Heather Pullar, of Citizens Advice Bureau Wairarapa, wants to have digital exclusion addressed by candidates, and highlighted the extra strain placed on the organisation. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES
Wairarapa’s Citizens Advice Bureau is concerned about access issues after the push for online government services, prompted by covid-19.
Heather Pullar, of CAB Wairarapa, which is staffed by volunteers and offers free services, said she was “deeply concerned” about the negative impacts of government services physically withdrawing from communities.
CAB was asking for a commitment from Wairarapa candidates to ensure that public services remained accessible to everyone.
“People of all ages are coming to us stressed and frustrated about their experiences of trying to access government services,” Pullar said.
“It’s getting harder to access human support from government agencies, but people’s need for face-to-face services is as real as ever.”
Earlier this year, CAB published a report titled ‘Face to Face with Digital Exclusion’ to highlight the impacts of government digital services on inclusion and well-being.
“While online services are great for some people, the drive towards online-only is leaving some of the most vulnerable members of the community behind.”
Many of these individuals then seek out support from CAB, because they need access to face-to-face services, paper-based resources, and empathetic human connection.
The report made clear that the public sector was relying heavily on the goodwill of the CAB and its volunteers, such as Pullar, to “fill the gap” made by the government’s widespread withdrawal from face-to-face and paper-based service delivery.
Ron Mark, New Zealand First candidate for Wairarapa and Minister of Defence, said he had spoken on this topic in the past with other ministers.
“This is an issue I have raised concerns about previously. I am assured by Labour’s Minister Chris Faafoi that he has read the report and met with Kerry Dalton [CAB chief executive] earlier this year.
“The government is actively working on the Digital Inclusion Work Programme, which requires working across government and community groups, including CAB.”
Mark highlighted that the work being done across government in this area could be found online at www.digital.govt.nz
Kieran McAnulty, Labour Party candidate for Wairarapa, said digital services were inevitable, but that the region had to make sure this wasn’t a cause for exclusion.
“There is no doubt that online and digital services are where we are headed, but government departments need to ensure that, while there are still some that are excluded from digital capability, that they are fairly catered for.
“The Labour Party has committed to continue adequate funding for government departments, which I would hope will ensure they have the resources to ensure everyone can access their services.”
Celia Wade-Brown, Green Party candidate for Wairarapa, stressed the importance in combining online and face-to-face services, and said the CAB should receive better funding for their help with this.
“I believe CAB should be partly supported by local government and partly by central government, as they help people in a wide range of public and private organisations.
“I don’t expect some public services, such immigration or IRD, to make all services available in person throughout Wairarapa, so I think helping CAB to help people is an efficient and friendly way forward.
“Closer ties with libraries and information centres could be a good combination.”
Other candidates were approached but had not responded at time of publication.