We can’t delay: It’s time to Fix the Digital Divide

On Friday Lloyds Banking Group published this year’s Essential Digital Skills survey results. Although there has been marked improvement for people who last year had some of the essential digital skills, the survey paints a depressing picture for those at the bottom of the skills ladder.

The pandemic definitely has exposed and exacerbated the digital divide, leaving people with multiple social challenges still left behind. 10 million people still struggle with the very basic digital skills needed to function in today’s digital world. You can see the key stats in our annual state of the nation: Digital Nation 2021.

It’s not OK to leave millions of people locked out of essential services and support, locked out of the digital world, locked out of jobs, savings, health and well-being, locked out of connection with loved ones.

That’s why today we’ve launched our 2021 Blueprint to Fix the Digital Divide. Our Blueprint is facing up to the Government to call for leadership and action from them. This leadership is essential to lead comprehensive, cross-sector action to truly fix the digital divide.

Let’s put digital at the heart of our recovery: so everyone has better lives through digital; so prosperity is evenly spread, levelling up our nation; so no-one is left behind in the digital revolution.

In the UK we’re world-leaders as a tech powerhouse, but the digital divide holds us back. This is a fixable problem, the pandemic showed me that we must fix the digital divide, for good.

That’s why we’re calling on this Government to put digital inclusion at the heart of COVID-19 recovery, harness the appetite for change, and take decisive action to fix the digital divide.

A dynamic Digital Strategy for a tech-savvy, digitally-included nation will deliver against these three goals:

  1. Digital Skills: So everyone can use the internet for life and work
  2. Community Support: So everyone has somewhere local to go for internet help
  3. Affordable Internet: So everyone has the everyday internet access they need

And we have five clear asks of Government:

Digital Skills: So everyone can use the internet for life and work

  1.  The Government to lead a national plan with clear actions to up-skill the 10 million people who lack the very basic foundation skills needed for our digital world.
  2. The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to lead cross-Government work so digital inclusion is built into all policies and initiatives that support the Levelling Up agenda.
  3. HM Treasury to back the Combined Authorities leading the way on digital inclusion, investing in pilots to deliver shared prosperity and recovery.

Community Support: So everyone has somewhere local to go for internet help

  1. Growing a national network of at least 10,000 trusted places where people can get community help with digital inclusion – reaching into villages, towns and cities, and supporting COVID-19 recovery.

Affordable internet: So everyone has the everyday internet access they need

  1. As part of its Digital Strategy, the Government to work with telcos and others to drive the actions needed to end data poverty by 2024.

If you agree that it’s not OK to leave millions of people behind and to hold the nation back then make some noise:

  • Go onto social media and share our messages, share our Blueprint and our Digital Nation 2021. Use Good Things Foundation’s hashtag #FixTheDigitalDivide.
  • If you’re a local organisation who is doing digital inclusion then please join our movement for digital inclusion (it’s free) and together we can make action locally and scale it nationally.
  • Write to your MP and tell them it’s not OK.

By working together, across sectors, locally and nationally, we can do this. The digital divide does not need to exist. With leadership and dedicated action we can #FixTheDigitalDivide.

Let’s get this done.

View the Blueprint to Fix the Digital Divide

View the Building a Digital Nation infographic

Let’s accelerate efforts to fix the digital divide

It’s not OK that millions of people are still excluded from participating in our digital economy.

Lloyds Banking Group has today published their annual Consumer Digital Index – and there are some really encouraging findings. There has been a significant increase in the number of people who are online – 1.5 million more people are now online, meaning that 95% of UK adults have used the internet in the past three months at least once. But 14.9 million people still have very low digital engagement – meaning the group of people we usually call ‘limited users’ is still far too high. People in this group may shop online, some of it on mobile phones, but they tend not to use email or online banking. And 2.6 million people are completely offline, 39% of whom are under the age of 60 busting the idea that all offline people are older. 

It’s clear that we are closing the digital divide – but perhaps more importantly, people are enjoying being online. New data from the report shows that 60% of people feel they have had “more positive times throughout the pandemic because of their use of digital tools,” and almost half (49%) say the Internet “helps them manage and improve their physical and mental health” – showing the critical role that digital has played throughout the pandemic and beyond.

The data also shows really encouraging signs for online banking and fintech use – which are vital for building sustainable finances. Over 2.8 times more people are now using fintech services compared with 2020, whilst smartphone banking usage has increased 10% since 2020. We know that these services can be life-changing – ensuring millions more people are able to manage their finances helping to tackle financial exclusion.

