Helping to fix the digital skills gap with The Skills Toolkit

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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.

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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. 

Inclusion crucial for a digital-first health service

hsjWe have turned to digital technologies to help us face the spread of coronavirus. The internet allows us to search for NHS advice online, shift to virtual appointments with healthcare professionals, and connect with our loved ones through video calling apps.

At the same time, the pandemic has shone a light on the severe problem of digital exclusion that we have in the UK. There are currently 11.9 million people in the UK who are lacking the digital skills they need for everyday life. That means that one in five people are stuck in their homes without sufficient skills to access health information or avoid social isolation.

A few weeks ago (though it feels like a lifetime away) I was speaking at the Good Things Foundation roundtable in Westminster, discussing the question: “how can we ensure no one is excluded from a digital-first health service?”.

And unfortunately, the UK lockdown means that we are not in the privileged position that we were back then, when we were able to offer digital skills training through a blend of face-to-face support and online learning. This is the model that has allowed us at Good Things Foundation to improve the lives of more than 3 million people through digital since 2010.

The coronavirus outbreak follows the recent publication of the Marmot review into rising health inequalities, shown to be worsening for people in the most deprived areas.

We know that social exclusion correlates closely with digital exclusion – of the 4.1 million people who are offline in the UK, 71 per cent have no more than a secondary level education, nearly half are from low-income households, and 80 per cent are aged 50+.

This means that the people who are the most vulnerable in terms of the health and economic impact of the outbreak are also the least likely to be able to use the digital health services they need.

If we want to reduce health inequalities, we need to challenge the idea that digital technology alone will improve health outcomes. There are people who lack the skills to use digital health tools, and others who have the skills but don’t have the motivation, confidence or access to use the tools for a number of complex reasons.

A few weeks ago, using digital health tools (to book appointments online, or order repeat prescriptions) helped to improve peoples’ health outcomes and deliver cost savings to the NHS – but they were not essential. Offline methods were available for digitally excluded people. But now, digital channels are vital if we are to stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives.

My hope is that the lockdown has made it clear for all to see that digital inclusion is not a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have – and that when we emerge from this crisis, which we will, the provision of digital skills will be higher up the agenda for policymakers.

We have been developing the Digital Health Hubs model in partnership with NHSX – community-led hubs which offer a safe and trusted place to support people to use digital health tools in a place they feel comfortable, joining up digitally excluded people with the formal health service.

But digital exclusion is a huge problem, and not one that can be fixed with one-off programmes. We need a sustained effort, so that digital inclusion is embedded into a digital-first health service, and everyone can benefit – from patients and staff, through to those commissioning and delivering services.

Cost savings are clear – our three-year Widening Digital Participation programme with the NHS saved £6.40 for every £1 spent. But there are also other benefits that can’t be costed, such as higher trust in the NHS and people living longer with long-term health conditions, and enjoying a better quality of life.

We all have a stake in this, and we all need to take some responsibility, and we need a concerted effort to address this that brings together community organisations, individuals and the more formal health system.

We – along with the community organisations we work with – are doing all we can to tackle the immediate skills gap people who are now isolated, and often frightened, are facing. The coronavirus outbreak has shone a stark light on the relationship between health inequalities, digital exclusion and social exclusion, and so in the longer term we need to ensure we make digital and social inclusion a priority so we can all truly rely on a digital health system.

 

Read the original article for Health Service Journal .

1.9 million are isolated by COVID-19 and are not online: we need to include them. Now!

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There’s an urgent issue that we must address, and address as soon as possible. 1.9 million households in Britain don’t have, and can’t afford, access to the internet, and as the lockdown remains firmly in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, vulnerable people find themselves shut in their homes, facing social isolation with no means of communicating with the outside world. They’re not online, and are unable to find accurate health information or access the Government services they need to support themselves.

They’re at risk from COVID-19 and they’re at risk of being completely excluded from essential services and from online access to the comfort and support from family, friends and their communities.

That’s why FutureDotNow is working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on a new campaign called DevicesDotNow to tackle digital exclusion.

