Chris was delighted to give the keynote speech at tech conference, ATEC London 2017 today (June 6th 2017). He spoke about innovation, technology and the potential for assistive technology to offer solutions for disabled people. He also highlighted that inclusive design was beneficial for everyone, regardless of whether you have a disability or not.
ATEC London 2017 is a one-day event that allows disability professionals involved in the workplace and post-16 education to listen to and meet with assistive technology experts, solution providers and other likeminded delegates.
In his speech, entitled ‘Assistive Technology: a measure of civilization’, Chris shared his personal experience of assistive technology saying:
“From cassette tapes to text to speech software, I could not have enjoyed the education and career I have been lucky enough to have experienced so far without it.
I am genuinely and passionately excited about the potential of assistive technology to remove barriers, unlock opportunities and unleash talent.
Talent is everywhere but opportunity is not and assistive technology offers a way to address that terrible imbalance.
I urge everyone to learn more about what’s out there, ask questions, find solutions and share the good news”
ATEC London 2017, which is sponsored by Barclays, gives delegates the chance to keep up-to-date with emerging assistive technology products, trends and innovations.
Employers are becoming increasingly aware of how assistive technology can promote well-being and inclusion in the workplace, whilst improving performance.
It can enable disabled employees to work effectively and increase productivity, as well as helping to reduce stress by empowering disabled people and removing barriers to work.
— Barclays Access (@BarclaysAccess) 6 June 2017
Chris is also working in Parliament to increase awareness among members of the vital role assistive technology can play in improving lives and is Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Assistive Technology.
Chris is undertaking a Fellowship Programme organised by the Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT). IPT fellowships are educational, non-lobbying attachments for parliamentarians, providing a unique perspective of the challenges and issues facing UK industry. Chris is particularly interested in the ways in which businesses and organisations are introducing new technologies and exploring different approaches to innovation. With this focus and visits arranged across sectors Chris hopes to get a detailed perspective on the strengths and challenges facing UK industry as the fourth industrial revolution gathers pace.
At the start of his visit Chris was given a tour of the Technology Exhibition where he was able to learn more about next generation manufacturing techniques and technologies including the Trent XWB aero engine, the most efficient wide body aero engine. Rolls-Royce has invested £30m in its production facility in Derby to help to deliver its order book including 1,600 Trent XWB engines. Chris was also delighted to sit down and hear from a group of young people involved in the on site Apprentice Academy.
Chris was delighted to give the keynote speech on financial inclusion at a major Fintech conference that kicked off Fintech week in London in April. As a member of the House of Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion, the full findings and report of which were published just two weeks earlier, Chris was pleased to have the opportunity to pull together themes from this work and his work in fintech. Chris highlighted the terrible cost and persistent nature of financial exclusion by asking why those who have the least, pay the most. He pointed out that in the UK there are currently 1.7 million people without a bank account and 40% of people without £100 in savings. Recommendations from the Lords report include introducing financial literacy at school, expanding the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority to include financial inclusion and creating a Cabinet Minister with direct responsibility for financial inclusion. Chris also celebrated the possibility of technology to offer solutions to some of our trickiest problems, not least the issue of financial inclusion. Chris reminded the audience that technology in-and-of-itself is neutral and the key is to ask always how will the enable, empower and include? On the same stage that morning Tim Berners-Lee had spoken about the need to think about the effect on society in a highly connected, networked world and Chris followed on from this by touching on the need for greater understanding and ownership around resources, identity and data stating that it’s your data, your choices and your permissions. His emphasis on the potential and possibility of technology to solve problems was again clear when he finished by asking everyone to imagine the power of fintech in its totality.
Chris took part in a session on aspects of trust in sport in major HR conference; Changeboard’s Future Talent 2017. Chris spoke on the importance of trusting different people, urging that it’s time to take an inclusive approach for innovation and that companies need to become diverse or die. Chris argued that flat structures and leadership teams that lead by example, by “delivering on a promise”, are creating the right environment for trust to flourish. He recalled moments from his own life when he had to trust in others, including his guide dog Lottie and stressed that trust is about relationships and being prepared to be vulnerable. As Chris says, “It’s not easy but it is essential.” Other speakers in the session were Dame Katherine Grainger and Sir Clive Woodward who spoke about trusting yourself and teamship and collaboration. There was positive feedback during the session and Dr Alan Watkins, chairing the discussion, drew out these lessons on trust from the world of sport and explored how they would apply to corporate leaders and organisations. The future of talent is important because the world is increasingly complex. The only way out is up. By upgrading our human operating systems.