However, we can’t take for granted that getting online is a silver bullet for financial inclusion. The report shows that digital engagement alone does not lead to increased savings, and that the internet can actually lead to overspending. To ensure people spend and save responsibly, we need financial inclusion support to be embedded in digital inclusion programmes, ensuring that people can manage their money easily and effectively.

It’s particularly striking that digital inclusion is not a fixed state. Just as people can go from being digitally excluded to digitally included, the reverse is also true. Whilst 20% of people with high digital engagement in 2020 increased their digital engagement in the past year, a similar proportion (21%) fell out of the ‘very high’ digital engagement group. And of those whose engagement has fallen, they have disproportionately been older and less affluent. 

This absolutely reflects what we see at Good Things Foundation. People tend to come to our partners for support when they need help with a specific task such as getting a job, connecting with family, or applying for benefits. Making sure people stay engaged after they’ve achieved that task can be the tricky bit – but our model of learning encourages people to explore, to try out new things, and to see how else the internet can benefit them. As Lloyds say themselves, this is the importance of a “trusted face in a local place”. Once people experience these benefits, we know they’re more likely to carry on learning. 

There are other worrying signs in Lloyds Bank’s report today which suggest that those with disabilities or impairments are being left behind. The number of people using assistive tech has fallen over the past year, and it is concerning that this may mean they aren’t able to get online as easily. This is all the more reason for the Government to commit to a cross-cutting approach to digital inclusion, with inclusive design at its heart.

Issues like data poverty can further complicate the picture. If you’re faced with a choice of food or connectivity, which would you be more likely to choose? It might seem obvious. But connectivity is no longer a nice to have, it’s a need to have. Throughout the pandemic, feedback from our fantastic and unique hyperlocal network of community organisations doing digital inclusion (the Online Centres Network) has highlighted to us the critical importance of the internet for connecting with friends, family, and colleagues. Without connectivity, people can be left isolated, lonely, and struggling to support the health of themselves or their families.

Lloyds CDI data suggests that data and device affordability is a real issue – with almost a third of those offline (31%) saying cheaper mobile data would motivate them to get online. Through the Data Poverty Lab (supported by Nominet) we’ll be exploring sustainable solutions to this problem. We’re aiming to draft a range of proposals for policymakers to ensure everyone has sufficient, private, and secure access to mobile or broadband data. And through Everyone Connected, we’re helping to get devices and connectivity into the hands of thousands – with the digital skills support they need to get up and running.

On this point, I believe it’s critical that everyone can access support for digital skills in their local area – and the public agree. Seven times more people want to be able to access local support, compared with 2020; and we understand why. Our network of hyperlocal community partners is vital – the network helps people to get online, improve their digital skills, access devices and data projects, and lead better lives in every community across the UK. 

Today’s report offers some really promising findings, but also some worrying signs. If the Government is committed to levelling up – as it should be – it needs to embed digital inclusion at the heart of the Levelling Up White Paper. We need to see a strong digital strategy which works for everyone, ensuring the shift to digital is truly inclusive. And we need investment – in community partners, in local people, to get millions more online and to fix the digital divide.

Imagine your past year without the internet: my reflections on the pandemic one year on

The past year has been horrible. It’s been depressing and it’s been frustrating. But amongst all the misery, I’ve also found moments of excitement and pride.

It has been unfathomably horrible that so many people have lost their lives – and that so many families are still being deeply affected by this virus. It’s been depressing as often I’ve felt powerless in the face of a global pandemic – and I can’t say the weekends spent staring at deflating data on Twitter have helped to ease these feelings. And it’s been frustrating – not being able to travel or to see my family.

But it’s the periods of excitement that have kept me going. The new challenges and engaging with new partners about the importance of digital inclusion. And there have been plenty of times where I’ve felt immensely proud: proud of the incredible people in the hyperlocal network we partner with; proud of our national partners and the people who have donated to our Crowdfunder; and proud of the team at Good Things Foundation who have stepped up and work so hard this year to achieve so much.

I talk to a lot of people and one question I’m often asked: what’s changed in the last year?

Everything and nothing.