The community organisations that we, at Good Things Foundation, work with up and down the country have been forced to close their physical doors for the first time in years – sometimes decades. But whilst their doors may be shut for face to face support, they remain very much open, providing a vital lifeline for vulnerable people through the phone and the internet.

Take Alex, 24, from Newham: he worked in a restaurant until he was let go by his employer a week ago without any notice. Socially isolated with no support from friends or family, he approached Skills Enterprise, a community organisation in East London and part of Good Things’ Online Centres Network. They gave him advice over the phone about what he’s entitled to receive and how to claim it.

Our amazing community partners have been working tirelessly over the past weeks to provide essential COVID-19 support remotely, but many people simply do not have, and cannot afford, the devices and connectivity they need to access the internet.

When Fodie, 48, was sent home from her job working in the housing sector in Northumberland, her employer expected her to be able to work from home. But she did not have a laptop, and with a learning disability and low digital skills, Fodie was worried she would lose her job. Turning to the local Being Woman community centre for help, things changed for Fodie when she was given a free device and online support. Now, she can work, has kept her job and her income, and feels part of a community, all directly from her own home.

DevicesDotNow is calling on businesses across the country to donate tablets, smartphones, laptops, and connectivity in the form of sims, dongles and mobile hot-spots, to urgently help the most vulnerable people in the UK to get online.

Because behind every single household in that astonishing figure of the 1.9 million that lack internet access is a financially constrained person like Alex, or a vulnerable individual like Fodie. This is not a tomorrow problem – this is a problem now that needs addressing as quickly as possible, and we need your help.

I urge all businesses up and down the country to contribute to DevicesDotNow and share the message far and wide to help protect and empower some of the most vulnerable households in the UK and reduce the strain on our NHS.

Please visit DevicesDotNow to provide details of your donation. If you’d like to talk to someone about your donation, please email devices@futuredotnow.uk and someone from the team will be in touch.

 

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

As the lockdown bites, don’t forget Britain’s digital divide

computer-1400x788For people who are able to use technology, shifting everyday life online has been strange and unexpected, but not exactly a leap in the dark. For the millions of people who can’t, the lockdown means loneliness and social isolation.

And sadly, millions is no exaggeration. There are currently 11.9m people in the UK who lack the essential digital skills for life. That means that one in five people struggle to communicate, search for health information, or access government services online. And social exclusion correlates closely with digital exclusion – of the 4.1 million people who are offline in the UK, 71% have no more than a secondary level education, and nearly half are from low-income households.

The UK’s loneliness problem pre-dated this pandemic: a study by The Co-op and the British Red Cross reveals over 9 million adults in the UK across all ages – more than the population of London – are either always or often lonely. That’s another startling figure, especially considering that loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Nonetheless, the health crisis has brought into sharp focus the implications of being digitally excluded.

For me, video calling apps have helped preserve some normality in the current situation. Life is different – there’s no doubt about that – but technology allows me to continue to work from home and to keep in touch with friends and family. But for people who cannot use online communication services, and who rely on face-to-face interaction for social contact, now is a frightening time to be on the wrong side of the digital divide.

And at a time when economic activity grinds to a halt and people are losing their jobs, access to government services – many of which are digital-first – is also essential, particularly for those who are less financially secure.

One myth I am keen to bust is that this is an issue that’s only affecting older people. Take Alex, 24 from Newham: he worked in a restaurant until he was let go by his employer a week ago without any notice. Socially isolated with no help from friends or family, he approached Skills Enterprise, a community organisation in East London, looking for support on how to apply for benefits online.

Unfortunately, the UK lockdown announced on Monday means that we are unable to offer digital skills training through a blend of face-to-face support and online learning – the model that has allowed us at Good Things Foundation to improve the lives of more than 3 million people through digital since 2010 – although many of our community partners continue to support people remotely

When normality resumes, we must remember that digital exclusion will continue to shape the lives of millions of people. The spread of Coronavirus and our reliance on technology has made it clear for all to see that digital inclusion is not a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have. When we emerge from this crisis, which we will, the provision of digital skills must be a priority for policymakers.