Today I’ll be asking the government what they have learnt from an ongoing trial in which benefits are paid to people via a system using blockchain (or distributed ledger) technology. A blockchain is an asset database that can be shared across several networks, and the trial – run by fintech company GovCoin and researchers at University College London – pays participants through an app on their smart phone which connects them to various services.
I passionately believe in the potential for technology to transform our lives for the better and think it essential that both government and society start from the point of a considered can, rather than a fearful can’t. I hope that learning more about the Govcoin trial will help us all understand, and be part of, the changes that are coming. I also believe the government needs to look wider than the Department for Work and Pensions for applications of this technology; across Whitehall and the whole public sector and also seriously consider the move from proof of concept to pilot to scale.
Advances in technology can absolutely be about empowering, enabling and creating closer more effective relationships. Distributed ledger techonology, if applied properly by seriously addressing issues of privacy, security, identity and trust, can offer incredible benefits to us all, including, but not limited to, reduced costs for government (and taxpayer) and better services for individuals.
As a member of the Lords Committee on Financial Exclusion our report, published this weekend, found that more than 1.7m people in the UK do not have a bank account, further estimates suggest at least 600,000 older people are financially excluded. A combination of distributed ledger technology and developments such as the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2) could lead to greater financial inclusion of people currently on the fringes of the financial system. These are serious and tangible benefits.
Another significant area of potential is the transformation of the relationship between government agencies and citizens. Greater transparency and trust should lead to a more equal, connected and far closer relationship. But this will not happen as a matter of course and there needs to be a principles-based, appropriate framework that is underpinned by an understanding of the philosophical, psychological and legal issues at play.
The best way for the government to move ahead with the work is to adopt clear, honest communication with the public. There must be clarity about what the government is trying to do and how to get there – and crucially how it’s a joint endeavour. This means a further shift towards user-centric service design and co-production that sees people as active parties, rather than passive recipients. People must understand the value of their data and have ownership of it. The Digital Economy Bill, currently making its way through parliament, offers a start in dealing with some of these questions and considerations but lacks ambition and has provoked understandable concerns regarding privacy and data sharing powers.
The House of Lords Select Committee into Financial Exclusion, of which Chris is a member, published their report “Tackling financial exclusion: A country that works for everyone?” on 25th March. The report calls on the Government, the Financial Conduct Authority and banks to give greater priority to tackling financial exclusion.
While the UK has a world class financial services sector, it is failing those customers who need it most. The Committee heard that more than 1.7m people in the UK do not have a bank account, and that 40% of the working age population had less than £100 in savings. Estimates suggest at least 600,000 older people are financially excluded, while 51% of 18 to 24 year olds regularly worry about money.
The report says the Government should show its commitment to addressing this issue by broadening the remit of the FCA to give priority to tackling financial exclusion, and working with the FCA to establish new rules requiring banks to have a duty of care towards their customers. This would strengthen the protection offered to customers and reduce the potential for unfair practices.
The Government should also appoint a Minister for Financial Inclusion and report annually to Parliament on progress made toward addressing financial exclusion.
The report highlights that regulation has proved to be effective in tackling abusive practices by pay day loan companies since the Government asked the FCA to cap interest rates. The Committee recommends that similar restrictions should be introduced for other forms of high cost credit. The Committee calls for urgent action to introduce new controls on ‘rent to own’ products and unarranged overdraft fees.
Better financial literacy is identified by the Committee as a key priority for reducing financial exclusion. To achieve this the report says financial education should be introduced to the English primary school curriculum and that Ofsted should assess the extent to which schools provide young people with the necessary financial knowledge and skills.
The Committee also considered the relationship between disability, mental health issues and financial exclusion. It calls on the Government, the FCA and the British Bankers Association to carry out a review of reasonable adjustments for disabled customers and to publish that review within 18 months. The Committee points out that banks are required by law to make reasonable adjustments when communicating with disabled customers but do not appear to be doing so.
The report also identifies the accelerating trend for banks to focus on online services at the expense of their branch network as potentially excluding older people and others who lack access to the internet – 53% of UK bank branches closed down between 1989 and 2016. The Post Office now has more physical outlets than all the high street banks combined, and can offer banking services for 99% of current account customers in the UK, although awareness of this service is very low at present. The Committee calls for the banks and Government to fund a major publicity campaign to address this, and to help the Post Office provide services to those customers who have lost their local bank branch.
The Committee also considered the impact of Universal Credit on financial exclusion and highlighted the six-week gap between claiming Universal Credit and receiving the first payment as a period during which people were at risk of taking on unaffordable debt or falling into arrears. To tackle this the Committee recommends the Government abolish the seven-day wait before a claimant becomes entitled to Universal Credit, and also that it should allow more flexibility about whether payments are made monthly or more frequently. This flexibility is already in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland.