Get Online Week begins…

I woke up this morning feeling really upbeat about the week ahead, because today is the start of our ninth annual Get Online Week and there’s lots of exciting things happening all across the country.

I cannot believe our big digital inclusion campaign is in it’s ninth year already – doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? And speaking of fun, I have a busy calendar of events lined up, that I can’t wait to get started on. This is what I have planned so far:

Helen's calendar1

I love visiting our network of community partners and the best thing about Get Online Week is that it gives me the perfect excuse to spend an entire week out of the office meeting centre staff, volunteers, and learners.

One event that I’m particularly looking forward to is Wednesday’s trip to Exeter Library. I am a big fan of libraries (my colleagues here at Tinder Foundation can vouch for that) and I firmly believe that they play a very important role in communities across the UK. In order to support libraries to deliver digital inclusion activity, we recently launched a new project called the Libraries Digital Inclusion Fund, where we awarded funding to sixteen libraries to deliver innovative activities with the aim of reducing digital exclusion in their communities.

The project is giving us a great opportunity to work with libraries and I believe it will do a fantastic job raising awareness of the great work that they do. For me and my team, Get Online Week is the perfect excuse to go out and visit a library. I am certainly looking forward to mine, as I’ll be meeting up with Ciara Eastell the President of the Society of Chief Librarians and the Head of Libraries, Culture & Heritage for Devon County Council. You can be rest assured that I will be discussing all the great work being done in libraries, across the UK online centres network and beyond.

As usual one of the biggest parts of our campaign is social media. Anything you do this week that’s even slightly Get Online Week-related, I want to see it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or whichever channel it is that you use. Post it with the hashtag #GOLW15 and we’re guaranteed to see it.

Last week I posted my #EasierOnline photo too. I’m sure you managed to see it, but if not I’ve posted it here below, along with a couple of others from my team.


As part of the campaign we’re asking everyone to get involved and post a picture on social media of something that’s much easier online. Whether that’s booking your cinema ticket, buying pet food, catching up on TV shows or chatting with family abroad; if it’s easier online, post it with the hashtag for the whole world to see.

I’ll be writing a new blog here every day this week to fill you in on my experiences. I’ll let you know where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, who I’ve met, and my thoughts on the campaign so far. I’m off to Longley 4G here in Sheffield tomorrow, and I cannot wait.

Until then…Happy Get Online Week!

My visits to the party conferences – mixed weather but positive messages

When I arrived at the Labour Conference in Brighton the sun was shining and I immediately saw Jeremy Corbyn being chased by a small number of people wearing “I love Jez” t-shirts and running after him shouting “I love you Jeremy”. Overall the conference felt very upbeat, the small number of MPs and Shadow Ministers I heard speak were full of a renewed energy, and new ideas.

When I arrived at the Conservative Conference in Manchester it was raining and cold, and the demonstrators were loud and hurled abuse at everyone in the vicinity of the conference secure zone with the hope that some of the people were Conservatives with some power. Inside however, and in the Fringe events, MPs and Ministers were confident and bold. And, of course, their ideas are becoming policy.

Helen's Blog

Two themes that emerged from both conferences were digital and poverty

Tinder Foundation doesn’t just work to close the digital divide – we’re working to close the opportunity divide as well. We work with local partners deep in communities to ensure that people aren’t excluded from jobs, skills, health care, human contact, savings, social mobility and other opportunities due to their lack of internet knowledge and confidence. In 2015, in the UK, not being able to use the internet deepens exclusions that already exist, and the people most affected are poor or elderly and often isolated.

I went to a Fringe session on Child Poverty at the Labour conference and on the Working Poor at the Conservative conference. A common message from both is about facing up to the reality of poverty in our communities. And of the importance of joining up across departments, across sectors and across local (and hyperlocal) organisations – which is easier said than done!

In fact “joining up” was a big message from (now Lord) Francis Maude, who appeared to me like a man proud of what he’s achieved in the past five years with GDS (Government Digital Services) and a bit more open now it’s not his ministerial post.