It’s not just a case of levelling the playing field – there is also a clear economic argument for closing the digital skills gap. Research by CEBR has shown that investing in ensuring everyone in the UK is digitally included will lead to a net present value of £21.9 billion to the UK, with a benefit of almost £15 for every £1 invested in basic digital skills. By upskilling the nation, we will begin to accrue economic benefits through higher employment rates, increased earnings for individuals, more transactions shifting online, savings to the NHS, and much more.

The Government’s pledge of £5bn to roll out gigabit-capable broadband across the country by 2025 is welcome. But even if you build broadband infrastructure, not everyone will be able to use it. What we need alongside this is a commitment to invest so that everyone has the digital skills they need to use, and benefit from, the internet.

Our Blueprint calls on the Government and other partners to commit to a 100% digitally included nation, by promoting the benefits of the internet, and building skills through free essential digital skills support for anyone who needs it.

Loneliness and social isolation are problems without easy answers, but it’s difficult to dispute the power of technology in bringing people together, offering rays of hope in the midst of this crisis. Fixing the skills and inclusion gap is part of the solution – and one we know we can deliver.

 

Check out the original piece on the CapX website.

 

The NHS spends more than half its budget on people who can’t access the internet – here’s what I’m doing to change that

On Tuesday, Professor Sir Michael Marmot released a 10-year review of his 2010 report into growing health inequalities. I’m sure we all agree with health secretary Matt Hancock that “there’s still more to do”.

Marmot’s review reveals stalling life expectancy for men and women in England since 2010. The more deprived the area, the shorter the life expectancy. The trends show that people in poorer areas spend more of their lives in ill health than those in affluent areas, and that life expectancy among women in the poorest communities in England has seen the biggest decline (on top of this, there’s a clear north-south divide). The poorest in our society will die sooner, and live longer with health-limiting conditions.

What Professor Marmot describes is shocking, and supports our own research, but is it impossible to overcome? At the Good Things Foundation, we don’t think so. In fact, our digital inclusion charity is already showing there’s a way to tackle the problem.

We know social exclusion has a strong correlation to digital exclusion, and together they exacerbate health inequality. There are almost 12 million people who lack the digital skills essential for life in the UK today, and the digitally-excluded account for half of NHS spending.

We’re already targeting these 12 million people through piloting, with the NHS’s support, 32 Digital Health Hubs across the country. These community-led hubs, which focus on the prevention of ill health, offer free support ranging from YouTube-based musical memory sessions for people with dementia, to peer-to-peer internet searching for healthy recipes. It’s a partnership model that takes health to the people, putting digital health tools in the hands of the poorest in society.

An example of someone we’ve supported is Donna Murray, who left the armed forces with poor mental health, and didn’t know where to look for support. Through her local health hub in Saltburn, she was able to find not only information about how to manage her conditions, but also an online community. “I was hopeless,” she says, “completely socially isolated. I was the biggest technophobe and couldn’t even send an email. Being able to use digital tools has given me a sense of self-worth again.” It’s not just about the tangible benefits of learning to find health advice or make a GP appointment online. It’s about the intangible benefits of taking control of one’s health.

Digital Health Hubs have already made a huge difference to the lives of so many. With more NHS investment, we can scale this model to the communities that the Marmot Review has shown so badly need it. With a record £33.9bn-a-year investment in the NHS, there should be funds to do so.

Professor Marmot said when health stops improving, society has stopped improving. We welcome his recommendation for a cross-government effort to address health inequalities – and believe it’s imperative for digital inclusion to be embedded in this effort.

Check out the original piece on the Independent website.

Do you know this is a trusted source?

Of course this is a trusted source – it’s my blog! But how did you know that this link was to be trusted? Did it take you to where you expected it to? It takes digital and critical thinking skills to come to that decision, and in the digital age these are essential.

Today is Safer Internet Day 2020, and I’m delighted to join forces with millions of people across the world to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology, together for a better internet.

SID2020I’m always raving about the benefits of the internet, and rightly so. From helping you take control of your cash to delivering better health outcomes, there are countless positives to digital. That said, participating in the online world means dealing with new kinds of risks, such as getting scammed, viewing distressing content, and the spread of disinformation.

