People power: Enabling the Digital Agenda

Can Government expect the ‘Digital by Default’ agenda to be fulfilled if it doesn’t leverage digital channels itself? Of course not, which is why I was pleased that the recent Digital Friends initiative, launched by the Cabinet Office and the Government Digital Service, is urging civil servants in particular to get involved. I’m also pleased that many organisations including the BBC, BT, Lloyds Banking Group and Tinder Foundation are involved… To continue reading my thoughts on enabling the Digital Agenda visit Your Ready Business where this blog was originally published.

The Scandinavian Digital Inclusion Experience

Last week I was at Inkluderaflera in Copenhagen sharing successes and experiences with digital inclusion policy makers and practitioners from across Scandinavia. Quite often I quote the high digital user stats from Norway as a shining beacon of what is possible – “if Norway can have 96% of their population as digital users then why can’t the UK?”. I was in Denmark and they too have 96% of their population online too. So I was surprised to hear they thought that they had things to learn from us.

I learned many things from the Scandinavian Experience, but one big take away is around digital by default. In Denmark they have decided to scrap paper correspondence with all citizens. Everyone has a national ID number and a digital post box. Everyone has to use it. On first look it’s very much like our own Gov.UK, but it’s obligatory and personalised. Here’s their page to set up the ‘digital box’ and digital signature.

I think the UK Government should think about doing this too; the Danes have shown it’s possible. This scale of obligation then makes helping those who can’t use digital services essential and not just a nice-to-have.

So what can we learn about the Danish experience?

  • People can apply for an exception if you really can’t interact with Government online: 11% of Danes have applied and been successfully granted an exception
  • Plus there are others who have applied for a family member to be officially allowed to go onto the digital box and help a loved one to use it

Three groups of people have problems using the online system – and the Danish Government have developed initiatives for them:

  • Young People (who have no intellectual understanding of why they would want to interact with Government)
  • Recent immigrants with no Danish and poor/no education in country of origin
  • Socially excluded such as homeless people and others.

Young people having a problem was a big surprise. But they have tackled it by designing the Digital ABC  where all 15 year olds get a paper letter on their 15th birthday to tell them that they have to go online to engage with Government.

Helen copenhagen blog 4





Helen Copenhagen 5






The big difference between the UK and Denmark is scale. We have almost as many people in the UK without basic digital skills (10m) than the total population of Denmark and Norway combined (5.6m + 5m = 10.6m). If we could do what we do in the UK (with the right investment) then we could wipe out the 220,000 digitally excluded in Denmark in a year – since we currently help around 220,000 people a year in the UK. Right? Wrong.

Wrong because the number is actually much bigger than 220,000. Just like in the UK the big issue isn’t about helping people take their first few steps in the online world – nor is it about broadband availability for the majority – it’s about what people can do online. It’s about relevant and purposeful use of the internet. Digital inclusion is helping people to be confident and independent users of the internet to do whatever they want to do today and what they will need to do tomorrow and next month and next year. The Scandinavians want to learn from us as we all need to crack helping the whole population to be confident and frequent users of the internet – and that’s hard.

It’s great to hear that we’re world class in what we do in the UK – even in the eyes of those who we think have achieved so much. But it just brings home how big the task is and how we really need to accelerate our pace in the UK if we’re not going to leave millions behind.

As always happy to share my slides with complete freedom for people to download, edit and use. Here are my slides from the conference in Copenhagen.

Jeremy Hunt should listen to this woman

There’s been a lot of discussion in the last 48 hours around the fact Jeremy Hunt, whose views on health – and mental health in particular – never fail to reach the headlines, is to remain as health secretary. It also happens to be Mental Health Awareness Week.

Last week I had some minor surgery done at my local NHS hospital in Sheffield. I was a day patient for over eight hours, and throughout that time I was treated and cared for by a wonderful team. I left that day feeling very lucky to have access to the wonderful NHS – a resource that is so easy to take for granted. (I’m fine by the way.)

I am fortunate that my job allows me to see so many examples of the great work the NHS does through Tinder Foundation’s Widening Digital Participation Programme.

