Fears 'digital transformation' of access to public services may leave vulnerable communities behind

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

The Chief Human Rights Commissioner is warning the Government to not leave vulnerable people behind as it makes tasks like applying for a passport part of its "digital transformation".

“The digital-first approach needs to be rolled out with great caution with particular attention to the existing disadvantage of certain communities – the elderly, Pasifika, Māori communities who are already disadvantaged.

“There’s a danger their disadvantage will be entrenched further without great care,” Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt said.

He said access to information and the ability to participate in public affairs of the community are human rights that may be undermined by the Government’s programme of digital change.

The Government has a vision for all Kiwis to be "thriving in a digital age" to help people access services at any time, communicate about issues and have trust in a transparent democracy.

A report from Citizens Advice Bureau found the shift to online services is increasing vulnerability in disabled people, Māori and Pacific people, older people and those whose first language is not English as they are struggling to complete tasks digitally.

More than 4000 inquiries to CAB about people facing barriers due to information and Government services being online were recorded between September and November last year.

The Chief Human Rights Commissioner said he was already aware some people were facing barriers with services like online banking and getting passports, but welcomes CAB’s report as authoritative research on the issue and is now calling for the Government to seriously consider the report’s recommendations.

He said in a statement he’s concerned CAB volunteers are being used as a replacement for the Government providing services which are accessible to everyone.

“I think the Government should pause, take stock and ensure that accidentally they’re not entrenching existing disadvantage,” he said.

The Government has a legal obligation to do everything it can to make information, and participation in public affairs, accessible for all communities, Mr Hunt said.

Kiwibank won’t accept cheques from tomorrow, and after tomorrow NZ Post will no longer take cheques.

From next month, Inland Revenue and Accident Compensation Corporation won’t accept cheques from people who can pay in another way.

The 2018 Census was the subject of an inquiry which found too much focus was put on completing the census online for the first time and saw the chief statistician resign.

Responses from one in 10 Kiwis weren’t counted.