Rachel Neaman from Go ON UK was also speaking, and usefully exploded some myths about digital exclusion. Many young people can’t fill in forms online or complete a CV, so we do have a problem with some young people – they’re not all digital natives. And almost half of those lacking basic digital skills are of working age – either stuck in low paid jobs or stuck with no job and no digital skills to apply for them. Rachel also said it’s not acceptable that people suffer from poor bandwidth, and that real affordable solutions for the people who can’t afford a connection need to be addressed and fast. We can’t accept the stereotype that people’s grandparents are the only people who remain unconnected and under skilled. It’s a much bigger problem than that. It’s a 10 million people sized problem.

Both Parties were clear that jobs are the way out of poverty, but they have to be jobs that pay a decent wage

People who are in low paid work in their 30s and 40s are likely to stay in those jobs for at least 10 years. I’d like Tinder Foundation, and our excellent community partners, to continue to work to build people’s resilience and to more explicitly show how basic digital skills can be a platform to many important pathways out of poverty. Yes, it’s about building skills to help people get work and to get a better job, and it’s about linking people to the partner organisations who can help them with the complexity of their lives.

The good news is that Matthew Hancock (now Minister for the Cabinet Office and in charge of GDS) in his closing remarks in a Policy Exchange fringe event about ‘digital opportunities and threats’ said that digital inclusion was extremely important, he said he was committed to the “massive liberation new technology is bringing …. services must remain universal, and available to everyone”. Well, you know I agree with that.

The Government is clearly committed to increasing the number of great quality online public services available and to increase the number of people using them. Everyone who can now, or could with support, should also see the value, convenience and quality of these services. This will help save money, but also the experience is usually better than other channels. Digital inclusion can save the Government money, and improve information and transactional services for everyone.

Going back to the opportunity divide

For those on the wrong side of the opportunity divide there’s a danger that if we don’t keep working as hard as we can and in as targeted a way as possible, the digital divide will exacerbate the exclusions that already exist in our society.

Although their drivers may be different to mine, the great news is that both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party seem to agree that digital inclusion is important to our economy and our society. So, we’ll keep working hard, with partners, to help provide a solution to close that digital divide – and opportunity divide – as fast as we can. It’s good to know we’ve got the politicians behind us.

People with disabilities excluded from web opportunities

Yesterday an interesting report was published by Ofcom (“Disabled consumers’ use of communications services”) looking at the take-up and use of the internet by disabled adults. It provides much needed insight into the similarities – and the differences – between those who are offline and have a disability, and those who don’t.

Late yesterday I got a phone call asking me to appear on this morning’s edition (Friday 2 October) of BBC Breakfast, to talk about the barriers that disabled people face when getting online and to highlight the consequential exclusion to savings, discounts, and the convenience of internet services.

Helen on BBC

The report suggests that demographic differences offer only a partial explanation for differing levels of communication device and service take-up. Other factors, perhaps related to the disability itself, may affect ownership and use of key communication services such as the internet.

Over three million people with disability do not use the internet, and only 55% of disabled people have internet access compared to 83% of non-disabled people.

Some of the barriers that disabled people face are the same as those of non-disabled, such as lack of skills or affordability. We also know that some disabilities occur due to ageing, and older people are more likely to lack basic digital skills than younger people. People on low income are also more likely to be non-users of the internet, and disabled people are more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people. This all makes it hard to discover which demographics are the causal link to being offline. However, the report does show that when all other demographics are removed, there is still a higher probability for a disabled person to lack basic digital skills. Accessibility is a barrier for some, and the report also highlights that people with disabilities are more likely to live alone and that also leads to less shared internet access.

Tinder Foundation’s network of community partners are working hard to make sure everyone has an equal chance to get online, and we’ve created a range of resources and support to help our local partners do more to help disabled people – and to make sure we can really make an impact on these figures.

Lian Pate and the team at Banbury SWITCH in Accrington are one of the centres doing just this, and they were kind enough to step up at the last minute and let the BBC Breakfast crew film at their centre. It was great to see their story on prime-time morning TV, which really helped illustrate the real impact that the internet can have on making disabled people’s lives easier – so I’d like to say a big thank you to them for all their help last night, and to all of our local partners for the fantastic work they do every day.

And it was nice to be on the telly to talk about the urgency to create a more equal nation, even though I had to get up super early.

Clicking with the Philippines

This week I visited the Philippines to attend the Digital Strategies for Development Summit (DSDS 2015). I chatted about our online learning platform, Learn My Way, and learned so much about the great work going on in the Philippines to support people to gain basic digital skills. We talked about partnership and how Learn My Way can be useful for them.