Imagine your year without being able to use the internet. That’s what so many families have had to put up with. Since we went into the first lockdown, interest in digital inclusion has skyrocketed.There have been amazing efforts across the country to ensure that all children can continue to learn from home. But there’s also been great interest in digital inclusion to tackle loneliness, or to improve health outcomes and access essential public services, or to allow people to work from home effectively. And I no longer see blank faces when I talk about ‘digital inclusion.’

There have been three big pivots for us this past year. First, our network of hyperlocal community partners went through dramatic changes with face-to-face support effectively stopped – doors shut – a year ago. We supported our local partners with resources as they pivoted to remote support online and via phone and, after the first lockdown, as they went from small groups and drop-ins to more one-to-one appointments. We have learned a lot from our partners too over the past year.

Second, we quickly realised that people needed devices and data. This was somewhat invisible to us before Covid, but by the end of March it was clear that this was an acute need. We put devices and data into our emergency response with FutureDotNow’s DevicesDotNow campaign, and have now embedded it into our work going forward as Everyone Connected. And we’ve since launched programmes focusing specifically on families and people with learning disabilities. Very soon we will have reached 20,000 people and families who before didn’t have devices and access to the internet, with affordability a huge reason that many of them were offline.

And of course, like every other “knowledge” organisation, we’re now working from home 100% of the time. This has been a struggle for many people. I consider myself lucky as I have a spare dining room, live with two other people, and have a garden. But I know for younger staff just starting out in their careers not being able to see how others work and not overhear conversations from colleagues will affect their learning and development. A real bonus is that senior people from politics, charities and businesses are more accessible – it’s much easier to find time for a 30 minute video meeting – I think we’ve all found the endless video calls tiring some of the time.

What’s kept me going throughout is the stories from our centres – our hyperlocal community partners – about all the amazing people who have benefitted from our support. Just today, a woman in her 80s read about our work in Yours magazine and phoned us to say the story resonated with her. Like so many other people, she’s alone and isolated with no family. Our team has put her in touch with a local centre and they’ve introduced her to a befriending volunteer. 

And of course, how can I reflect on the past year without mentioning Mable? She was the video star of the first lockdown and her story touched so many hearts. Mable is a clear example of a how tablet with data – alongside a digital mentor volunteer providing support – can change someone’s life. 

As I look forward, throughout the rest of the pandemic and beyond, I see many challenges – but also countless opportunities. 

One thing that we must always remember is that Covid-19 didn’t invent digital exclusion. It existed before and it will exist afterwards. But now that more people are aware of how critical it is I feel, even more than before, that we can close the digital divide if we set our minds to it. And now there are many more minds thinking about this.

No-one should have to choose between food and data – it’s heartbreaking that so many have faced that choice. Data poverty and the lack of affordable devices is something we can fix. We’re focused on data poverty and are moving from emergency solutions – like DevicesDotNow – to exploring sustainable solutions through the Data Poverty Lab we’re setting up with Nominet. Together, we can end data poverty. Our goal is that together we can make the internet affordable for people on low incomes, and free for those on very low incomes. 

Finally, I see great opportunities to ramp up our work with businesses and with the Government. Businesses have had a very mixed experience over the past year, with many struggling to survive, but other industries have seen their revenue soar. This brings in new businesses for us to partner with and means we’ll be able to support many more people.

With the Government, we’ve been campaigning to Fix the Digital Divide – and I think we’ve been heard. MPs from across the political spectrum have backed our calls to invest in digital skills through a great digital catch up. (One example was a House of Commons debate on 3rd December.) I’d like to work in partnership with the Government to embed digital inclusion across all Departments. With the Government’s leadership we can set an ambition – let’s be bold and really fix the digital divide. Together, across sectors, we can create a national, coherent plan to completely close the divide by the end of the decade. 

So everything has changed and nothing has changed. There is still debilitating digital exclusion in this country and data poverty – holding people and the economy back. People up and down the country will be suffering grief and sadness, worry and fear, due to losing loved ones and losing jobs and livelihoods. Digital inclusion isn’t the silver bullet that brings a solution to all our challenges but we know that having skills and access to feel digitally equal does improve lives and boost the economy.

But, we know how to fix the digital divide, with affordable devices and access, with nationally coordinated and targeted, informal, community support, and, working with employers with low skilled workers.

Now there is a good understanding that having a deep digital divide in our country is not OK – it’s time to scale up the action to fix it. Once and for all. 

To build back better: Why we must act now to tackle digital and financial exclusion

This piece was written by Kelly Devine, Mastercard UK and Ireland President, and Helen Milner OBE.