Research published by Ofcom earlier this month shows that parents are more concerned about their children online, with 55% of the parents of 5-15 year olds believing that the benefits of their child being online outweighs the risks compared to 65% in 2015. This is perhaps unsurprising – a startling 79% of 12-15 year olds in the UK claim that they have had at least one potentially harmful experience online in the last year.

Coincidentally, I’m currently on my way down to London to give evidence to the House of Lords Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee in a session exploring one particular source of online harm – disinformation. Alongside other experts, we’ll be discussing the question: ‘Do we have the digital literacy to spot fake news?

For me, this is a really interesting question, and to answer it we need to be clear about what we mean by digital literacy. The Government’s Essential Digital Skills framework provides five categories for the skills that are essential for everyday life and work: communicating, handling information and content, problem-solving, transacting and – finally – being safe online.

So, if a central plank of digital literacy is understanding how to be safe online, and fake news is a source of online harm, then the question of whether we have the digital literacy to spot fake news is really a question about whether we are a digitally literate nation full stop.

And, unfortunately, the answer to that is no – not nearly as much as we should be. There are 11.9 million people who don’t have all of the digital skills they need for life. What makes it all the more frustrating is the overlap between digital and social exclusion. Half of the 4.1 million adults who are completely offline in the UK are from a low-income household, and 71% have no more than a secondary level education. The people who have the most to gain from the digital world are the most likely to be excluded from it.

There are always going to be online dangers just as there will always be dangers offline, and of course, we need to make sure that children and young people have the digital and critical thinking skills to keep themselves safe. Last year, Safer Internet Day reached 46% of young people aged 8-17 and 26% of parents, and this year, we’re hoping to reach millions more.

But supporting adults is just as important, especially since we can’t expect children to be able to recognise these dangers instinctively. Toddlers aren’t hardwired to look left and right before they cross the road – they need to be taught how. And in turn, we can’t expect parents to be able to teach their children how to be safe online if they have never been supported themselves.

Over in Finland, embedding digital literacy and critical thinking education into schools has been a resounding success. The Nordic nation tops the list of European countries in terms of resilience to disinformation, according to the Media Literacy Index compiled by the Open Society Institute. We need a programme like this in the UK, but not just for children. Adults need to be supported as well.

At Good Things Foundation, we know full well the importance of adult learning, and our network of thousands of hyper-local organisations empower adults throughout the country to be safe and able to engage with the online world, helping more than 3,000,000 people since 2010. These are transferable skills which go beyond the ability to access Government services online or make use of internet banking – we’re teaching them to swim in the shallow end of a pool, but we want them to be able to swim in the ocean.

If education is one side of the coin, on the other side are the Government initiatives helping to make the internet a safer place. Australia led the way by establishing the eSafety Commissioner in 2015, a national independent regulator for online safety. It’s no wonder that in a report published today, Australia ranks second in the global Child Online Safety Index.

In the UK, the Online Harms White Paper set out the government’s plan for a package of online safety measures, including the establishment of our own independent regulator. It also calls for companies to take more responsibility for their users’ safety by introducing a ‘statutory duty of care’ and a national Media Literacy Strategy for people of all ages. Our Government – and policymakers around the world – need to supercharge their plans for online safety measures and to deliver on them as soon as possible.

Everyone has a part to play in creating a better and safer internet. If you’re a parent looking for conversation starters and activities to talk to your children about use the web in a safe, responsible and respectful way, take a look here. If you feel like you could use some support being safe online, or if you know an adult who could, go along to an Online Centre for some free digital skills training. You can find your local Online Centre here.

So happy Safer Internet Day, which I will be celebrating by informing the House of Lords Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee about the importance of digital literacy. Keep an eye out for my next blog where I’ll let you know how it goes.

Better health for a divided nation. Can we fix it? Yes, we can.

In his New Year article for Conservative Home, Matt Hancock laid out his aspirations for the NHS to take a more preventative focused approach. He said: “We must invest more – and we will. But it’s not just about the money, but also improving the way the health service is run and harnessing exciting new technology.”

He went on to talk about his personal experience of dementia, and of his goal to “treat early signs of dementia, not with more drugs, but through social prescribing – making use of non-medical services to help people manage their physical and mental health.”

His ambition to help people to take more responsibility for their own health I think rests in communities, and not only with individuals. Matt Hancock speaks of creating a health system that doesn’t just rely on the NHS to fix things when they go wrong, and he says that better tech means better health and social care. 

Is this possible? Yes. Is this desirable? Yes. Can we achieve this vision? Yes, and communities have a big role to play. Can we achieve this vision and still leave almost 12 million people behind? No, we can’t. These people lack the basic digital skills they need to use this new technology to look after their health and wellbeing before they get ill, and to manage conditions they already have. 

At Good Things Foundation, we’ve been working for three years on innovative ways to bring digital health literacy and digital services to people in communities in order to achieve better health outcomes, as part of our Widening Digital Participation programme. This has led us to a new model for Digital Health Hubs. These hubs – which are up and down the country – are doing fantastic work to improve digital health literacy for people who are at risk of being left behind, as well as connecting the formal and informal health systems, giving the community a crucial role in combating health inequalities, and ensuring everyone can benefit from the digital health revolution. It’s not just about the formal parts of the health system – communities are playing a critical role, especially in prevention. 

This video showcases some of our fantastic health hubs so you can see for yourself how this model is working in action.

Widening Digital Participation hasn’t just supported people to improve their digital health literacy, but has helped us to develop an evidence-based model – local places in communities, work with local health systems, and boosting health outcomes. We’ve begun to scale our Digital Health Hubs and we hope we can scale this model further for even greater impact. 

These Health Hubs are diverse – as are their communities – but they’re all reaching people and improving people’s health. 

In Saltburn, community organisation Destinations@Saltburn has developed an informal space where they can provide holistic support to improve the wellbeing of local residents, working with a number of local partners including local GPs. And in Leeds, the library service is working to explore how digital can improve the lives of local residents, including carers and people living with Dementia, helping them to overcome barriers and  providing a broad range of support. 

In Blackburn, the central Library is offering it’s community space to support people and groups with managing their health conditions. It has been credited as a key component for increasing NHS App registrations by 40% in the area.

And in Brent, they’re co-locating with local GP services to facilitate social prescribing, helping GPs to refer patients easily to local digital support. 

We know this model saves the NHS £6 for every £1 it costs.

All of our Widening Digital Participation activity has been truly user-led (you can take a look at the co-design video we’ve also shared this week), and has demonstrated that digital empowerment is critical to driving better outcomes for patients, improving the success of public health and preventative interventions, and reducing health inequality. 

I’m ambitious about the impact these innovative Digital Health Hubs can have, and I know they have a crucial role to play in ensuring the digital divide we face in the UK doesn’t hold back the transformation of our NHS.  Inequality in our society is only widening – this has never been more clear than when looking at health outcomes. So the work these Digital Health Hubs are doing really is vital. 

Last week we heard Nicky Morgan say that one of the Government’s major priorities is to help transform communities who feel like they have not felt the benefits of the change we have seen in recent years. She said: “We need to unleash the potential of the whole country and deliver opportunity across the entire nation. And we can only truly view the digital revolution as a success if its positive forces – the jobs, the investment and the creative opportunities – are used to break down barriers, rather than to entrench them. That means ensuring all people and all businesses have the tools they need to adopt and benefit from digital technologies – the connectivity, the capability and the confidence.”

With two Members of the Government’s Cabinet supporting our call for better basic digital skills and confidence, in communities across the whole country – then let’s make sure everybody knows about the power of digital, communities, and the power of Digital Health Hubs to boost better lives for citizens and to make sure no-one gets left behind.

My Year in Review: top ten moments of 2019

It’s that time again – time to reflect on the year we’ve had at Good Things Foundation. Now, I would normally share my top five moments at the end of the year, but since it’s been such an amazing year (and yet another year of growth), I think it’s only fair to bump up the highlight reel. So here are my top ten moments of 2019:

  1. Dear Prime Minister, please can we have a 100% digitally included UK?

In the run-up to the general election, we sent out a clear message – digital inequality is holding us back as a nation. Now that the election is over, we’re looking forward to working together with the Government to make sure digital inclusion is a priority. We’ve worked with the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport before – and we know they recognise that tackling digital exclusion should be high on the agenda. Together, we will develop big plans for #BridgingTheDigitalDivide, ensuring that the Online Centres Network is at the heart of those plans.

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  1. Get Online Week 2019

With nearly 4,000 events held across the UK and more than 1,000 events across Australia, our 13th annual international campaign had to make the top ten highlights. I was lucky enough to visit a different UK centre every day – there were beginners’ classes, informal tasters, lots of Get Online Week cupcakes, and even a ‘digital disco’! A huge, huge thank you to everyone who took part and made this the most successful campaign. Keep your eyes peeled for the UK’s Get Online Week report, which will be released soon …. and of course we’ll be publishing the dates for Get Online Week 2020 really soon.

  1. ONS Online Census rehearsal 

I’m a big fan of numbers, and with the Census coming up in 2021, I’m excited. But even more exciting is that we’re working with the Office of National Statistics to deliver it. It’s going to be ‘digital first’, which makes sense in this day and age – but it does mean that digitally excluded people are going to need some support. So we’re delighted to be working with the ONS and specific centres in the Online Centres Network to ensure everyone can participate. We recently took part in a Census ‘rehearsal’ – it was a success, of course. Roll on 2021! Lots of work getting ready for that.

  1. Make It Click campaign

We’ve been doing lots of work with corporate partners this year, and our Make It Click campaign with Google.org is reaching the 7 million people who are online but only use the internet in a limited way. Helping them build their digital know-how… until it clicks! We’ve launched the Make It Click campaign in Sunderland and Portsmouth alongside Good Things Foundation’s delivery of Google Digital Garages, in those cities and in Belfast. On top of that, we’ve developed the Digital Skills Directory as part of Learn My Way where anyone can learn how to improve their digital skills for free.

  1. Power Up

It’s been another year of combining thought leadership with action, and with the support of J P Morgan, we published our Powering Up report in June. It calls on the Government to embed digital skills in major initiatives for jobs and skills, financial health, and small business support so that digital is integral, not just a ‘bolt-on’. But the report isn’t just a list of nice ideas – it has informed a pioneering £1.5 million initiative, putting the recommendations into practice. We’ve now awarded the Power Up funding to fourteen projects in England and Scotland – you can read about them here.

  1. Working as a global charity

That we’re now a global charity has to be in the top ten. It’s a bit of a pinch me moment each time I think about how we’ve achieved this in just a few years. With more than 15,000 km separating our offices in Sheffield and Sydney, I’m proud of the way the teams have worked together so well again this year. We’ve had staff visiting the offices on both sides of the world (I’m writing this from Sydney!), allowing us to share expertise and inspire each other. Plus, with a little help from digital, we recently had our first International Board Joint Committee meeting with Board members joining from nine different locations in the UK and Australia using Google Hangouts. Although we were all joining from very different time zones it was an incredibly productive meeting – looking at our next five year strategy.

  1. Getting bigger and better in Australia

Talking of the Good Things Foundation work in Australia, a couple of months ago, our Be Connected Network in Australia turned two. In that time, we’ve engaged 250,000 people in digital skills programmes and seen how many of them have gone on to be happier, healthier and better off by being online. In October we published this infographic. We were thrilled to have 2,700 local community partners – now, just before Christmas we’re just six orgs short to getting to 3,000 Network Partners. To have achieved all of this in just over two years is quite remarkable, and it would never have been possible without our talented and committed staff in Australia or our brilliant network partners. 

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  1. Future.now

After a successful year of cross-sector collaboration, we’re ambitious for more organisations to follow suit. Enter future.now – a brand new coalition of companies, public sector organisations and charities, the brainchild of the former Lord Mayor of the City of London, Peter Estlin. Good Things Foundation is one of the founding board members of this industry-led attempt to boost the UK’s digital skills, and you can join the coalition here! Plus, our Chair, Liz Williams MBE (who received her well-deserved honours from the Queen for services to digital inclusion and social mobility last month) has just been appointed as CEO. Congratulations, Liz, on your many achievements this year. Let’s grow this coalition together.

  1. Digital Nation 2019

Reviewing the state of the nation is really important for us to evaluate digital exclusion across the UK and Australia, so here are the Digital Nation 2019 infographics. They might look pretty, but they show that despite a year of going from strength to strength, there is still much more to be done.

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  1. DigiEvol19

As ever, our UK annual conference was inspirational. One of my favourite moments was when we asked delegates what question they would like to ask the next Prime Minister. Here’s a selection:

  • Where would you be today without digital skills?
  • What are you going to do to bridge the digital poverty gap?
  • Will there be more local funding available for digital inclusion officers to help people access the services they need?

Prime Minister, I’m sure the Online Centres Network and their communities would love to hear your answers to these questions. We’d be more than happy to receive them at helen@goodthingsfoundation.org.

And if you missed the conference, you can watch the highlights here:

A couple more things I’d like to mention: 

It’s been great working with our friends at BT who have just launched the Skills for Tomorrow programme designed to give 10 million people the skills they need to flourish in the digital future – there will be lots more on that in 2020. Another positive step towards a digitally included nation came in the form of the Online Harms White Paper (read my blog about it here), pledging a national commitment to digital media literacy. I’m looking forward to working with the new Government to make this a reality.

All in all, another fantastic year to send us into the next decade. We’ve got a lot done this past 10 years, supporting more than 3,000,000 people to gain digital skills since 2010 – a truly staggering achievement.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this year such a success.

I can’t wait for 2020 and all the exciting opportunities the new decade will bring!

 

Healthier. Happier. Better Off.

Digi Evol Twitter 2019

Last Thursday, we were back at the BT Centre for our 8th annual conference – Digital Evolution: Healthier. Happier. Better Off. I know that success can’t always be measured through social media, but if it was, we can’t have done too badly – #DigiEvol19 was the 15th highest trending hashtag in the UK with more than 2,100,000 impressions on Twitter. I’m still smiling from such a positive, inclusive, and inspiring day.

It is by bringing together partners from a range of sectors – not least the community organisations that make up the Online Centres Network – that the Good Things Foundation annual conference has become a landmark event in the digital inclusion calendar. As well as providing a forum to debate some of the most important issues of the day and share ideas on how to support some of the hardest to reach groups, there are always inspirational speakers to give us food for thought – and this year did not disappoint. 

There were four Online Centres – Being Woman, Smartlyte, Leeds Libraries and Destinations At Saltburn – who spoke this year. And spoke very much from their hearts about the work they do and the people whose lives they have changed for the better. We’re so lucky to have people such as these in the network and I know the audience were hanging on their every word.

We heard from a range of interesting and inspiring speakers – including Hannah Cornick from BT who spoke about their partnership with Good Things Foundation for the Skills For Tomorrow programme, and Liza Belozerova from Google.org, who told us the story of 93-year-old Poul, a retired doctor from Denmark, who was able to participate in digital training from a bus tour through his hometown. When 20% of Europeans have never accessed the internet, these are the stories we come to the conference to hear – reminding us that whilst Good Things Foundation may focus on the UK and Australia, this is a global challenge.

There may be differences in how digital inequality manifests itself across the world, but it’s probably fair to say that many of the advantages of becoming digitally able are universal. At the panel event “Digital inclusion: can it make people healthier?”, the verdict was unanimous – yes, it can, and yes, it does.

And, this year we were fortunate enough to be supported by two former Lord Mayors. The first was Magid Magid, formerly the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, and now Green MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber. Channeling the power of modern technology, Magid sent over a video from Strasbourg to talk about the way digital can give everyone a voice in our democracy.

Peter Estlin was with us in person. He recently finished his term as the Lord Mayor of the City of London and has launched future.now during his time in office – a coalition of Government, industry and the voluntary sector (with Good Things Foundation as a founding partner). You can read my blog about the launch here

Although the conference recognises a number of challenges faced in communities, it’s also a time to celebrate the success of Good Things Foundation and our fantastic Online Centres Network – improving more than 3,000,000 lives through digital since 2010.

This of course wouldn’t be possible without the Online Centres Network, who work tirelessly in communities to support people to improve their lives through digital. We asked centres what it meant to them to be part of the network, and you can see their answers below. 

It was no surprise that “support” cropped up as central to the experience of being part of the Online Centres Network.zzz

With the general election looming, one of my favourite sections of the day was asking delegates – primarily from the community sector – what they wanted to ask the new Prime Minister. And the questions weren’t surprising – from how we will close the digital poverty gap, to how we can support people to use online public services and how grassroots organisations providing this support will be funded. 

As we edge closer towards the election on 12 December, we’re calling on the next government to make bridging the digital divide a priority. Every party has made a pledge to roll out high-speed broadband in one form or another – and yet the manifestos have fallen short on their commitment to invest in people, and the skills and support they need to access this new infrastructure. 

When 11.9 million people lack the digital skills they need to function in the modern world, we’re a long way off achieving digital equality. For £734 million, alongside investment from companies, the Government could close the nation’s digital divide and ensure a brighter future for everyone. Genral_Election_Infographic_v6_page-0001

It’s always a privilege to be able to bring together hundreds of inspiring people at our conference, all passionate about making digital inequality a thing of the past. From the amazing staff in the Online Centres Network delivering digital inclusion at the grassroots level, to the Government departments and policymakers, to the third sector organisations and corporate partners who share a commitment to our mission.

And in a way, our conference is a microcosm of the kind of nation we want to create. Because we can fix this skills and inclusion gap – but only by working together with partners in industry, Government and communities.

Dear Prime Minister, please can we have a 100% digitally included UK?

 

Genral_Election_Infographic_v6_page-0001

On 12 December, the UK will march to the polls to vote in an election that will decide the UK’s next government. We don’t yet know who our new government will be, but whoever they are – we have a message for you.

There are 11.9 million people in the UK who do not have the essential digital skills for life. Or – if percentages are more your thing – 22% of the population. That means that more than one in every five people you see on the street have either never used the internet (4.1 million of them), or they don’t have the digital skills to function – which means being able to do things like filling in an online form, attaching a file to an email, or uploading a photo onto social media.

Digital inequality is holding us back.

Communicating with friends and family, managing your finances, applying for benefits or for a job, or shopping for Christmas presents – everything is so much easier with a connected laptop or a mobile phone. Many of us take technology and the advantages it offers for granted. Yet millions are living without the benefits of digital.

People who are digitally excluded are highly likely to be socially excluded too. For example, 40% of those in the lowest income category (less than £12,500/year) are digitally excluded. There is also a disproportionate percentage of non-users across less-educated groups, whilst people with a disability are more than twice as likely to be offline as those without one.

There’s a huge digital divide in this country, and it needs addressing. In a world where finding a job is difficult without an internet connection, government services are becoming digital by default, and banking is moving online, far too many people are being left behind.

But we can fix this skills and inclusion gap – together with government, industry and communities. 

We’re calling on the next government to invest £734 million to close the digital divide in a decade, to sit alongside investment from companies.

And, since our research has shown that investing in digital skills for everyone brings a net present value of £21.9 billion, we think that £734 million is a small price to pay.

We need to work collaboratively across all sectors to bridge the digital divide. We want to encourage all organisations – however big or small – to make a commitment to support a truly digital nation. You can start by joining future.now – a new coalition aiming to coordinate action, especially by businesses. It’s an initiative led by Peter Estlin, who set up the coalition during his term as Lord Mayor of the City of London.

We are more than happy to discuss the steps we need to take to achieve this ambition. At Good Things Foundation, we work with thousands of community partners across the country. We’re the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity, and since 2010 we’ve helped over 3 million people improve their lives through digital, strengthening communities along the way.

Our Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included Nation sets out some clear recommendations on how we can fix this problem – and we are determined to make this happen.

So, we have a question for whoever is the future Prime Minister: will you take on digital inequality, and ensure that everyone can thrive in a digital world?