A lack of investment in adult skills is stalling progression, particularly for the most excluded

This article was originally published here on Politics Home.

Digital technology charity Good Things Foundation’s Chief Executive reflects on the Social Mobility Commission report into the adult skills gap published this week.

Good Things Foundation 

Earlier this week the Social Mobility Commission published its report into the adult skills gap, and the impact it is having on social mobility in the UK. The results – as perhaps expected – show that a lack of investment in adult skills is stalling progression, particularly for the most excluded.

People from lower socio-economic backgrounds are the least likely to take part in adult learning. And this means that they’re being held back. They’re less likely to progress within the workplace and so are often trapped in low paid jobs, and they’re also missing out on a wealth of other opportunities learning can provide.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of investment. The Government’s adult skills budget, along with many others, is being stretched. There are fewer opportunities to learn, and often the opportunities that are available aren’t reaching those who with the most to gain from them.

All of this means that those who could most benefit from adult learning are the least likely to access it. This is why it’s so important that Government works with the community sector to widen access. They have to reach and engage people facing all forms of social exclusion – and these people are the most likely to be disengaged from education.

This means finding ways to fund community engagement activity as a pathway to further learning.  There needs to be a more progressive approach to funding adult learning that recognises it has a powerful impact on social mobility, which in turn can drive shared prosperity and social cohesion.

Through our network partners, we’ve supported over 2 million people to improve their basic skills, and the impact these improved skills have had on individuals is significant. 86% progress to further learning, and 76% progress to positive employment outcomes. Giving people a taste of learning, and showing them what they can achieve, leads to a range of positive benefits. People are more likely to be able to better manage their money, and their health. They’re more likely to be able to help their children with their own education, and they will feel more connected to their communities.

Basic digital skills are a crucial part of the adult skills mix, and people who are lacking them are being left behind in today’s increasingly digital world. At Good Things Foundation, we know that by building digital inclusion into community-based learning, the positive effects are even greater. We are increasing confidence and personal efficacy, as well opening up ways people can take advantage of opportunities, from jobs to better health.

There’s also a powerful economic and social case for building in digital inclusion. There are 11.3 million people in the UK who don’t have digital skills, and although this number is falling, there will still be 6.9 million lacking these skills by 2028. Giving everyone in the UK basic digital skills will bring a benefit to UK plc of £21.9 billion. And these people are more like to be socially excluded too, so we have responsibility to ensure that they’re not being left behind. Current government policy risks increasing this inequality if digital services, like Universal Credit, don’t build in digital inclusion support from the outset.

That’s why as part of our Bridging the Digital Divide campaign, we’re calling on government and other partners to make a commitment to getting 100% of the nation digitally included by 2028. We know, as this report acknowledges, that both government and employers have a role to play. But although both are taking steps to try and close the divide, not enough is being done quickly enough, which is why we’re calling for co-ordinated action now.

The ‘vicious’ cycle of learning that the report references – where those most in need of learning are left furthest behind – needs to be broken. And to do this, we need to ensure that learning is both available and accessible. This means informal, community-based support as a pathway to more formal and more advanced learning: and building in digital inclusion as a further driver of opportunity.

The UK risks both being left behind as a nation, and leaving behind the individuals who can most benefit from learning opportunities. And with the challenges we are facing in the coming months and years, we can no longer risk missing the opportunity to make positive change for those who are most excluded.

1 million supported, but we’re nowhere near finished

Today we were delighted to announce that our Future Digital Inclusion programme, funded by the Department for Education (DfE), has helped over 1 million people, since 2014, to gain the basic digital skills they need for life and work. This has been the result of a great partnership with DfE, whose staff genuinely understand the wider social impact of basic digital skills on the lives of socially excluded people, and with thousands of hyperlocal community partners across the Online Centres whose special abilities both engage and support people in the heart of their communities for whom digital blended with great human face-to-face support is the lifeline they’ve been looking for.