The Covid-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on millions of people’s finances. In fact, a staggering 19.4 million people do not feel prepared for the economic fallout that looms before us.1 With unemployment rising, and physical banking and consumer services less accessible due to the restrictions, it’s more important than ever that everyone is able to get online to access essential financial services and money support. 

When – according to Lloyds Bank’s Consumer Digital Index – 9 million people cannot use the internet without help, and 11.7 million people lack the essential digital skills for everyday life – the risks to people’s livelihoods and to national goals of levelling up are all too stark. We must do whatever it takes to stop this double inequality of both digital and financial exclusion, acting now to fix the digital divide before the gap widens further, if we are to build a truly inclusive Britain.

That’s why Good Things Foundation, the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity, and Mastercard – along with Clean Slate, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and the APLE Collective – formed an emergency coalition in June last year to raise awareness and pilot new ways to support those facing both digital and financial barriers. Last year’s campaign to ensure we leave Nobody in the Dark about the support they can get around money and digital skills reached over 1 million people.

The rise of ‘fintech’ and use of digital technology has brought untold benefits to economic growth, but these benefits have not been shared by everyone. Harnessing digital technology and innovation is the key to tackling digital and financial exclusion, and building a better, more inclusive UK.

But this promise won’t be realised without some essential groundwork: building the trust of consumers and citizens in online financial services and tools; ensuring those services and tools are inclusive by design, as well as safe and secure; providing additional protections for consumers who may be vulnerable or in vulnerable situations – and recognising that digital access and skills are an important dimension of consumer vulnerability in a digital marketplace. And, above all, we need to invest sustained effort into reaching, engaging and supporting those most at risk of digital and financial exclusion, so they can develop the skills and confidence to use online financial services safely.

As part of Nobody in the Dark, we also piloted a new approach: embedding digital inclusion into provision of person-centred money guidance. We combined the financial inclusion expertise of Clean Slate – which also runs QuidsIn! (the magazine and website) – with the digital inclusion expertise of Good Things Foundation to create a new service offer. We partnered with eight community organisations – members of the Online Centres Network, supported by Good Things Foundation. Through this pilot, we supported over 540 people to improve their financial situation and also build their digital and financial confidence. Over 255 people also benefited through a ‘self-serve’ route linked to the national campaign. 

And we’re proud that Nobody in the Dark has enabled people to make positive changes in their behaviour, big and small, through building trust, and building personal confidence. 

Take Mum of 3 Lydia, in Newcastle, who, after completing a financial health check, started putting aside £1 a day, and encouraged her children to save pennies from their pocket money in a piggybank. Together, they learned a way to become better off; by harnessing digital skills, taking control of their situation and boosting confidence and wellbeing for the whole family.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who are wary of using digital financial services, put off by the possibility of online fraud and scams; many are already online in other ways. These are sound concerns and we should never force people to adopt digital. But this doesn’t detract from the critical tasks of finding sustainable solutions for cash access, alongside helping people to develop the trust, digital skills, access or confidence to use both cash and digital payments. This is something we must address, or we risk these consumers being left further behind as how we pay for goods and services continues to evolve.

That’s why one of the core themes of our campaign has been to build trust and confidence in digital finance. 

At our recent roundtable, attended by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen MP, participants highlighted how a lack of trust and confidence in using digital services stops people from getting online. This is a serious issue which must be a core focus within Government plans for financial inclusion going forward. More than this, it is a fundamental barrier to accessing the wider benefits of being online – like keeping in touch with friends and family, managing health appointments and prescriptions, or being able to easily plan and manage your own finances. That’s why Good Things Foundation and Mastercard have been calling on the Government to support a Great Digital Catch-up in communities to fix the digital divide.

Investing to fix the digital divide – which the Government have also recently recognised in their ten tech priorities – also offers potential solutions for some who are currently ‘unbanked’ to help them build more sustainable finances. For example, through recent innovations in use of pre-paid cards and open banking solutions, which don’t require a traditional bank account. If these are to play a role in reducing inequalities and financial exclusion, then they need to be inclusive by design – designed to be used by people who face additional barriers to accessing traditional services.

We believe our Nobody in the Dark coalition provides a fantastic blueprint for future collaborations, connecting Government, the financial industry, third sector, and local communities. Together, Mastercard, Good Things Foundation and Clean Slate are committed to developing this agenda for action, to help tackle digital and financial exclusion and to ensure an inclusive economic recovery that works for everyone.

  1. YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,054 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24th – 25th June 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

A roadmap to close the digital divide

Last night we heard from the Prime Minister about the Government’s roadmap for easing the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in England. We heard him talk about a future that will be ‘very different and incomparably better’ than today. We’re all hoping so!

But as the nation’s families welcome the end to home schooling and we look forward to opportunities to see our friends and families again, it’s important that the cold harsh reality of digital exclusion doesn’t become something that melts from national consciousness in the warm, bright Spring sunshine.

The digital divide existed before the pandemic and will continue to exist when the pandemic is under control. Scrolling through my Twitter timeline, reports show the pandemic has entrenched and magnified inequality in all areas of life, from health to income, employment to housing. We haven’t all experienced the pandemic equally and we will definitely not all be experiencing the next months and years of recovery equally.

So while this is a moment for all of us to feel more optimistic, it’s also a pivotal moment for the Government to show it is truly committed to levelling up our society.

As Helen Buckingham, Director of Strategy at the Nuffield Trust succinctly put it this week; “COVID-19 has highlighted the inequalities that already existed in society. If we regard ourselves as a good society, we need to do something about that.”

Increased awareness of digital inequalities

During lockdown it’s been heartening to see major figures including England rugby star Maro Itoje using their voices to prompt action to tackle digital exclusion for children in households without devices. We’ve also seen the BBC re-launch its Make a Difference: Give a Laptop campaign to help provide access to laptops and devices for people in need.

Through our own Everyone Connected programme (previously DevicesDotNow), working with our community partners up and down the country, we’ve continued to help vulnerable adults to get online, giving them a vital lifeline to stay in touch with loved ones, to access Government support, to find work and speak to their GP online. I’ve been delighted by the huge financial support from businesses and charities, and humbled by the public donations made to our Crowdfunder campaign, which now stands at over £57,000.

So now there’s an increase in awareness about the devastating impact being on the wrong side of the digital divide can cause; let’s be ambitious about closing it. 

According to Lloyds Consumer Digital Index 2020, 9 million adults in the UK can’t use the internet without help. Where digital for life and work has become the new normal, it isn’t OK to leave millions of people behind.

With unemployment predicted by the OBR to hit 2.6m in 2021 and companies changing at pace due to the pandemic, ensuring that people in work and seeking work have digital skills will be key to powering the post-Covid economic recovery. Research from the Cebr shows that for every £1 invested there is a £14.80 benefit – this means a £70 million investment has an impact of £1 billion to the economy.

In December, Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman committed in Parliament to work with Good Things Foundation to fix the digital divide and said the Government’s commitment to this agenda ‘should not be doubted for a second’.  

Now would be a good time to make good on that pledge, and banish any doubt, with firm policies and funding to tackle the digital divide once and for all, for the benefit of everyone in our society.

We need an ambition that we can close the digital divide – because we can. An ambition for a 100% digital included nation. 

We need an ambition and a joined up plan – a national roadmap setting out the mini-milestones along the way.

I think the Government knows how critical closing the digital divide is to the nation’s prosperity, but they are fearful that if they articulate this ambition then they will have to pay the bill for it alone. That’s not the case. Industry and the social sector are ready to work together, with Government, to make this happen. At Good Things, we and our thousands of community partners are ready and willing to play our significant role. Our Blueprint could be a good start.

Just as we heard from the Prime Minister yesterday evening about his roadmap for coming out of lockdown, we now need a roadmap for achieving 100% Digitally Included Nation.

Rishi Sunak’s plans may still leave millions without hope and opportunity

Yesterday, the Chancellor presented his Spending Review for this year. His ambition was clear – Rishi Sunak wants to protect and create jobs, and help those out of work to retrain, restart their careers, and help reboot the economy. I hope the 9 million people in the UK who can’t use the internet without support will see some of the £100 billion extra capital spending help them to gain the skills they need and feel part of the digital recovery.

Whether those people in the places and communities who feel left behind and who would like some levelling up remains to be seen, but the initial details of the Spending Review show promise. The Chancellor announced the Government’s prediction that next year there will be 2.6 million people unemployed, and many of those will end up being unemployed for more than a year. That was a shock moment for me. A new £3 billion ‘Restart’ scheme will be put in place in the new year by the Department for Work and Pensions to help people who’ve been unemployed for over a year. This offers a fantastic opportunity for comprehensive retraining programmes, such as engaging with the basic digital skills so that people are prepared for the future and more confident in their life and their work.

We also saw a renewed push in funding digital infrastructure, with the Government reiterating its commitment to 4G coverage in 95% of the UK by 2025, and a concerted effort to boost broadband access. These are laudable goals which we clearly support. But without investment in boosting people’s digital skills, the proposals look to me like someone firing the starting gun before some of the athletes have even arrived at the track. Of course, let’s invest so we all have brilliant broadband, but I didn’t see investment to help the 9 million people who can’t use it. What we need is a Great Digital Catch Up.

Earlier this year, the Chancellor declared that he and the Government would “not leave anyone without hope and opportunity.” This is the approach people need right now – a compassionate approach – particularly for those who have lost their jobs, and for everyone left behind due to the compound effect of digital exclusion and social challenges. People need support to get back into work, to learn new digital skills, and restart their careers. Let’s hope the Government keeps their word, provides that help, and doesn’t ignore the need to fix the digital divide.

Closing our ‘digital divide’ is crucial to reduce health inequalities

Our NHS-funded programme on ‘Widening Digital Participation in Health and Care’ finished in March 2020. The report we’re launching today shares the lessons we learned; they could not be more timely. 

We know that Covid-19 has changed the dial on digital. At home, at work, in our communities, in hospitals and care settings, digital has been central to our national response, and a lifeline during lockdowns for those who have the digital access, skills and confidence to benefit. 

But too many are still locked out. If we don’t act now – to fix the digital divide – millions of people will be left further behind with deeply damaging consequences for health outcomes, wellbeing, and health inequalities. 

Digital (access, skills, confidence) has become a social determinant of health. 

I’m proud of how much we’ve achieved through both phases of the Widening Digital Participation partnership with NHSX, NHS Digital and NHS England. By putting co-design, communities and collaboration at the centre, we’ve learned so much about how to help people benefit from digital health, including those who already face barriers to accessing health care. 

Our new model of ‘digital health hubs’ – tested and evolved through a series of pathfinders – stands out as a way to improve digital health literacy, and prevent digital exclusion from widening health inequalities. This is something we can – and should – build on. 

During lockdown, people have felt lonelier than ever and have struggled with their physical and mental health. Digital health hubs have been able to tackle this by improving digital health literacy and through the use of digital health tools in a safe, trusted space in the community.

We urgently need a national network of community-led local digital health hubs

It is vital that digital inclusion – and building people’s digital health literacy and understanding –  is at the centre of population health, care and wellbeing strategies.  

Digital inclusion and technologies can play a powerful role in supporting people who are currently poorly-served by healthcare and face wider, systemic barriers to healthy lives and positive patient outcomes. But this won’t happen without sustained effort and investment in communities as well as in health and social care. 

A world-leading digital health service will only deepen and widen health inequalities if we don’t act on digital inclusion now. Let’s #FixtheDigitalDivide.

Helen Milner

Building back better for everyone

Do you think, if there was a way for the country to make almost £2 billion with a small investment, the Government would take that opportunity?

I’m really hoping that they will. The Government has a chance to help reduce our country’s north/south divide, expand opportunity, and kickstart our economic recovery.

At the Conservative Party Conference, the Government committed to ‘building back better.’ And when you hear terms like this, investments in big, ambitious technologies like AI and gigabit broadband tend to spring to mind.

Of course, these are important – we absolutely need to harness the power of these innovations to maintain our world-leading digital economy.

But in order to do that, we need to ensure we invest in essential digital skills so that everyone can feel the benefits of technology and boost their own finances – as well as the country’s. COVID has shown how tech can’t be treated as an afterthought – it’s vital for our jobs, for contacting our families, for keeping ourselves and our contacts healthy, and for building communities.

Indeed, at least 82% of jobs require digital skills, and manual workers with high digital skills earn around £2,160 more a year than those in the same jobs with low digital skills. But access to tech and those higher salaries is unequal across the UK. Whilst 49% of people in the South East are capable of using the internet fully, only 18% in the North East are able to do so.

Clearly, the digital divide is the regional divide – we need a plan which can fix both.

Last month, we at Good Things Foundation published our new Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included UK – or the Digital Blueprint, for short. One of our core proposals was a ‘Great Digital Catch Up,’ focused on providing our country with the skills and training it needs to rebuild.

