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There is a real danger that the advance of technology will widen the gulf between privileged and disadvantaged groups in society, making weaker sectors fall behind as only better-off citizens learn to open doors in the modern world. In the Israeli Welfare Ministry, we’re striving to make technology part of the solution for weaker sectors of society. As the director of the ministry’s Division for Social and Personal Services, I run Israel’s national Digital Welfare programme, designed to improve the quality of welfare service delivery by taking full advantage of digital technologies.
One of the biggest obstacles preventing disadvantaged citizens from realising their full rights is ignorance about their entitlements. The information is scattered all over the place, and it is difficult to make sense of it. That’s why we are creating a central, online platform that gives citizens clear information about their rights: soon, they will be able to input their information in a search engine, and get a full list of their entitlements in order of monetary priority. This platform will be integrated into the websites of Israel’s various local authorities, so that social workers can discover most efficiently how best to care for the people under their responsibility.
Since the state cannot provide around-the-clock welfare services in person to citizens, we have developed a digital ‘Distance Welfare’ scheme to maximise the benefit of existing programmes. Senior citizens can only visit community centres a few times a week. But with a special channel on the new television sets we’re launching, they can partake in activities by remote control—exercising at home while watching the instructor by video-link, for example. Similarly, we already have a scheme in which elderly citizens visit even older citizens to keep them company—now we hope to develop an app to help them keep contact digitally as well.
Digital technology will also help us streamline services, cutting bureaucracy and waste. We’re computerising people’s personal files, so that all their relevant information can be stored in one place. Since populations that rely on welfare services often have multiple platforms, this aggregation allows social workers to access all the information they need in one place. We’re also developing a system to enable relevant authorities to share and synchronise data, to ensure it is all up-to-date. Similarly, we’re developing a digital platform for the ministry’s inspectors to file their reports digitally, making it easier to share vital information in real time with relevant agencies.
Digital literacy is very important for us. We’re teaching social workers to use the various platforms, so they can then teach citizens how to do so. We already have a programme to help the disabled, teaching them how to use special accessible computers. In the ultra-Orthodox community, where people do not have computers at home, we have a similar scheme but with local kiosks, where a representative is always on hand to explain how to use computers to access welfare services. This access to technology is liberating and empowering. In terms of giving weaker populations a sense of control over their own lives, it’s a powerful step forward.