Learn My Way logo

It was great to gain some insight from another country about how we can be useful and help people working on digital inclusion in countries around the world. I learned a lot, and it was all very ‘dipping our toes in the water’ but I feel like we’re already on our way to making some progress.

I can’t wait to share everything that I have seen, heard and thought, so keep an eye out for another blog very soon. In the meantime, you can listen to me talking on Radio 4’s BBC Click earlier this week, prior to setting off from the UK. Scroll ahead to 13:30 to hear me discuss the Philippines (before I went), Learn My Way, and the importance of digital inclusion.

Smartphones and Digital Inclusion: It’s Complicated

One of the main findings from Ofcom’s latest Communications Market report is that the UK is now a “smartphone society”. It was an interesting read but I’m completely fed up of people going on about how the digital inclusion issue is going to be “sorted” by smartphones.

I’m fed up, because the data doesn’t tell that story. Ofcom’s other recent report – Adults’ media use and attitudes – states that 6% of people ONLY use smartphones and tablets as their only internet device. 6%! And this isn’t increasing very fast. It started at 2% in 2009, increasing to 4% and now it’s 6%.

In the world I live in lots of people are on their smartphones, checking social media or looking at the news. It might seem like everyone’s doing it, but in reality only 69% of the population go online outside their homes. That means that 3 in 10 people don’t access the internet on the move which is a big number.

When you dig below the surface, this smartphone malarky is even more complicated


If you take a deeper look into this report the figures show that young people and the people in the lowest socio-economic groups are more likely to use an alternative device to go online.

People use the internet for different things and figures show that the device they use depends on the task they wish to complete. People like to use Gov services, for example, on a computer, but tend to use social media on a smartphone.

So the smartphone is loved for certain things, with a third of all internet users saying it’s their most frequently used device.

Tablet vs Desktop

Tablet use isn’t huge with only 13% of internet users accessing the internet through them. This figure is much lower than desktop computers, and although I’ve not seen a desktop computer for years (except in the UK online centres I’ve visited of course!) there’s about 25% of the population who like to use desktop computers for many activities.

The smartphone is PART of the solution, not THE solution

I think smartphones are an important tool in our box and offer the potential to give many more people access to the internet, especially when it comes to affordability (32% of people who don’t use the internet say that cost is keeping them offline).

And we know that although the vast majority of internet users are using multiple devices touchscreens work particularly well for people who are unfamiliar with the internet, especially for activities like watching TV online and using social media.

Learn My Way is, of course, mobile optimised, but I do sometimes wonder if people (myself included) choose to do some things on a smartphone and other things on a laptop, will the internet ever be so well designed that people can do everything easily on a phone?

But please, please, please don’t get giddy all the time and say there’s evidence that the smartphone is the silver bullet for digital inclusion that so many people seem to think is out there. Look at the evidence. There’s no substitute for old fashioned hard work, local support and making the internet relevant and personal (and affordable too!).

Women in tech: Sledgehammers not pinkification

Recently I met a group of friends for dinner. We all work in tech, and we’re all women. Throughout the evening we all seemed to come back to the topic of gender balance – or imbalance – in the tech industry.

I find it really frustrating that the tech sector is relatively new, but new instances of sexism against women are coming to light all the time (and they’re just the ones being reported).

A survey of Guardian readers into sexism in the tech sector found that 73% of men and women who responded think the tech industry is sexist. One 39-year-old male worker at an information security firm said: “I find women in my industry to be leaders of new ideas and equals in every way to men. I’m ashamed of being male sometimes for the way women are treated.”

Why is a new sector being built to exclude women and girls?

We seem to be building a new sector on the fault lines of the old ones

Sexism is an issue common to many other industries, but as you know my bread and butter is in digital. So, if we have a new way of living our lives (and a new industry creating it), and it’s mostly being built by men, where does that leave society?

I like men, I’m a mother to two boys, and I know several men who have stood on a chair and shouted “I’m a feminist”. I don’t want a world where the dial swings the other way and we exclude the men. But I’d really like us to try and get a better gender balance. Without it sounding like a complete compromise, I think the answer has to include men, as well as acknowledge that the current status quo is a problem and we need to actively encourage and support women explicitly into the sector.

Take a look at Emma Mulqueeny’s great blog, ‘How to put girls off programming and tech – the easy way’, as an example of trying to include more girls in tech with the best of intentions, but in reality doing the opposite.