Investing £130m over 4 years – just 2% of the broadband budget – the Great Digital Catch Up would use our existing network of digital skills centres to give 4.5 million people the tools they need to use the internet independently. It would help millions to cross the digital divide, fire up our post-COVID economy, and level up opportunity across the UK. And put £1.92 billion back into the economy.

A Great Digital Catch Up would be the equivalent of spending £29 per person. By comparison, a single GP appointment costs £31.

So for the cost of one GP appointment per person, we can also help tackle major issues like social isolation and health inequalities by improving access to digital healthcare – with significant economic benefits.

Analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research in 2018 found that, for every £1 invested in digital skills, we see a £14.80 return. By this methodology, a Great Digital Catch Up scheme could lead to a total economic return on investment of £1.92 billion over the next decade.

That is a staggering yield – one which could kickstart our recovery and help bring about a fully digitally included UK.

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has made his plans for the future clear. He wants to see “a recovery that will be tech-led, but will benefit all.”

Our Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included UK provides a crucial first step for building this inclusive, innovative recovery. One where we can bridge the north/south divide, reduce social isolation, and generate almost £2 billion in economic growth.

Let’s hope the Government takes this opportunity to invest in digital skills and truly build back better – for everyone.

Responding to the chancellor’s summer statement

It didn’t take a seasoned Westminster watcher to predict that Rishi Sunak’s summer economic statement would focus squarely on jobs.

Even without the heavy trails in advance and the talk of kickstart schemes and boosted apprenticeships, research from McKinsey had already shown that 7.6 million UK workers are at risk of being laid off, temporarily furloughed, or subjected to reduced hours and pay.

Analysis in our new COVID-19 Response Report shows that almost half of these 7.6 millions of workers earn less than £10 per hour – and are likely to lack all the essential digital skills needed for life and work.

The chancellor said the government’s plan is to “turn our national recovery into millions of stories of personal renewal”, and the government will do “all it can” to help prevent job losses in the wake of the pandemic. “No one will be left without hope,” he pledged.

But across the country, the future looks worrying for the majority of the nation’s workforce – 17.1 million (52%) – who lack digital skills for work. With economic uncertainty now facing many more people, part-time workers and lone parents who were already vulnerable to unemployment and unfavourable job changes are amongst those likely to be put further at risk. The COVID-19 lockdown has fast-tracked the digital revolution for many sectors, who are increasingly likely to rely on both digital services and workers to incorporate digital skills into their roles and operate remotely when needed.

Challenges lie ahead for those who find themselves newly unemployed or underemployed. 2.5 million new applications for Universal Credit were made between the beginning of lockdown and the end of May alone. In the three weeks following the introduction of lockdown, seven million households – a quarter of all those in the UK – lost either a substantial part or all of their earned income. Being part of a digital society might not always be an option for those unable to pay bills, buy essentials, or – in some cases, forced to choose between data or food.

There is no denying COVID-19 has changed the world. Digital has instantly become a universal need, with lockdown exposing the depth and breadth of digital exclusion more clearly than ever before. People already facing financial hardship and other social and economic disadvantages have been unfairly affected, with many thrown into personal crises brought on by isolation and loss of access to support services.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities have been devastated by COVID-19. Its effects have worsened pre-existing inequalities in housing, health and employment. Lockdown has shown more clearly than ever that ‘digital exclusion’ means more than being offline, or having absolutely no digital skills. We know that lack of personal access to suitable devices and data poverty are also major factors.

However, if lockdown and COVID-19 have shone a light on where digital skills, support and access are missing, they have also provided visible momentum for digital inclusion, which we must not lose.

There are 1.9 million households in the UK without internet access. During lockdown Good Things Foundation mobilised a national response through DevicesDotNow in partnership with FutureDotNow, to get data-enabled devices to people who need them most. To date, through DevicesDotNow over 2,300 devices and data packages have been distributed to socially and medically vulnerable adults sheltering in their homes, along with telephone support on how to use their device and the internet safely. We’ve received donations and grants from a range of organisations, including our funding partners, and are on target to provide this direct digital support to 10,000 people. And support for DevicesDotNow continues to grow.

Digital skills and inclusion can no longer be siloed as an age related issue. Younger furloughed workers and other people have begun to realise their own need to gain essential digital skills as quickly as possible.

