In September 2011, ARKH gained a grant from UK Online Centres to establish an IT facility with open access during our drop-in times. The facility gives our service users free access to the internet, Windows and the Microsoft Office Suite. We have also established IT classes for beginners and further promoted access to the internet through the provision of Online Basics Courses (see https://learn.go-on.co.uk/user/register#step1).
Due to the high demand for our volunteer led advice services, average waiting times can vary between 30 minutes and 2 hours. The Online Centre in our waiting room provides internet access and support during this waiting period. In the first year we estimate that approximately 1135 users accessed the centre. This included 120 Online Basics Registrations and 69 completions.
The overall aim of the centre is to tackle digital exclusion amongst our service user group. Reports by the Digital Inclusion Landscape in England (2007) and the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) (2008) have linked a lack of IT skills to social disadvantage and exclusion concluding that ‘those who suffer deep social disadvantage are up to seven times more likely to be disengaged from the Internet than are those who are socially advantaged’
According to a framework developed by Communities and Local Government (C&LG), refugees and migrants in the UK hit many of the major ‘cultural’ indices of social exclusion in the UK, these include
- language barriers
- cultural differences
- experience of racism/discrimination
- higher than average incidences of mental health problems
- lower than average levels of labour market participation.
This link between social exclusion/ disadvantage and digital exclusion is borne out by our experience as a training provider. ARKH has provided IT skills training since 2005 and has recognised a high level of digital exclusion amongst our client group which, in most cases, has resulted from a background of social exclusion and disadvantage.
Previous IT/internet training at ARKH has also revealed a high level of demand amongst the client group. This accords well with recent DWP research on refugees which indicated that 60 per cent of refugees taking part in the research were interested in participating in training; with ICT being the most in demand (DWP Research Report 179).