The programme, which is heading into its third year:

  • Has reached 235,465 people to raise awareness of digital health resources
  • 140,892 people have been trained to manage their health online
  • 51% of those people taking part have been able to explore new ways of improving their mental health

If numbers aren’t really your thing, then I’d recommend watching this brilliant video and hearing directly from some of the people that have benefitted.

Jeremy Hunt, you should watch this video and if you’re really pushed for time, fast-forward to 2:00 minutes to hear one of my favourite quotes from a woman who makes a lot of sense.


I’m proud to say that the Widening Digital Participation Programme has been nominated for an award at the Digital Leaders 100.

I’m so pleased that the hard work and dedication of our team, including the UK online centres, and NHS England is being recognised through this prestigious industry award. If you’ve got another couple of minutes please do head across to their website and give us a vote.

Roger: a long journey to hope

One cold, dark, rainy Friday morning in January, I got onto the 7.27am train from Sheffield to London and sat at a table opposite a woman. I had those “winter blues”; too many months without proper sunshine, catching early morning trains, and Friday is usually the day when I get to see the team in the office.

After a while the woman opposite and I got talking. She worked for NHS England and was also feeling tired having stayed up until 2am working on an important document. The first nice thing was that she had heard positive things about Tinder Foundation and our NHS England Widening Participation programme. The second nice thing was that I found myself talking about the work I do – with the team, and with the thousands of community partners that we have – and about the impact of that work. One person I talked about in particular was Roger Hamilton, and his remarkable story.

Roger Hamilton

Roger Hamilton

The first time I met Roger was at an event at the House of Commons that we hosted back in 2012, where he was working at St Mungo’s homeless charity (now St Mungo’s Broadway). He had returned to the UK after spending some time in Jamaica, and found himself without work, without friends and family, and without anywhere to live.

He spent ten years homeless, sofa surfing, living in hostels, and some time rough sleeping, and this chaotic lifestyle led to poor health and to despair. In 2010 he found his way to St Mungo’s, where he found shelter and support, and he then visited a local UK online centre (Holborn Library) where he learned how to use the internet and he found hope.

Roger told me that when he was living in Jamaica, computers and the internet were luxuries. When he came back to London he didn’t have the skills to participate in society, and he didn’t have the skills he needed to find work. Roger got the basics of how to use the internet at the UK online centre in Holborn Library, using Learn My Way; he was then supported by St Mungo’s to get more skills.

He felt empowered, he felt in touch with the world, and he found himself supporting other people at St Mungo’s to keep motivated to get the skills they need for an increasingly digital world. He began by volunteering and then moved into paid work as a tutor, but then he left St Mungo’s to move onto another job and we lost touch. I was so moved by Roger and how he spoke so eloquently and powerfully, and was so committed to helping other people to make the same transformative journey he had made, that I never forgot him.

Last year I was delighted to get an invitation to visit to St Mungo’s Broadway, because I have always been impressed with the work they do. I met with the CEO and his team, and then had a walk around their venue and met some people who were just beginning to use the internet and were feeling more positive about their futures. I asked one of the staff if they remembered Roger, she looked at me a bit confused, and said “he works here”. So, Roger had left and come back again. I was so happy to see him again and to hear about how well he was doing. He is now a Job Coach at St Mungo’s Broadway and he’s helping people there to gain skills, and dignity, and hope.

Roger working at St Mungo’s Broadway

Roger working at St Mungo’s Broadway

The woman on the train remarked on the huge cost to the NHS of homeless people, who often suffer poor health and piecemeal support from the health service. A 2012 report says that just one homeless person costs Government between £24,000 – £30,000 a year, and it’s likely that figure is now even higher. So policy makers can look at the fiscal benefits, as well as the human benefits, of helping just one person who (like Roger a few years ago) is homeless.

Roger’s story is so powerful, and I thought you too would like to feel this ray of sunshine whenever the sky near you is looking a bit grey and miserable, or you’re needing to hear how one man’s new found hope led him to help hundreds of others to take the same journey.

You can hear Roger tell his story in his own words.