South of the River – Unintended Consequences

Compass-SouthHow on earth could Iain Duncan Smith and William Hill be good for South Leeds? If they are, it’s all about unintended consequences.

I’ve talked previously about the havoc that the government’s welfare “reforms” will bring to South Leeds. Someone else has commented that calling them “reforms” is like saying the RAF “reformed” Dresden in 1945.

One of the issues around Universal Credit is that you will have to make your claim and all dealing about your claim online. For you, dear reader, should you need to claim Universal Credit, this won’t be a problem as you are clearly online already. You have access to a computer, tablet or smart phone and know how to browse the web. For many people in our neighbourhoods it will be a problem.

The Council are worried about this and beefing up community access to computers was part of their plan as explained at the last Area Committee.

Last week I sat in with the guys from Community Energy as they explained their scheme to Hilary Benn MP. The scheme operates predominantly online and Hilary quite rightly asked how people without a computer could join the scheme. Don’t worry, they can do it by old fashioned paper through the post.

However, Community Energy have been talking to housing associations and between them they are cooking a bit of plan. The idea is to hold drop in surgeries for tenants forced to claim Universal Credit online. There will be computers available and staff on hand to help people get started. They will be helped to create an email address and lodge their claim. Staff from Community Energy will also be there offering help to sign up to their scheme and the chance to cut fuel bills.

Potentially other (suitably vetted) providers of online services could be present too. Blimey, even South Leeds Life could be there to help those mourning the loss of our magazine.

So IDS could end up helping people suffering from the “digital divide” access a greater range of information and services. An unintended consequence, although he’ll probably try to claim it as a deliberate part of the policy.

Where does William Hill come into this?

I don’t share a lot in common with Margaret Thatcher apart from studying Chemistry and being brought up a Methodist. I wouldn’t call my parents strict, they were very liberal in many ways, but gambling was a no-no. I wasn’t even allowed to buy Premium Bonds. Anyway I’ve inherited their dislike of gambling.

I do understand that it can be “just a bit of fun”. But how come the positioning of betting shops directly correlates (or should that be Coral-ates? Geddit??) with deprived communities? And I have to ask, what was the last Labour government thinking when it deregulated the gambling industry?

I understand that there is good evidence that many fewer households in South Leeds have a computer in the home than other parts. But I’ve a sneaking suspicion that an increasing number of people have smart phones. Access to the internet is changing – you just have to look at the gambling adverts whenever there’s a football match on ITV.

Jeremy MortonMy point is that if someone can lay a bet on their smart phone, they can also claim Universal Credit, sign up for Community Energy, or read South Leeds Life. The gambling industry are pushing people into debt and I’d like to see their activities restricted, but they are also giving some people who wouldn’t have any other incentive the chance to enjoy the benefits of the internet – perhaps Gamblers Anonymous?

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.