Getting social housing residents online – why it’s important

Last Thursday I had the chance to speak at the Housing Technology Conference about the benefits of getting social housing tenants online (slides, as always, are available here – and you can also watch a video of the event here). It made me realise that I haven’t yet blogged about the work we do with social housing providers, and the huge digital gulf that exists for those living in social housing. Did you know that half of everyone who is offline lives in social housing?  It’s a pretty big number – and understandably these people could probably benefit the most from the money saving benefits, not to mention the social ones, that being online could bring.  

And there’s an incentive for housing organisation to get their tenants online too. I’ve talked before about being ‘digital by default’, and how moving services online can save the government money – and it’s not just the government who can save. If social housing providers can get their tenants online, they can start delivering better and more targeted services, which are often a lot more cost effective too. 

We’re making progress working with housing providers, and they’re making the right noises – 36% plan to write a digital strategy and 17% have a digital strategy already which has full organisational commitment (a pat on the back to them!). However, 16% do not have a digital strategy, although they’d like one, and 4% have no strategy, and no plans to put one in place. Which makes me think that some of these organisations might need a bit of a hand getting started. So of course we’re ready to lend one!

We’re inviting all those with a stake in getting people living in social housing online to join our Digital Housing Hub. It’s a neutral venue, so we won’t be bombarding you with messages about how good we are at getting people online (although we are!). It’s a place to share ideas and best practice, bounce ideas off others who have already done what you’re thinking of, and somewhere to network and meet others who are in the same boat. So whether you’re a social housing provider, a policy maker or you help people to get online yourself, do sign up. And once you have, don’t forget to shout up and tell us your ideas, because it’s by working together that we’ll make the most impact. 

Offline population decreases according to latest ONS statistics

It’s that time again, and this morning we’ve all been keenly waiting for the release of the latest ONS figures that show how many people in the UK have never accessed the internet. As we were hoping, it’s good news – the number of people who have never used the internet before has decreased to 8.2 million, down 229,000 on the previous quarter.

There are a few interesting things to note amongst today’s figures. The largest decrease in any age group was amongst those aged 55 – 64. I think this supports what I was talking about here last week – that more and more often,  people of this age are losing their jobs and realising they don’t have the vital skills they need to get back into work.  Unemployment figures have risen again this quarter, and now stand at a 16 year high. With 72% of employers saying they wouldn’t interview someone who was offline, using computers and the internet has never been more important if you’re looking for work.

Another important and worrying figure has emerged from today’s release-  just under half of the 8.2 million offline people – 3.98 million – are disabled adults. This represents 34.5% of the toal disabled population – a huge and disturbing proportion. These are people who, I believe, could benefit the most from the possibilities the internet has to offer. Unfortunately, it seems they’re still being left behind by technological advances and today’s figures prove there is still a vast amount of work to be done to help them get online. Of course, I’m all about action and not just words, and so in April we’ll be launching a Specialist Network of centres who will specifically support those with a disability to gain computer and internet skills, which we hope will have a huge impact on these communities.

So, while the figures are positive, and at UK online centres we’re certainly proud of our contribution to them, this is no excuse for us to rest on our laurels. We need to continue working harder, thinking smarter and doing more to bring this figure down and ensure we continue closing this gap and sharing the benefits of being online with everyone.  

The evidence is in: job seeking is harder if you’re offline

I’ve talked on my blog before about the work we do with Jobcentre Plus, and with our new campaign – New Year, new online you! – now in full swing it seems like the perfect time to talk about it again. Luckily, with the release of our new research report – commissioned from ICM – I’ve got a good excuse!

The report presented some really interesting facts – and for my lucky blog readers here are the most important ones. 72% of employers wouldn’t interview an entry level candidate who didn’t have computer and internet skills. That figure is huge and this number rises to 82% in Newcastle where unemployment rates are high and people are already struggling to find work. 

Our new report shows 25% of jobs are only advertised online, meaning offline job seekers can’t find a quarter of the jobs available. Again – it rises a lot higher in some areas. You’d be especially unlucky to be an offline job seeker in Liverpool where nearly half – 46% – of all vacancies are only advertised online. I talk a lot about the importance of digital skills, I do believe what I preach,  but even I was shocked to discover that being offline in Liverpool means you’re missing out on almost half of available jobs. 