It’s been an incredible journey to get here and I’ve met so many amazing people along the way. Here a few of them:

  • Bertram Henry was a learner in Manchester. He suffered a breakdown and could barely bring himself to leave the house. Eventually, he felt up to visiting the Jobcentre and they recommended he go along to his local Online Centre, First Asian Support Trust (FAST). He completed lots of courses on Learn My Way, improving his knowledge and confidence. Now he’s been able to find a job as well. Bertram says: “I feel bright in the morning now, because I’ve got somewhere to go, and something constructive to do. I’m not down in the dumps anymore”

Hear Bertram’s story, and how happy he was to win one of our 2 Millionth Learner Awards: 

  • Edith Ball from Preston learned digital skills at her local Online Centre – The Intact Centre. She was cautious about getting online but now there’s no stopping her – she’s using Skype and emails to talk to family abroad, surfing the internet to find out all sorts of information, and much more. She’s delighted with her new skills and is much less lonely as a result. Edith says: “Before I came here, I just sat in the house on my own, but coming to the IT classes brings me out of the house and gives me something interesting to do. I’m never bored and I enjoy everything I do there. I do still get a bit nervous using the computers but I would recommend it to anyone. The whole world is there online – you’ve just got to have the courage to go in and look!”

Hear more about Edith’s journey from the lady herself in this video, released as part of Get Online Week: 

  • Rory Whittaker from Lincolnshire is a young contract farmer. He learned digital skills with his local Online Centre Lincs Training to diversify his business in new and exciting ways, meaning he can be profitable all year round. Rory says: “For all businesses in today’s current climate, evolution is vital, and even more so if you’re a rural business. You don’t want to get left behind. You need constant financial and time investment and you need to learn how to do things more easily. I think the best way to grow a business is to find a model that works and apply it to what you know. Having great people and great projects supporting you like Rich and the team from Lincs Training makes that journey even better.”

See more of Rory’s story in this video, released as part of the Get Online Week campaign: 

An incredible journey

It has been a real journey to get to 1 million, made possible by the hard work and dedication of the 5,000-strong Online Centres Network. 80% of the people they’ve supported face some form of social exclusion, including poverty, low skills or a disability.

The programme has helped people to achieve a range of positive outcomes, with 86% of learners progressing to further learning, 76% increasing their employability, 60% improving their health and wellbeing, and 84% able to use public services online.

Our recently released Economic impact of Digital Inclusion in the UK report found that the benefits of learning digital skills are endless. From time savings (undertaking financial and government transactions online could mean an estimated value of £1.1bn saved by 2028), NHS savings (the more people that can use the online world to help manage their health, the more savings can be made – estimated at £141 million by 2028) and transaction benefits (being able to shop online, taking advantage of discounts and more, could collectively save people across the UK an estimated £1.1 billion by 2028).

Digital skills are so important in many aspects of life and reaching 1 million learners through the Future Digital Inclusion programme is an incredible achievement. I am so proud. Thank you to the Good Things team, the Online Centres Network, but most of all, the learners for being so brave and having the confidence to take that first step into online life.

There is still more to be done though. 11.3 million UK adults still lack at least one basic digital skill and 4.3 million have no digital skills at all. We will continue supporting Online Centres to help learners to make the most of the online world, but this is something that needs collaboration and, of course, the ‘F’ word (funding).

It’s not just about supporting people to be more digitally able and it’s not just about the new skills they’ve learned – it is what people can do with these skills that matters, and how they can apply them to their lives – to be digitally active – to apply for work for example, or to email a family member who lives far away, or join an online forum to help them lose weight and reduce their risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

At Good Things, we want everyone to be digitally equal – so they can participate in the digital society like others can and do. If people aren’t digitally equal, they’re excluded from an increasingly digital society. We don’t want this to happen – and so we’re campaigning for a 100% digital nation. These million people we’re celebrating today brings us that one step closer.

NHS Long-Term Plan: Prevention and saving lives through digital and in the community

This morning, I got a letter from my doctor. I’m perfectly well, so it was a bit of a surprise to receive. The letter said (I paraphrase) that he hadn’t seen me for a while and he was wondering how I was getting on, that he knew I was busy and so if I preferred having a chat on the phone that would be fine. This has never happened to me before and asking around the team, it doesn’t seem to have happened to any of my colleagues either. Is this a new approach to preventing illness rather than just curing it? As it happened on the same day as the NHS’s Long-Term Plan, it definitely got me thinking about the importance of prevention and personalised care, and the role both digital and community support can play in this.

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Tim Brazier, our Head of Service Design, shows residents in Nailsea how they can use digital health resources, as part of the NHS Widening Digital Participation programme

The Long Term Plan really resonated with me. It’s great to see the level of ambition and the focus on digital, prevention and community. It’s really well thought through, it’s clear, and it should help to save lives. It has also made me realise (again) just how lucky we are to have a world class health service that’s free at the point of use. All praise for the NHS.

There are three big things that jumped out at me from the Plan: digital, prevention and community.

Digital, Prevention, Community

Digital, prevention, and community have been cornerstones of our approach over the last decade. We believe in a world where everyone benefits from digital, so it’s not surprising this is central to the work we do. And we achieve this through a movement of community-based organisations across the country who can tailor support based on the needs of the people they’re helping. By doing this, we are helping to prevent a range of issues – from loneliness through to mental health issues, poverty and a lack of skills. We’re preventing people from becoming even more excluded. I’m pleased that the NHS is recognising the importance and value of both digital and community, and the crucial role they can play in the prevention of illness.

Opportunities and risks

There is no doubt that digital technology offers huge opportunities to improve health and healthcare in the UK. But there is a word of warning to those who are hoping to build a digital-first service – and there are some hard lessons to be learned from the digitalisation of Universal Credit as we build a ‘digital first’ NHS.

The plan states that the NHS will ensure technologies work for everyone including people who are the most ‘technology averse’. But this is no simple feat. Digital First is a great ambition as long as it’s for everybody. Understanding and building services for those with no or very low digital skills is a huge challenge – but one that must be met in order to ensure that this ambitious plan can be realised.

A digital NHS for everybody

There are 11.3m people in the UK who do not have basic online skills such as being able to search for information, fill out a form or send an email. These people are more likely to be older, poorer and living with disabilities, to be at risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes, depression and anxiety, and so it follows that they are more likely to need health services and support.

Our research shows that there is a complex set of digital and social barriers to people engaging with and using digital technology. Factors such as poverty, low literacy levels, lack of basic English skills, poor mental health and low confidence and self-esteem can all play a part. I want these people to enjoy a great health service and better health, as well as people like me who know how to navigate the health services I need (although my GP preferred letters and a chat over the phone.

The good news for Matt Hancock is that we’re here to help. I hope 2019 is the year that we can do just that, helping Matt, Simon Stevens, and their team to understand how to join up the hyperlocal informal health ecosystem and the formal work of the NHS. We really think we’ve discovered a way to blend the very human-centred support (offline) with the great online and offline formal support on offer from the NHS. Through our delivery of the NHS Widening Digital Participation Programme, working in partnership with local health systems, community and voluntary sector partners and national partners, we have been learning about the potential of technology to create the conditions where people feel more empowered to manage and improve their health and wellbeing and to access services where and when they need them.

Prevention in the community

It’s not just the NHS that has a role in helping people to find their own journey to better health and to avoiding potential health issues. We work with thousands of community partners, in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country, who are helping these people every day. Often this is about partnerships between the NHS and local community partners. Simon Harris, for example, has lost weight and reduced his blood sugar level by developing his digital confidence after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

In the first phase of our NHS Widening Digital Participation Programme (2013-2016) over 221,000 people were supported to go online and use digital health resources saving over £6m for the NHS in just one year and just by shifting the channel they used away from more expensive NHS support to the cheaper and more appropriate support channel – which might be online or the local pharmacist.

Over the last 18 months, we have supported a range of innovative pathfinders across the country, testing new ways of enabling some of the most excluded groups in our society to benefit from digital health resources. All the findings are available on our Digital Health Lab site.   

We worked with Stoke CCG to explore using social media to increase the uptake of breast cancer screening where early detection can significantly improve outcomes. The results saw a 13% increase in uptake of screenings in a deprived area, against a declining national trend.

