On Monday this week, the House of Lords select committee on digital skills published their final report Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future. I like it. It’s yet more evidence, more clever and respected people saying we need more focus, leadership and resources to deliver digital inclusion. The House of Lords select committee on digital skills say:
We consider that the Government has a responsibility to accelerate the attainment of digital literacy across the population. Future governments must have the ambition to achieve this to realise the UK’s economic potential. It must not stop there; changing technologies demand constant updating of expertise. The Government is responsible for ensuring the UK’s population keeps pace with the best in the world.
It’s now exactly a year since we were in the House of Lords at the launch of the Tinder Foundation & Go On UK report ‘A Leading Digital Nation by 2020: Calculating the cost of delivering online skills for all’.
The premise of the report, written by independent economic consultant Catherine McDonald, was to put a price on digital inclusion. Much work had been done on economically costing out the benefits, but we wanted to calculate what 100% digital inclusion would cost to deliver, in real terms. In the most basic of summaries, the answer was £875m – yes, for everyone. And we suggested that price should be split three ways between the public, private, and the voluntary and community sectors.
The report, of course, goes into far more detail and you can read it in full here and you can download the mathematical model itself too.
What I can say with some confidence that the report has indeed had some appreciable impact on the digital inclusion landscape in the twelve months since it’s publication – including on the House of Lords report. We may not have secured the £875m investment, but we have provided more evidence for many of the key players in this field about the cost/benefit ratio of inclusion.
Some of the other places the seed of our ideas have grown and flourished include:
- The Labour Digital Review also used the costings to support their recommendation that the government should use the savings from digital service delivery to fund digital inclusion to ensure that we get as many people online as we can by 2020.
- Policy Exchange’s Tech Manifesto also used the data to showcase that the government should be digging deeper to ensure that we can end digital exclusion for everyone, particularly those who face social barriers.
- Tech UK’s in manifesto for growth and jobs – Securing our Digital Future. Recommendation 24 in the report is to Deliver on ‘digital for everyone’ by fully funding a comprehensive digital inclusion strategy, they note that there needs to be a contribution from the private and the third sector however the government will be the biggest beneficiary so need to step up to the plate to get the digital inclusion ball rolling.
- Meanwhile, the UK Digital Skills Taskforce report published in July last year also referenced the report when commenting that “the possible benefits to the Government, to businesses and to our society are so considerable that we must make this investment”.
- And of course in the House of Lords select committee report Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future.
It’s fair to say that ALL the evidence collected around digital inclusion has all been part of it’s ongoing development as a policy area – and increasing support. There are other key pieces of work that very recently have contributed to how these issues are understood – like BT’s work to establish the social return on investment for digital inclusion (some £1,064 per person a year).
It seems somewhat ironic to me that a large corporation like BT should have taken on the social benefits angle while a small social enterprise like Tinder Foundation focussed in on the financial argument and economic costs, but I feel this was an important job for us to do. We needed to help people understand the investment bit of the equation, not just the benefits bit, and create a rounded argument.
I have, in the past, been accused of being “a fluffy, left-wing do-gooder” (specifically by an Independent journalist). None of this offends me in the least. Because for me, the people realising the benefits – the Edwards, Charlies, the Maritas, the Bettys – will always be the bottom line. But I do understand that for others the bottom line is the £££ bottom line – it has to be. I am not naive. Sure, I’m an optimist, but I’m also a realist. And I won’t ever apologise for seeing the reality of the tough lives some people live, or the potential for technology to change those lives them for the better. In reality, though, whatever shade or blend of government we end up with in 100 days time, there will still be a deficit to deal with, and some tough spending decisions to make.
I hope that between us all, we have proven over the last 12 months that investing in digital inclusion – however you look at it – just adds up.
Right now, at Tinder Foundation we’re continuing to think deeply about how we articulate the vision for investment for everyone in Treasury speak, helping those on the wrong side of digital divide to help the UK economy. I strongly believe that a digital nation is a win/win situation – social good AND economic sense – but I am also conscious it still remains our burden of proof. There are interesting times ahead.
Bring it on.