The role of technology poverty

Written by: Heidi Tweedie, Champion and Director at Moray Wellbeing Hub CIC, the ALLIANCE

Published: 09/10/2019

The barrier of technology in relationships for personal change.

As part of self-management week 2019 Heidi Tweedie, Champion and Director at Moray Wellbeing Hub CIC (a social movement and social enterprise based in the North of Scotland), reflects on the role technology poverty has to play, as a barrier to building relationships necessary for authentic and lasting personal change.

Our ‘virtual hub’ of resources and social movement approach is built on believing that bricks and mortar do not a community resource make. In a world that embraces online and mobile connectivity, our vision of a web of diverse connected peers challenging stigma, external and within themselves, could be boot-strapped into existence. It is testament to our amazing Champions and supporters that we have managed this through thousands of volunteered hours and passionate commitment to peer-values.

For years as a growing grassroots social movement we had very few assets. We limited travel due to the cost of mileage and relied on what technology Champions could find for themselves either at home or in the community. Looking back, we realise that so many people were unable to join us or lost interest in the movement primarily because of the inability to use technology effectively.

Central services such as claiming benefits online and the rise in the home working economy has forced many to step up to technology. Often this can put them off using it for wellbeing due to having a negative association; the sheer hours required to invest to use these clunky systems and the sense of the system disempowering them away from support with a physical human connection.

By their very definition as a Moray Wellbeing Hub Champion and peer of life challenges, people who join our number have living experience of roles such as being unpaid carers, on benefits or in ongoing pain. All social states which lead to a combination of less time and cognitive resources to increase their knowledge and access to technology. Therefore, it continues to make the technology assisted aspect of our work less appealing.

Our own living experience of self-management of life challenges, and evidence-based research, has revealed to us that activity rooted in CHIME (Connectedness Hope Identity Meaning and Empowerment) increases ability to self-manage. Going further what is vital to understand that it, is not the type of CHIME based activity we do but how we deliver this that makes all the difference. This builds a peer-connection and the ebb and flow of support (both being supported by our community and the ability to offer support), creating a balance and interconnectivity that humans as social animals crave; something recognised well beyond the arena of self-management as all too often lacking in our western consumerist society.

We know our peer-led CHIME based activities work and that technology can be a fantastic tool to support this. However, what is counterproductive and continually negatively impacts on our own wellbeing as leaders of the movement, is wrestling with challenges to access services such as technology, as an element of absolute poverty (http://www.poverty.ac.uk/definitions-poverty/absolute-and-overall-poverty). (This Link will take you away from our website)

We find that although the majority of community members have mobile phones, these are the oldest models and often on terrible value tariffs that makes connecting with the team expensive and frustrating. Many people still find getting online almost impossible; access is decreased through changes such as decreased rural libraries, despite many forward-thinking organisations have adding accessible computers at their sites or offering drop-in training.

This is often an opening hours access challenge but the barriers loop back round to stigma and the unseen such as, “I can’t get to that building because it does not have a suitable toilet”, “I can’t go there because I feel so judged by the people I have to pass”, “That place isn’t for people like me” – voices of self-stigma that people may not even be conscious of.

Challenging self-stigma effectively requires a catalyst of peer-connection, hope inspired by someone who we view as trusted. Someone similar enough to us but perhaps further on their journey of life in some aspect to provide a pull forward and sow the seed of potential change in our minds. This peer-led CHIME based activity only works when you have the mechanisms to enable a connection – you can’t broker a connection between people if they can’t meet physically or virtually.

Poverty linked to services forces people to choose where their energy goes regarding technology. For those most in need of connection and support to tackle self-stigma, much of that energy serves an unproductive loop keeping the existing system turning rather than serving their wellbeing; A new kind of institutional learned behaviour without a physical building to blame.

As a social movement of over 200 people we are committed to experimentation with what resources we can muster, but this energy needs to be met equally with serious commitment from leaders with the power to change these systems including benefits, business practice and education. We want these leaders to recognise that this is their peer experience too – we are all negatively affected by poverty and it is within their power to change this through the opportunity of their work roles.

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