NPC urges Digital & Culture Secretary to intervene
Digital-only agenda of firms like Milk & More attacks human rights of oldest & disabled
The digital-only drive by many organisations infringes the human rights of many older and disabled people who are increasingly being excluded from essential services.
The National Pensioners Conventions (NPC) is concerned that a growing number of UK companies - like home delivery conglomerate Milk & More who recently featured on BBC Radio 4 ‘You & Yours’* - are moving to online-only and ditching customers who cannot or do not want to use the internet.
The NPC believes this movement seriously disadvantages our oldest and most vulnerable and requires urgent government action. Following contact from distressed NPC members, we are compiling a dossier of evidence which we intend sending to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP, as well as deputy and shadow ministers. We will also be sending copies to the watchdog body, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the NPC, the UK’s largest campaign group for older people, said: “Access to information is a human right and those without technology are being excluded by the drive to digitalise everything from essential health services to ticket purchases and everyday milk and goods deliveries. Our research shows that our members are suffering exclusion in many areas through the drive to digital-only services. While this may be worthwhile for businesses, and indeed the government, customer choice does not seem to feature in their decisions.
“We realise that digitalisation is inevitable, but the process by which it takes place can and should be approached differently.”
The NPC has already written to Milk and More who gave their customers* a month to move their accounts online by last Saturday, 24th April, before they closed their accounts.
Jan Shortt commented: “We are very disappointed by the response from Milk and More who deliver to more than half a million people in the UK – many of whom are retired or disabled. They claim that the future of their business would be in jeopardy if they don’t move to online-only. We cannot see how a business – owned by German multi-national Muller, with a multi-billion-dollar turnover – cannot afford to maintain some phone lines for existing customers who cannot go online, or allow them to keep their current standing order arrangements. We wish to investigate if this is in breach of the ‘reasonable adjustments’ criteria under the Equality Act, and will be raising this with the EHRC, the Government and the Competition Markets Authority.
We also support a number of individuals *(see below) who are currently pursuing complaints against Milk and More.”
The NPC is concerned overall about the wider implications of the digital exclusion of older and disabled people caused by digital-only. In a letter to the Secretary of State – copied to the Shadow Secretary, Jo Stevens, and the Minister for Culture and Digital, Caroline Dinenage – the NPC outlines a raft of issues facing older people due to rampant digitalisation that makes few concessions to those who do not have (or do not want) access to the internet, and that may even breach the Equality Act of 2010. This includes the example of the UK’s biggest milk delivery provider moving to digital-only, and forcing thousands of elderly customers to open online accounts or lose the service. *(NPC Case Study contacts below).
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The NPC makes a number of recommendations to the Secretary of State that would help older people access the internet - including investment in making broadband more accessible and safer for older and vulnerable people - along with some viable offline alternatives for those who cannot or choose not to go online. (Age UK found that fear of internet scams is not only a reason quoted in recent surveys for people not going online, it is also a major factor in the high numbers of older people choosing to go offline in later life).
Jan Shortt said: “For many older people there is a real decline in accessible information and opportunities to have their voices heard. Whether it is the drive towards a cashless society, or simply being able to make an appointment with your GP or hospital, the digital world is becoming a minefield of baffling technology for many older people. Discriminating against those who are unable, or do not want to connect with technology is unacceptable and we look to the government to use its powers to ensure that this does not happen.”
The NPC dossier of digital exclusion evidence will also cover issues such as:
· The 2021 Census being online and the alternatives not working.
· Only-online cheap fuel deals.
· Fear of scams and cybercrime putting people off the internet.
· High cost of laptops, broadband and security too expensive for pensioners.
· NHS computer systems not ‘talking’ to each other, or GPs.
· Local & central government services and consultations going on-line.
· Digital banks and a cashless society.
* BBC Radio 4 ‘You and Yours’ – 24th April 2021 www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000v9tc
Case Studies – please contact Beverley Morrison (see below) for details:
· Clare Harding, has raised a complaint with the EHRC about Milk and More on behalf of her mother.
· Patricia Wise, 85, from Kent who complained to Milk and More after 60 years of having a milk delivery service. She and her husband, 94, are afraid to do any financial dealings online for fear of scams.
· Judy Smith MBE, who says Milk and More are not providing adequate or viable alternatives for those who cannot get online.
Download the press release
Jan Shortt NPC General secretary wrote to the CEO of Milk & More regarding their decision to take their business online only from the 24 April. Read and download the letter on https://www.npcuk.org/post/milk-more
You can read the response from Milk & More to Jan Shortt, NPC General Secretary on https://www.npcuk.org/post/milk-more-response
You can listen to You and Yours