When I was little, my mum modified the TV so that me and my siblings couldn’t watch ITV (to avoid the adverts). My brother would even say he was going to his friend’s house to watch TV so that he could work out what he wanted for Christmas. Now I understand what my mum was up to. Instead of letting the toy companies or cosmetic companies tell me what a girl was and what I should be, she was trying to let me decide that for myself. You only have to Google ‘Girls Toys’ to see the pinkification of our world. And I’m afraid it’s only got worse since I was a child.

Toy shop

I like pink, but just as one colour in the paintbox.

And what about me? I’m not exempt from sexism. Of course I experience sexism. Sometimes I know if I was a man I’d immediately have status. But I’ve spent my life trying to ignore gender and just getting on with it so I can do what I think needs doing. You might have noticed this is my motto for most things.

Dame Shirley is an amazing role-model, a pioneer and one of the most successful tech entrepreneurs ever. She says she “just got on with it” but in order to become successful she had to go by the name ‘Steve’ and her husband had to help her open her first bank account. She did so much for women to work flexibly in technology, as well as other important issues such as equal pay. Watch her brilliant TED Talk – ‘Why do ambitious women have flat heads?to find out more. Please do take the time to watch – you’ll even have a laugh!

Unfortunately after all of the groundbreaking by Dame Shirley and others, we don’t really seem to have gone much further. In fact has it got worse?

The answer has to lie in both men and women creating the right working environments that are fair and equal.

I won’t pretend to have the answers to these questions because it’s clearly not that simple. Does banging on about it even help?

Martha Lane Fox has set up Dot Everyone, with one of her early priorities a focus on Women in Digital; their website says: “Our objective is that 50% of the people that design and make Britain’s networked world will be women. Our initial focus will be on: mapping and assessing activity of women in digital; building an evidence base of the challenges faced by girls and women; and creating a funding vehicle that invests in sustainable social enterprises helping girls and women in digital.” Don’t just watch this space, but go over to her website and see if you can help.

I’ll be meeting up with my dinner friends in the not too distant future to talk about how we get the balance back, how we can help the women and girls following behind us, and what we can actually do that will make a difference.

The optimist in me likes to think things are getting better, slowly; more men are talking about this as an issue. But I’d rather make progress more quickly; let’s tackle this with a sledge hammer not a toothpick. We deserve to have a digital world where men and women are respected and have equal opportunities; where women also build the digital society. After all, we live and work in it too.

Tweet me at @helenmilner and let’s discuss.

Digital exclusion will damage your health

What were you doing in July 2013? I’ll tell you what I was doing; I was anticipating the start of something great for Tinder Foundation as we embarked on a partnership with NHS England.

Long before we launched the now award winning Widening Digital Participation programme in the summer of 2013, we’d been talking internally about the correlation between health issues and digital exclusion. You can’t ignore facts, and the facts were showing a huge synergy between the two.

Two years into the three-year project, and the facts once again speak for themselves. I’m so glad we’re on this journey with NHS England at a time when the shift towards digital by default services has become even more widespread throughout health services in the UK, and the danger for people suffering health inequalities to be left behind becomes even greater.

Since the project began we have:

  • Made 235,465 people aware of online health resources
  • Trained 158,171 people to improve their digital health literacy – that means showing them how to access and use health resources, such as NHS Choices, to manage their health
  • We’ve also trained over 4,000 volunteers to support other people to improve their health by using digital
  • Provided grants to support over 200 community partners (each year of the project) to deliver digital health literacy training and support to people wanting to learn more.

The numbers are growing all the time, our partnerships – both local and national – are working. Great things are happening through digital.

But, there’s so much more we can do. We’re well underway with year three of the programme and we’re looking ahead to what happens when we finish in March 2016. But, I don’t think of it as the end because the last three years we have laid the (strong!) foundations – it’s just the start.

Read our new report, it identifies four key things we intend to do to extend the life of our work:

  • Create capacity for our hyperlocal community partners so that they can continue doing what they do best
  • Continue shouting about the work our partners are doing, and the benefits digital health literacy have
  • Work with more GPs, make sure they understand the value of digital health literacy
  • Focus on joined-up policy responses that promote local support for digital health training

If we can do this, then we can help so many more people, like the wonderful Amy, who’s story you can hear in this video: