Wales has the highest relative UK poverty rate (Welsh Government,2021), with almost one in four people living in relative income poverty and possessing lower digital skills, (ONS,2019). The UK Citizens Advice advisory service was, pre Covid-19 pandemic, dominated by an in-person channel through Local Citizens Advice (LCA); 70% in-person and 30% digital service. The intra-Covid-19 pandemic saw 100% digital service, whereas post-pandemic should see in-person return, although initial findings suggest as little as 20%, as part of a post Covid-19 omnichannel service. The LCA advisory service emergence, post-pandemic, is highly unlikely to see a return to pre-pandemic volunteer levels (predominately in-person channel). It should be recognised that the provision of welfare and debt advisory services, (Welsh Parliament,2021a) may have differing advisory service delivery needs.
I believe it is necessary to explore advisory service delivery and the cost-benefit-analysis to both LCAs and their clients and question the impact of digitised forms of advisory services delivery on clients compared to in-person; how such services impact different types of clients, and why; how these different delivery channels impact on Citizens Advice (macro and micro level); and how can such models of advisory services delivery could be improved for clients, in terms of their financial well-being, and for LCA, in terms of effectiveness.
The UK payback for every £1 invested in digitalisation in the UK economy gains £15 in economic growth (Mathers et al,2020). This justified ‘Digital by Default’, and introduction of Universal Credit; moreover, said to return savings of over £34bn over 10 years for a £2bn outlay (DWP,2018), although this may risk suboptimal outcomes from dehumanising public services, (Molinuevo,2020).
Potential outcomes include firstly, whether digital advisory services enhance the welfare recipient’s financial well-being compared to physically-based delivery will be examined followed by whether LCAs can utilise digital delivery more efficiently and cost-effectively in an omnichannel service delivery model. Thirdly, the cost-benefit impact both on the clients and LCAs will be examined.
A well-researched project should be capable of influencing action on a practical level, whilst also making a significant contribution to academic literature and, whenever possible, to influence policymakers. I firmly believe that dissemination of the research findings is essential in broadening learning in the wider advice sector and brings real world impact to the ESRC funding other than research for its own sake.