Working closely with the UK Government, our digital skills learning platforms, Learn My Way and Make It Click have been included as key resources on The Skills Toolkit, a collection of free digital and numeracy courses for furloughed workers launched by the UK Government in April. As a result, over 49,000 additional learning experiences have been generated through Learn My Way and Make It Click. Both platforms have seen their reach increase, not only to those already online but to those seeking to upskill and reskill in response to changes in their employment.

So if digital inclusion was already important, now it is fundamental. As part of our national recovery and healing we need to be proactive. We need to invest in supporting all people and all organisations to embrace digital technologies, to have affordable personal digital access as a basic right, and to develop digital skills for work and life for everyone.

This is not a time to stand still. We are still not a 100% digitally included nation, but we could be. During lockdown Good Things Foundation worked with many national and local organisations to ensure digital support was there when it was needed the most. Through national partnerships and innovative campaigns like DevicesDotNow, we have harnessed community action from our network partners, and seen remarkable commitment from ordinary people to overcome adversity and embody the endurance and fortitude the chancellor has been calling for. We have proved that digital inclusion can – at the very worst of times – help people to be happier, healthier and better off, now more than ever.

Call to action

As a nation, we are now moving from a period of crisis response into galvanising action for an economic recovery. For this to be successful a national commitment to digital skills and inclusion is critical. We are calling for:

  • National awareness and acknowledgement that a digitally skilled nation benefits everyone
  • National programmes that embed digital inclusion
  • Digital inclusion support for all who need it, in every community
  • Digital skills training for, and in, the workplace.

Our COVID-19 Response Report examines how to learn from the key lessons of this time and create a brighter digital future together.


Helping to fix the digital skills gap with The Skills Toolkit

Screenshot 2020-05-22 at 16.40.29

Yesterday, the Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2020 was published, bringing brilliant news – 1.2 million more people are able to use their devices and the internet by themselves than last year. This is a huge achievement, and no doubt due in part to the hard work from our amazing hyperlocal partners in the Online Centres Network.

But we still have a long way to go. Access to technology and connectivity is clearly a huge barrier preventing many people accessing the benefits of digital, with 1.9 million households lacking access to the internet. Through the DevicesDotNow initiative we’ve been able to distribute internet connected devices to those who need it most. You can read more about the impact the campaign is having for people like Ron Roper and Firoozeh Salimi.

The other part of digital exclusion is about skills. 

This is a bigger problem than you may think, as yesterday’s Consumer Digital Index reinforced. Around 17.2 million of the workforce lack the essential digital skills they need for work, and these stats are worryingly similar to the figures from last year. This means that the workforce has stood still in terms of digital enablement – and at the same time, 82% of all job vacancies require digital skills. 

The digital skills gap needs fixing, and this is going to be essential for the country’s longer term recovery. The Skills Toolkit offers part of the solution.

Launched by the Government a couple of weeks ago, The Skills Toolkit gives people access to free digital and numeracy courses to help build up their skills, progress in work and boost job prospects. I’m really excited that Good Things Foundation has been working with the Department for Education to offer a range of digital skills resources on The Skills Toolkit linked through our free online learning platforms, Learn My Way and Make it Click.

For the very basics, our Learn My Way resources can help people get to grips with their computer, tablet or mobile phone. Unsurprisingly, our video calling course has proved extremely popular during Covid-19.

If people are a bit more comfortable with technology, Make It Click has plenty of helpful resources, including on working from home. And for the digitally ambitious, there are courses on the fundamentals of digital marketing from our partners at Google, right through to programming essentials in Python. 

But this isn’t just about jobs and skills for work. My colleague Kevin wrote an excellent blog outlining the positive effects of adult learning beyond employability prospects, including improved social cohesion, health and security.

TheSkillsToolkit - wellbeing static landscape

The Skills Toolkit is bringing new people – people we wouldn’t normally reach pre-Covid-19 – to Learn My Way. Our in-house data shows that most users who registered throughout April said they were employed, not looking for work, and have moderate to high existing internet ability. That means that people are choosing to develop their skills during Covid-19. Motivation is now much higher with 79% of people using Learn My Way last week saying that they were “more interested in developing new digital skills since the Covid-19 crisis began”.

At least one good thing to come from the current crisis is that digital skills have proved themselves to be essential in a socially distancing world. We can be sure that they are going to be crucial for our recovery as well. In our Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included Nation, we called for the provision of free essential digital skills support for everyone who needs it. The Skills Toolkit is a positive step forward, taking us that little bit closer to achieving our vision of a world where everyone can benefit from digital.