We supported Nailsea Town Council to bring digital health to the high street developing a high street digital health hub  – connecting people with each other and with the digital resources they need to live well. One man living with dementia was able to learn how to use Skype to communicate with his family. As he was able to read visual signs, this was a much more successful way of communicating.

In Hastings, we worked with the Seaview Project and their partners to enable people who are sleeping rough to access the health services and information they need – resulting in a whole range of positive results which will have a preventative impact in the long term, including improving eating habits to help prevent diabetes to learning how to take blood pressure medication correctly.

The learnings from NHS Widening Digital Participation, and our wider digital and social inclusion programmes, show us that to fully harness the potential of a ‘digital first’ NHS for the most socially and digitally excluded people in our society, approaches to lifting barriers need to be person-centred, community-based and enabled through trusted relationships.

Launching the next five pathfinders

We are pleased to announce that in the next 18 months we will be spreading this hyperlocal digital health hub model in five more local health and care systems across the country;

North West London, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Staffordshire, Blackburn.

We’ll be stress testing what we’ve learned in other areas to see if this digital health hub model could be replicated and scaled up. There will be more news on our Digital Health Lab as these hyperlocal pathfinders get underway.

Better health for everyone: digital, prevention, community

So well done Matt, Simon and your hard-working teams. Well done for delivering a world-class health service every day for all of us. Well done for a great Ten Year Plan. Well done for consulting with people outside the NHS. But, I think you can do better. Let’s work for a truly hyperlocal health system that joins up informal and formal support – both locally and nationally – to help us build a digital health service, run by the NHS with the community. That will really be a world-class health system that works for everyone.

Wrapping up 2018 for Good Things Foundation

Tis the season to look back at the year we’ve had at Good Things Foundation. Earlier this month we celebrated our seventh birthday, and I’m so proud of our teams on both sides of the world. Seven feels like such a turning point, and what a good year we’ve had to show it.

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My Good Things UK colleagues cutting the annual birthday cake


Here are my top five of so many wonderful moments:

  • Celebrating English My Way’s successes

In February we usually host a smaller digital inclusion campaign – think of it as Get Online Week’s little sister – but this year we decided to do something a bit different and we hosted a campaign called Hip Hip Hooray for English My Way. This one focussed on our big social inclusion project which helps people who live in the UK and who can’t speak any English to learn to speak and read English and help them to integrate more into their local communities. The fab titled Hip Hip Hooray for English My Way campaign asked members of the Online Centres Network who are delivering English My Way to host parties and celebrate their learners’ successes, using a special party pack provided by us. There was bunting! I visited an event at Zest for Work in Sheffield and was blown away by the dedication of both the team running the course and the learners themselves and all of the food the people had brought along representing dozens of countries from around the world. It was an inspirational time.

  • Welcoming new faces to the Good Things Foundation family

This was a year of growth. We’ve expanded right across the digital and social inclusion sphere and that means we’ve welcomed lots of great new people into the Good Things family. And what a great bunch they are! I’m delighted by the enthusiasm and commitment they all have to our aim of a world where everyone can benefit from digital. Once again, to all the new people, we’re delighted to have you on board. To all of the not-so-new staff members at Good Things, you’re brilliant and fabulous, and passionate and committed too, thank you once again for another year of hard work.

  • Hitting 2,000 network partners in Australia

In 2017 we ventured out to Australia, establishing a new Australian subsidiary and winning a contract to run the Be Connected Network, supporting older Australians to use computers and the internet. There has been a crazy amount of hard work gone into getting everything set up, recruiting our team in Sydney, and persuading thousands of organisations to be part of the Be Connected Network. We had a target of 2,000 Network Partners and at the end of October, we did it! And of course, that number is still rising. What a huge achievement by the teams on both sides of the world. A big congratulations to everyone who made this happen and here’s to the hundreds of thousands of older people who will now be able to benefit from using the internet. Find out more about Good Things Australia here.

