wifi in public housing.
Australia’s response to containing COVID-19 relied on citizens to be more digitally connected than ever. Yet, more than 2.5 million Australians are not online, while 1.25 million households have no internet — according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. And many of those who do have internet lack the skills to benefit fully from the connectivity. Affordable access to the internet also remains a key concern, particularly for low-income households.
“For the digitally excluded, people lacking effective and affordable internet access and digital skills, the transition is deepening social inequality,” said Professor Jo Barraket from the Centre for Social Impact. “Given the loss of income suffered by those who have lost work as a result of the crisis, the number of digitally excluded may rise, widening the divide itself.”
Those Australians most likely to be among the digitally excluded include people with lower levels of income, education, and employment; people over 65; Indigenous Australians; and people with disability. “We believe,” said Barraket, “that there is a fundamental and immediate need for a coordinated effort from government, telecommunication providers and not-for-profits to assist these Australians to get online and gain the confidence and basic skills they need to remain socially connected.”