Charedim will lose out when benefits go online

By Simon Rocker, September 20, 2012
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Plans to move benefit applications online next year could complicate life for members of the Charedi community, where internet use is restricted because of rabbinic objections.

The new Universal Credit, wrapping in existing benefits for housing and other needs, will be administered by a national computer system rather than through local authorities.

Michoel Posen, director of Agudas Israel Community Services, which serves Charedim in London, said that switching to digital benefit applications would be a "nuisance" but "it is not going to be impossible for the community".

Chaya Spitz, director of the strictly Orthodox advisory service, the Interlink Foundation, said: "The move of everything online is, of course, going to create difficulties for people who are not online at home."

Thousands of London Charedim attended a rally two weeks ago to hear rabbis warn of the danger of unrestricted internet use. While the internet may be used for business, it should be filtered to prevent access to unsuitable sites, according to guidelines issued by the rabbinate of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations.

Mrs Spitz said: "The issue is resistance to the internet for social and recreational purposes. While people have filtered internet in the workplace, the majority do not have it at home."

But she pointed out that there were strictly Orthodox institutions such as the Heimische Business Network which allowed internet access, as well as computers in local libraries.

A report by Hackney Council on internet use last year described the Charedi community as "one of the most digitally excluded groups in the borough". It noted that "the rapid advance of technology ... has potential to force the exclusion of more in the Charedi community."

It also reported that the take-up of Open University courses by Charedim might fall because "full internet access at home is becoming more of a requirement in order to fully engage with the course work".

    Last updated: 10:03am, September 20 2012