  • Get Online Week is 12 and goes global

This year may have seen the UK celebrating it’s 12th annual Get Online Week but it was very exciting that we also went global to bring the campaign to Australia as well. Not only were people being supported to #Try1Thing new online through 2,298 events in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but 768 events were also held across Australia by 570 community organisations to support people there too. Incredible achievements from both Good Things teams and all of the organisations that hosted events to support learners.

  • Awards, awards and more awards

We have been very lucky on the award front this year. Not only did we scoop a Women in IT Award, a Charity Times Award and a Connected Britain Award, in the last few weeks we won two awards at the Learning Technology Awards – the bronze for Best Blended Learning Product and our Learning Team won the gold for Team of the Year. The work that we do is very rewarding in itself but it’s been brilliant to receive this recognition. Congratulations to all.

On top of all of this, we had our amazing Digital Evolution conference; we continued to support people to learn digital skills through our FDI programme; we’re working on a brilliant project with DCMS to create a ‘Playbook’ for local digital skills provision (if you’d like to contribute, you can do so here); we ran a wonderful programme to support women to find their voice and participate in society and democracy, called Voicebox Cafes; we’re working on the local, as well as the global level, in Leeds, Salford, and Stockport; our NHS Widening Digital Participation project has been testing even more innovative approaches to tackling health inequalities in hyperlocal digital and human health systems with medical practitioners, CCGs, and Online Centres, and talking about our findings in the open on our digital-health-lab; of course we’re also working with partners in Kenya; and so much more. (No wonder we’re all looking forward to a rest this Christmas!)

We have continued to work with fabulous national partners who share our vision at Lloyds Banking Group, Mind, Homeless Link, TalkTalk, and Google, as well as new partners too.

And there are even more super exciting things in the wings that I can’t tell you about yet!!!

Thank you to everyone who has worked to make good things happen over the course of 2018.

I can’t wait to do it all again – and more – in 2019.

Digital. Social. Global.

Last week we hosted our Digital Evolution conference in the BT Centre. It was great to have tech evangelist and Desert Island Discs superstar, Professor Sue Black chairing the day. I have known Sue for a long time and knew she would be an exciting and engaging addition to our line-up. She did not disappoint. Sue, you did an excellent job chairing the day and we were so happy to have you there. Thank you.

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Me with Dr Sue Black and Victoria Rodney of the Mercy Foundation in London. Image courtesy of Victoria Rodney.

There were so many brilliant speakers who all set out to inspire the audience and share their experiences to bring new ideas and learning to the delegates.

A definite highlight of the day for me was meeting members of the Online Centres Network, as always. You might have been inspired by the speakers but you all inspire me. What you do every day, helping disadvantaged people to make the most of everything digital has to offer, to find work, to make new friends, to build their confidence … that’s just to name a few things, you are amazing and it was so brilliant to speak with you. If I didn’t manage to catch you on the day, I’m always happy to chat. Tweet me at @helenmilner.

Some delegates even came from as far as Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands! The conference was called Digital. Social. Global after all, and it was great to welcome faces from afar. And it was great that Jess Wilson, our National Director in Good Things in Sydney was there and shared some stories and experiences from Australia.

For those who couldn’t make our conference, you can catch up on the different sessions below. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Learning. Reflecting. Celebrating.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year. No, I’m not feeling prematurely festive but right on the coattails of another fantastic Get Online Week, it’s now time to think about our annual Digital Evolution conference. This year we’re calling it Digital Evolution: Digital. Social. Global and it’s taking place on Wednesday 21 November, at our regular venue of the BT Centre in the City of London.

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The conference has become an essential date in many people’s diaries, and, now into its seventh year, it’s an event you don’t want to miss. Not only is it an opportunity for us to bring together Online Centres, partners and stakeholders to celebrate all we’ve achieved over the last year, it’s also a chance to get inspiration for the future. Our speakers, panellists and delegates always come brimming with questions, ideas and ambition for their communities.

As an organisation Good Things Foundation has expanded hugely over the years – we now have a bigger team and broader horizons. Social inclusion and tackling social challenges through digital is a huge focus for our work.