That’s why our campaign, and our ongoing partnership with Jobcentre Plus is so important. Hearing it from me is all well and good, but take it from the horse’s mouth and have a look at some of these case studies that show just how much of a difference being online has made to a group of really inspiring job seekers. John Shrimplin, one jobseeker from Newcastle who has found work thanks to getting online says: “I honestly think the internet is the only way to find work now. You only have to go to the job centre to see that everything is ‘apply online’ or ‘email your CV’. Before I learnt how to use computers, I just wasn’t hearing back from employers at all and it really could be quite disheartening.”

There are a lot of stats about job seeking and internet skills floating about, and we’ve been wading through a lot of them for the campaign. To try and make sense of all the numbers (my favourite job!) we’ve put together a paper that highlights the most important research in this area. I don’t think we can improve the job prospects of hundreds of thousands of the unemployed unless we do more about digital skills. Take a look at the paper here. 

A lot of people have recently told me how useful they find my Slideshare account, so I’ve put my favourite jobs and the internet stats into an easy-to-read format just for you. And it’s all free to download and use when you’re short of a slide or two.

I’m sure this isn’t the last time I’ll blog about unemployed people and their digital skills. Universal Credit is launching Autumn 2013 and will shake-up the benefits system, making it even more important for job seekers to be confident on the web. I’m open to debate so do share your views. 

Announcing…the OCF board

Amongst all of the other things we’ve been doing to get OCF up and running as a new organisation, before Christmas we put out the call for people who would be interested in sitting on the Online Centres Foundation board. There was a great response, and so (drumroll please…) I’m delighted I can now reveal our fantastic list of new board members.

Our chair will be Lord Knight of Weymouth, Jim Knight, Labour MP 2001-2010 and former Schools and then Employment Minister, and then becoming a Life Peer in 2010; Jim is currently working with ITN Consulting, TSL Education, Apple Europe, and Alderwood Education. Jim has long been a supporter of UK online centres, and is passionate about the benefits being online can provide to everyone.

Joining him will be five external board members:

Roger Darlington, Chair of the Digital Consumer Expert Group, Member for England on the Communications Consumer Panel, and Deputy Chair of the Policy Stakeholder Committee of Nominet.

Simon Milner, UK Policy Director at Facebook

William Perrin, Founder of Talk about Local and of the charity Indigo which works with technology developments in Africa

Nick Stanhope, CEO of We Are What We Do

Liz Williams, General Manager of Corporate Responsibility at BT

I was bowled over by the quality of the people wanting to sit on our board, and also their commitment and real passion for supporting the organisation and moving it forward to become a sustainable social enterprise. In the end, the candidates were so strong that we chose five external board members instead of the three we’d originally set out to find.

Of course, we wouldn’t be a staff-owned mutual without electing some staff directors, and so I can now introduce you to them as well:

Pete Carr is our Community Champions Manager and works on the community hub programmes for UK online centres. Pete was Director of Gloucestershire Open College Network before managing learndirect hubs.

Vic Stirling is the Quality and Audit Manager for UK online centres, and has lots of experience in managing networks and funding.

Charlotte Wheat is UK online centres’ Senior Marketing, Training and Communications Manager, and is an expert in running large-scale marketing campaigns, partnership working and building brands. Before joining UK online centres, Charlotte worked for The Princes Trust.

And I don’t want to be left out so, as Chief Executive, I’ll also be part of the board.

Bringing the board together is one of the things that’s exciting me the most about our new organisation, and I know that all of them – internal and external – will have a huge part to play in the future of Online Centres Foundation. Thank you to everyone who expressed an interest, and I don’t think I can stress enough just how flattered I am to have such big names wanting to play on our team. I can’t wait until out first board meeting.

Age UK Internet Champion awards

I took this photo on Monday night at the Age UK Internet Champion of the Year awards, something I was lucky enough to be asked to be a judge for. Awards were presented to the four wonderful people in the photo, and they all had very inspiring stories. I had a lovely chat to Brenda O’Mulloy, who you can see on the left, who first got a laptop after her husband died as she felt quite isolated. Amazingly, she had also been tracked down on Facebook by an American soldier who had stayed with her family during WW2 who she had lost touch with – and she was surprised everyone aged 82 wasn’t on Facebook!


The awards were presented by June Whitfield who said that to use the internet you need the “3 Ps” – patience, perserverance and practice – and these four champions certainly demonstrated that in spades! In the spirit of our new campaign,  New Year, new online you! I think the fourth “P” could stand for public services, which can help make a lot of things like learning about pensions or finding out about jobs a lot easier. I might be shoe-horning this reference in slightly, but you can read more about the campaign here and I’ll be blogging about it soon so do forgive the tenuous link. 

Congratulations to all the winners and runners up – I’m sure they will go on to inspire lots more people to get started online.