In a special debate in Parliament, MPs from across the political spectrum voiced universal support for the CAB’s call for accessible public services, acknowledging that the digital-first (or digital-only) approach excludes some people.
The debate, which took place on Thursday, focused on the Citizens Advice Bureau petition which calls for public services to be easily accessible in the way people need them – in person and by phone, not just online. The petition was sparked by concern from CABs across the country who are seeing more and more people struggling to access public services. Parliament’s Committee on Petitions considered the petition to be of such interest and national importance that it recommended a special debate.
It is rare to see agreement in the House, but MPs were unanimous in recognizing that changes are needed to remove the barriers that prevent people from accessing services.
The Honorable Dr David Clark, Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, said he recognizes “the need to maintain choice in the way people interact with public services, in particular by providing non-digital options “.
Jan Logie, Green Party spokesperson for the public service, said the starting point for the public service should be to find out how people actually engage, how they want to engage and “how can government it meets them where they are rather than the starting point of what is easy for the organization, the bureaucracy.
The Honorable Jacqui Dean, MP for the National Party and Chair of the Petitions Committee, said the government must develop concrete measures to do what it should do to “support the vulnerable, the visually impaired, the disabled, the minority groups who find it difficult to access digital services.
Nicole McKee, MP for the ACT party, echoed concern over the particular impact a digital-only approach has on the most vulnerable people in society, saying “we need to make sure we can take the people with us”.
Kerry Dalton, Chief Executive of CAB, said: “It is good that political parties have recognized the need for change, but what we – and the people of New Zealand – need to see now is action.
“In response to our campaign and the special debate, we are regularly contacted by people who are frustrated and stressed with the system because they cannot engage with it and are asking for change,” Ms Dalton says. “Government needs to make this change – it needs to stop choosing to exclude people and cause harm with its digital-first approach. It needs to act now to make our public services truly accessible so that everyone can get the services they need. he needs and to which he is entitled.
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