The time is now to bridge the digital divide

Eliminating digital exclusion would reduce inequality and give the economy a multibillion-pound boost, according to Helen Milner of Good Things Foundation

Credit: Debivort/CC BY-SA 3.0

The UK government is a world leader in digital government. And, with more and more services moving to digital platforms to save money and increase efficiency, the digital literacy needed to use these services is not keeping pace. By 2028, at current rates of progress, 12% of the British population will still be digitally excluded. 

This means that they will lack the skills needed to operate in our digital world. From a practical, economic and moral perspective, this is unacceptable. For government to maintain its status as a world leader – and to ensure that no-one is left behind – digital inclusion must be a top priority in the UK’s digital strategy.

I believe everyone in the UK should have the confidence, skills, support and access to use digital technology to participate in society and benefit from the digital world. And I think we need to move faster towards realising this aim.

At Good Things Foundation, we know how important being digitally included is, and how exclusion from the digital world can lead to powerful negative impacts on people’s lives. A lack of digital skills and confidence can reinforce poorer health and a lower life expectancy, can increase loneliness and social isolation and can act as a barrier to jobs and education.  

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As a charity, we help people to gain the digital skills that they need to lead better lives. This means working with those facing the greatest challenges: unemployment; poverty; homelessness; and diability – all of which are more likely for those facing digital exclusion. 

Since 2010, we have helped support 2.6 million people to gain digital skills, of whom 82% face one or more types of social exclusion.

Ignoring digital exclusion is not an option, whether you are in local or national government, the private sector, or civil society. It is a critical issue of our times.

Barring people from the digital world simply reinforces existing inequality, adding to an already widening gap in life chances. And digital skills bring tangible benefits – including confidence, connection, wellbeing and the opportunity to learn – to people who need it the most.

Neither is this just an issue for individual people. Everyone in the UK will benefit from a country that prioritises digital skills. Our research has found that upskilling the entire population in digital skills would add over £22bn to the UK economy within 10 years. With the future of the UK economy uncertain, prioritising digital inclusion is an important protective step. 

We are putting digital skills at the top of the agenda with our campaign #BridgingtheDigitalDivide. Through this we are calling on government and organisations to pledge that everyone in the UK should be online by 2028. Partners so far include Lloyds Banking Group, Google, BT and more – but we need more organisations, sectors and individuals to recognise the importance of digital skills and pledge their support.

To lay the foundations for continuing action and co-ordination across sectors, we have published a Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included Nation.

It lays out the six steps we believe are needed to achieve digital literacy for all:

1. Set a bold ambition: agree a goal of a 100% digitally included nation by 2028
2. Drive motivation: promote the benefits of the internet
3. Build skills: provide free essential digital skills support for everyone who needs it
4. Lead from the front: employers taking responsibility for their own employees
5. Make it affordable: ensure no-one is denied access to the digital world because of their personal income
6. Make digital a social priority: bring social inclusion and digital inclusion together

In a world where digital skills are as important as Maths or English, we have to make sure no one is left behind. For the sake of our citizens and of our economy, the time is now to make the UK the first 100% digitally included country in the world. 

Sam Trendall

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