Transforming people’s lives, building a stronger economy

This is my speech from Tinder Foundation’s Digital Evolution: Building a digital nation conference. 

We’re all here as we share the same passion and the same ambition. We all want everyone in the UK to have the opportunities and benefits of digital.

It wouldn’t be the Tinder Foundation conference if we didn’t launch our annual infographic with all the stats and facts you need if you’re thinking about digital inclusion. That great chasm – that cleft, an abyss – between the people who benefit from basic digital skills and those who don’t is a fitting metaphor for the divided society we live in and the wasted opportunity that we as a nation are facing.

Digital Nation infographic

This year there are a few differences – and one is the number of people lacking basic digital skills has gone up! It’s a good thing .. believe me. Thanks to our very good friends at Go On UK we now have a clear definition of the five basic digital skills and a robust measure of who’s lacking them. 12.6m people – that’s 1 in 5 adults who need support.

Of course it’s a picture of exclusion but it’s also important to have the stats on the benefits too. A report we published earlier this week shows the economic benefit to the NHS for everyone having basic digital skills is £131 million a year.

We commissioned economists CEBR to measure the net present value of everyone in the UK having basic digital skills. Digital is an amazing benefit but also a huge threat as it levels the playing field and makes the economic competition truly global.

Here’s the maths. Taking the cost of investment, the benefits to people and to government the NPV (net present value) is over £14 billion, or £2.5 bn a year from 2024. We’re facing a new industrial revolution and digital is the architect – with all jobs and all workplaces underpinned by digital.

Today is the spending review announcement we know that Cameron has already pledged £1.7 bn in broadband over the next five years, let’s see today if George Osborne will announce investment in the people and the new basic skills they need to use that infrastructure and to fuel this new, digital £2.5 bn annual productivity boost.

Let’s not talk about digital inclusion – it makes people think of technology and this is a revolution about people. It’s not digital inclusion, it’s about transforming people’s lives, and about building a stronger economy.

It’s about people like Pat and Wendy who use digital to make the NHS work better for them and to improve their health and Mike who had no hope for a job moving to multiple job offers. It’s about transforming their lives and the hundreds and thousands of people helped every day across the country by organisations – community organisations and libraries – like many of you in the room today.

Every single person having the opportunity to be part of this digital revolution, every person making our economy stronger.

Can we afford not to invest in digital inclusion?

Two years ago, we commissioned A leading digital nation by 2020 – a report which, for the first time, set out the cost of getting everyone in the UK online. The report has been instrumental in helping us, and other partners in the sector, to make the argument for further investment in digital inclusion. It was a core part of Labour’s Digital Manifesto in the run up to May’s general election, and Policy Exchange and TechUK both featured it strongly in their manifestos in the run up to the election. It’s also given me the chance to chat to lots of partners across various sectors about how we get the investment we need for digital inclusion.

It’s become clear that not only do we need to need to know the cost, but we also need to be able to clearly measure the value this will translate into – for individuals, and for the UK economy as a whole. And this is why we commissioned expert economic researchers CEBR to examine the economic impact of digital skills for all.

I’m pleased that I can share the resulting report today. As we anticipated when we commissioned the report, the benefits are huge. In terms of productivity alone, there is a benefit of £358 million per year for individuals, and £243 million per year for government in additional revenue (from 2024 onwards). And the cost savings that government will realise from tax receipts and NHS savings alone will mean the investment will pay for itself. Coming just ahead of Wednesday’s Spending Review, I hope this figure will make government sit up and listen, and commit to further funding for digital skills activity.

These savings are on top of the huge social benefits to individuals of basic digital skills, from reduced isolation through to cost savings (£143 per person, per year), and time savings (30 minutes per person per transaction).

Digital is bringing about a new industrial revolution, and all jobs and workplaces are now underpinned by digital technology. This means it’s vital that we can provide people with the skills they need to both find employment, and to use digital technology on a day to day basis in their work, leading to major rewards not only for individuals, but also for national productivity. We strongly believe the UK government needs to set out a bold ambition of reaching a 100% digitally skilled nation, to ensure we’re not left behind as other nations make huge strides towards the same goal. The quicker we get there, the bigger the prize for the UK and our global competitiveness, so it’s now vital that we can accelerate current programmes, and make a significant financial and strategic commitment to reaching this milestone. This report follows quick on the heels of David Cameron’s recent pledge to invest £1.7 billion in fast broadband for all. Investment for digital skills must go hand in hand with broadband, to ensure we can realise the maximum benefit.

We need clear and committed leadership from government, and a cross-departmental digital inclusion strategy backed up by a clear action plan and financial investment. But it’s not the job of government along. This commitment should be back up with support from both the private and the voluntary sector, who have equally important roles to play.

What’s most important now is what comes next. This report provides a clear rationale for investment – the question in no longer whether we can afford to get everyone in the UK online, but whether we can afford not to.


Read the full report: The economic impact of Basic Digital Skills and inclusion in the UK

Join the Evolution

In just over two weeks, myself and the Tinder Foundation team will be joined at London’s BT Centre by thought-provoking leaders from the field of digital, and inspiring digital inclusion practitioners from our network of community partners, for our annual conference, aptly titled Digital Evolution: Building a digital nation.

At a time when more and more services are moving online, and the benefits of digital are clearer than ever, digital inclusion has never been more important. Our work, the work of our community partners, and those who will be sharing their ideals at the conference, is really helping to ensure we can build a digital nation that leaves no-one behind.

However, there is always more we can do – in terms of recognising good ideas, scaling them up, joining up the dots, and just giving each other a pat on the back for what we’ve achieved so far. And this is what the Digital Evolution conference is aiming to do.


What’s happening on the day

Looking at the agenda for the day, I’m thrilled at how nicely it’s shaped up. There are three core themes to the day – ‘Digital for life’, ‘Digital for society’ and ‘Digital for change’ – with lots of interesting speakers and discussions talking around these topics. These discussions will cover how we can make good things happen with digital here and now, how we can look forward to creating a sustainable digital nation for the future, and, most importantly, how we can all work together to make this happen.

The speakers

Last year, Maggie Philbin, co-founder and CEO of TeenTech CIC, delivered a powerful and engaging keynote speech. This year she’s returning as our conference chair and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Maggie is someone I admire hugely – she knows loads about technology, and she shares my beliefs of a society where everyone has the opportunity to benefit from it. We’ve also got a range of other fascinating speakers, including Beverley Bryant from NHS England, Ed Vaizey MP, and Nick Williams from Lloyds Banking Group, who will all have lots to share.

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You can see the specifics of the day here, including the agenda. We’re quickly moving towards a sold out event, and our pre-conference event, which is taking place at Facebook HQ the evening before, is a great opportunity to network with other like minded individuals on an informal basis – this is also looking likely to sell out. If you haven’t booked yet, please do so as soon as possible – I’d really hate for anyone to miss out.

I look forward to seeing you there!