Social inclusion in a time of social distancing – can we connect more?
Why is social inclusion important? During the Covid-19 pandemic, the ensuing lockdown and social distancing, it has been necessary to keep away from other people as much as possible to stop the spread of the virus. Despite this, some amazing work to help others has been done in communities by hundreds of community and voluntary organisations. Local mutual aid groups and social media groups – sometimes for specific streets – have sprung up virtually overnight to offer help to neighbours they may not have known previously.
Social inclusion as Video conferencing
The use of online activities and video meetings has increased hugely. Coming out on our doorsteps or leaning out of our windows every Thursday evening to clap NHS, carers and key workers has also been a great way of encouraging social inclusion examples and helping us to feel connected and uplifted. Clap for our Carers | Zetetick However we should be aware that some groups of people are experiencing more loneliness and isolation than others. We already know that people with learning disabilities were much more likely to experience feelings of loneliness and isolation before Covid-19 arrived, and many are finding it even harder now. Many marginalised people struggling with social inclusion, including the elderly and those on low incomes are also those who do not have access to the internet or do not know how to use it. https://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/coronavirus-response-must-include-digital-access-connect-us-all
An ONS survey in 2019 estimated that 9% of adults in the UK have never used the internet or hadn’t used it in the previous three months. https://www.citizensonline.org.uk/digital-inclusion/
Digital inclusion is social inclusion
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration recently looked at ‘Social Connection in the Covid-19 Crisis’. They found that ‘the lockdown has reinforced the importance of digital social inclusion in this era.’ https://www.housinglin.org.uk/_assets/Resources/Housing/OtherOrganisation/Social-Connection-in-the-COVID-19-Crisis.pdf
As it becomes more and more important to have access to the internet for day to day life as well as for coping with the restrictions of Coronavirus, we need to look at ways to make this affordable and accessible in different ways for different groups. For people with learning disabilities this means accessible formats using plain English, with tailored support and activities related to the interests and needs of the person.
While we obviously still need to keep in touch as much as possible by phone, letter and distanced doorstep meetings, digital means of communication have become vital during the lockdown. Using the internet allows us to not only shop and take part in leisure activities, but also to keep in touch with friends and family, access health information, complete job applications and apply for government benefits. This is why ‘digital champion’ schemes were set up. These schemes aim to distribute Digital devices and train volunteers to speak to people on the phone to teach them how to use the internet.
Fair access to online services enables social inclusion and helps us work towards a fairer society.