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One in three people in Wales could get left behind as public services move online, according to a new report.

Almost a third of the Welsh don't have an internet connection at home, the Bevan Foundation found (43-page/344KB PDF) - excluding them from online services.

"The UK government says public services should be "digital by default" – it is already pressing ahead with plans to put new benefit claims online in two years' time. The Welsh government is exploring how to put public services online as well," said Victoria Winckler, director of the think-tank.

"People who are offline already miss out on cheaper goods and services and information about everything from health conditions to train times, and they are also at risk of being excluded from vital public services," she added.

According to the Office of National Statistics, 8.73 million adults in the UK have never used the internet, mainly because of age, economic circumstances, location or disability.

"There is a real problem because the people who rely most on public services are the least likely to use the internet," Winckler said.

The survey did find that the web was available to people without an internet connection, mostly in libraries, but pointed out that users are then restricted to the library's opening hours and any rules they might have on what sites can be accessed.

"There needs to be better public access to the internet, and support and training in using computers," said Winckler.

Bevan also said that a lot of the services that are already online in Wales weren't very user-friendly.

"Online services need to be carefully thought through and tested with users to make sure they work, use ordinary language and are easy to navigate," Winckler said.

The report called for a commitment from the Welsh government that when services did go online, it would still keep an offline means of access. ®

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