As the election nears politicians of all parties are being pressed to come up with new policies. Here is a simple, cost-effective, socially inclusive, modernising one they can all have for free.
The Government has been pretty successful in getting more of us to fill in our tax returns online. I think the figure for 2008/9 returns was over seventy percent. By contrast, only about one percent of claimants go online to claim the Job Seeker’s Allowance. Yet with nearly all families with children now on line and with the excellent work of UK OnLine Centres in providing digital access (both the computers and the hands-on guidance) there is no reason why the gap should be so great.
I am told that there is a plan to simplify and re-launch digital JSA forms in the summer. This will no doubt do some good but my idea would lead to a transformative shift.
Any claimant who moves online with their claim and who commits to continuing to transact in this way should be given a £30 online shopping voucher. The Government would pay £15 and retailers would make up the rest (claimants could choose between vouchers for various supermarkets or other participating shops). Some may object to this handout, but right now, as we emerge from recession, public opinion is tending to be sympathetic to those out of work.
For the Government the £15 cost would be substantially less than the savings in staff time and paperwork. For the retailers, they would show their corporate responsibility and open up the online shopping market to a new group of consumers. And for claimants their lives would be easier, they would get a free bag of shopping and by picking up online skills they would improve their employability and access to other services. A scheme like this could realistically aim for 50% of existing claimants and 90% of new claimants to be online within three months.
So there we are: a way of saving money, promoting social inclusion and contributing to the vision of digital Britain. Don’t be surprised to read it in a manifesto very soon.