How far should we turn to tech in times of disaster?

Few question the role technology companies now play in our daily lives. However, in addition to responding to many of our everyday needs, tech has also now carved a growing position in disaster response.

The recent devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey has seen a number of tech companies step up. Apple has added a donation button directly into iTunes and the iOS App Store, with proceeds going toward the American Red Cross. Google added Texas and Houston-specific alerts across its products with SOS Alerts that detail emergency phone numbers, relief fundraisers and maps. Amazon added a wish list of supplies that those affected by Harvey might need, so that users can send specific items to the Red Cross in lieu of a cash donation.

So – is there anything to worry about? For some of us, our instinct is to be wary. Surely disaster management and response is so clearly a job for the government that multi-billion pound companies creeping into leadership roles makes us wary.

Such a view should be rejected. The reality is that citizens – and governments – need all the help they can get in times of such crisis. What’s more, technology companies are unusually well-placed to support disaster response. They deliver instant connectivity to a growing majority of citizens; they have enormous fundraising and donation capabilities; and they are a hub of the latest technological breakthroughs that could help us respond now, and reduce risks for next time.

Going forward, and in considering the kinds of crises that may hit us over the next year – from winter flooding to terrorism to public disorder – we should not just recognise technology companies in our planning, but look for more ways to include them. Indeed, many already do. The momentum and appetite exists – it’s up to policymakers to best harness all that tech companies can offer at times of disaster.

The contributor is a Labour Party member

Bibliography

  • ‘You can donate to Harvey storm relief through Apple’s App Store and iTunes,’ TechCrunch 27th August 2017
  • ‘How tech companies are helping Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey,’ TechCrunch, 29th August 2017

Can tech tackle the poverty premium?

Wayra, the Telefónica-backed accelerator, announced last month the launch of its Fair By Design fund. With an aim of raising £20 million, it will support seven startups each year to develop ways to tackle the poverty premium. Chiefly, these will be solutions to prevent low-income households paying more for services like energy, insurance, borrowing, transport and food.

The poverty premium is not a new concept. However, the sheer resilience of the challenge in the face of a number of well-intentioned public policies makes it all the more urgent. A 2016 report by the University of Bristol revealed that the poverty premium paid by low-income families is, on average, £490 per year. According to Joseph Rowntree Foundation research, one-fifth of the UK’s population is living in poverty.

So – can tech be used to solve intractable social problems like this? Clearly, the challenge requires political attention and regulation as much as any other component. However, there can be no doubt: in the 2020s, technology and innovation will have to form part of the solution.

There are three reasons. First, many of these problems are exacerbated by technology itself. While greater connectivity has enabled money-saving innovations like price-comparison websites, it has also bolstered the reach and ease of payday lenders.

Second is the creativity such a fund allows. Unlike the rigorous political magnifying glass of Westminster – where politicians quite rightly want to know policies will work at scale – Fair By Design creates a fertile space for experimentation which others can build on.

Third, initiatives like this actually create solutions that can be deployed instantly. This is a sustainable way to act against social problems, no matter which party is in government or which policy is being pursued.

Not-for-profit and public sector focused accelerators are a welcome innovation. We should do all we can to support them.

How far should we turn to tech in times of disaster?

The contributor is a Labour Party member

Bibliography

  • ‘The Poverty Premium,’ University of Bristol, 2016
  • ‘Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2016,’ Adam Tinson, Carla Ayrton, Karen Barker, Theo Barry Born, Hannah Aldridge, Peter Kenway, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 7th December 2016

Community, Relationships and the Digital Future

The digitalisation of industry will doubtlessly bring many benefits to the UK economy. A study focusing on broadband penetration conducted by Booz & Company in 2012 showed that a 10% increase in digitalisation led to a 0.6% increase in GDP. The amount of jobs in sectors such as business services is expected to increase, together with a streamlining of procedures, making the economy more efficient and increasing GDP. These are of course benefits that a forward thinking Labour Party must embrace in the interests of the British economy.

Continue reading “Community, Relationships and the Digital Future”