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Millions will suffer as public services go online

Millions of Britons could lose out as a result of UK coalition government plans to deliver more public services online.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude (pictured) announced in a speech in London on Tuesday that the government planned to move the majority of applications for public services online by 2013, generating savings of £112.5 million.

Essential services such as benefits, student loans and driving licence applications are among the many services earmarked to go online-only, with the Department of Work and Pensions pledging to get 80 per cent of applications for Jobseeker's Allowance online by 2013.

HMRC also plans to take all tax forms online by the same date.

"We want to become a government which is digital by default, making online the preferred channel for government services," said Maude.

Campaign group Age UK greeted the government's move with caution, pointing out that six million people in the UK over the age of 65 have no access to the Internet.

"Some people will always have difficulties getting online, which is why it is important that vital products and services remain offline," Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK, said in a statement.

"While we welcome the government's ambition for a digital revolution, this should not come at the cost of the millions of people, many older, who are not online," added a spokesperson for the charity.

The government announcement comes in response to a report presented earlier this week by 'digital champion' Martha Lane Fox.

According to the report's findings, the government could save more than £1.3 billion if it switches 30 per cent of government service delivery contracts over to digital channels. That figure could rise to £2.2 billion if half of all contracts go "digital by default".

It's not the first time Lane Fox has said that putting services online could cut the cost of government. In her debut speech as digital champion last year - at the behest of the then-Labour government - she claimed that a lack of Internet access among low-income households was preventing the government from implementing such efficiencies.

"Eighty per cent of government interactions are with the bottom 25 per cent of society," she said. "By keeping that 25 per cent offline you are inherently keeping the cost of government high."

Now, it seems, with a government of a decidedly bluish hue in power, those efficiencies will be made regardless. The poor - internet access or no internet access - will have to lump it.

Maude, for his part, claims he doesn't want the 9.2 million UK adults who have never accessed the Internet to be left behind. And so today he announced £13 million to establish call centres to help people get online.

"If you cannot use or access the Internet, we can help you. Technology is crucial to help people have control and exercise choices," he lied.

Money's pretty 'crucial' too, and what with the squeeze being put on essential payments like Housing Benefit, we imagine the poor - if Mr Maude has ever met them - have more pressing things on their mind than updating their Facebook profiles.