We’ve also gone global. Good Things Foundation Australia has had an incredible first year (more on that next week), and we have a successful pilot in Kenya moving into its second year. As such, it seemed only fitting for this year’s conference to reflect these changes.

Self-described digital evangelist Dr Sue Black will be chairing the event. I’ve known Sue for many years now, and she’s a true inspiration and a real leader on the UK tech scene. I know she’s going to bring lots of energy, experience and knowledge, so I’m delighted to have her as part of the day.

During the day we’ll be discussing some new research we’re launching around limited internet users and how we can support them. We’ll be showcasing what’s new in the digital and social inclusion sectors, as well as what’s happening overseas as well. Plus, there’ll be a chance to network with peers, partners and friends – over coffee, lunch and even a glass of wine at the end of the day.

And following popular demand, we’ll also be bringing back our Design Studios – where we’ll be helping community organisations to develop practical ways to tackle some of the challenges they’re facing, leaving them with tactics we hope can make a real difference to the people they support.

The conference completely sold out last year, and we’re expecting this year to be the same, so make sure you book your tickets as soon as possible. They’re available on Eventbrite here.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Another spectacular Get Online Week

We’ve now closed the curtain on our twelfth annual Get Online campaign  – and what a week it’s been.

This year has marked several big achievements, including:

  • Going global: for the first time ever, Get Online Week has taken place in Australia as well as the UK
  • Exciting new marketing materials: sponsorship from Lloyds Banking Group meant we were able to provide event holders with tote bags, headphones and selfie frames
  • A campaign within a campaign: Get Online Week has fallen at the same time as our Bridging the Digital Divide campaign, meaning we’re raising double the awareness of digital exclusion.

A tour around Aus – #GOLWroadshow18

In Australia, members of our team went out to visit different events all across the country. This might not seem like such a big thing to us here in the UK, but with Australia being around 32 times bigger than the UK, it’s no mean feat!

National Director Jess braved a smaller aeroplane than most of us are used to, to make it to Canberra, and Partnerships Manager Cass was off to Adelaide. Meanwhile, Bridget made it all the way to Perth in Western Australia – almost 4,000 miles from Good Things Australia HQ in Sydney!

There were so many different events, from your familiar Get Online Week drop-in session to a ‘BBQ & Digital Skills’ or a ‘Digital Scavenger Hunt’. With 570 organisations registered and 768 events on the map, it was a spectacular first campaign for the Get Online Week Australia team.

GOLW-Aus

And in the UK…

The Good Things Foundation team were out and about at libraries, social housing providers, funding roadshows and more. We also made full use of the selfie frame in the office by seeing how many people we could squeeze into one picture!

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How many Good Things staff members can we fit into one picture? Lots!

My colleague Chris Andersson had a particularly good visit to Keighley in West Yorkshire where he met Barabara who’d seen an advert that Online Centre Airedale Enterprise Services had placed in the local newspaper.

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Barbara gets online to #Try1Thing

 

Barbara was a complete online beginner but had been bought an iPad by family members. Like many, however, she’d found that family are not always the most patient teachers so she jumped at the offer of free and friendly support. She was more than happy to board the community bus where the event was taking place and #Try1Thing!

There’s been lots of amazing activity taking place across the Online Centres Network and beyond, and I have loved seeing what you’ve been up to. Here are some of my favourite pictures that were posted throughout the week:

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Bridging the Digital Divide

This year, Get Online Week couldn’t have come at a better time – right in the middle of our Bridging the Digital Divide campaign. Just in case you haven’t heard of it, this is our big call to action for Government and other organisations to commit to the target of getting 100% of the UK digitally included, and to take steps to help us reach this target. Get Online Week is one way we can contribute to achieving this.   

Today, 11.3 million adults in the UK still lack the essential digital skills that are necessary for life and work. I’m delighted that these two big initiatives we’re running can work together to have an even bigger impact.

If you want to know more about Bridging the Digital Divide and what you can do to support it, take a look here.

Thank you!

Once again, thank you for making this another amazing Get Online Week and for helping us to reach more people with digital skills and confidence.

See you again next year.