Conservative Party members are, as we speak, deciding who will be the next Prime Minister. And whilst most will have already decided, I know others are still waiting to hear how the two candidates – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt – respond on some key issues. While Brexit is the topic that is of course getting the most attention, there are many other important issues for our new Prime Minister – and I happen to think that digital inclusion is an important one. So, I’m writing this blog – sending it to both candidates – as I want to put a series of questions to them on how they plan to tackle an issue which could see the UK being left behind as the world becomes increasingly digital. So…
Dear Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt,
I want to ask you both what you would do, if Prime Minister, to address the digital inequalities in the UK. Although Mr Johnson you have committed to deliver better, faster broadband at an accelerated pace, there is also a deep divide between those who have the digital skills and confidence to benefit fully, and those who do not. The latest Ofcom release shows a 17% gap in internet use between adults in high and low socio-economic groups. Of people with zero digital skills, 46% earn less than £17,499 a year, and people with basic digital skills can expect a lifetime increase of their average earnings of 2.8%.
There are 11.9 million people in the UK who still don’t have essential digital skills; and our research shows that, at current rates of progress, by 2028 there will still be 6.9 million people in the UK – 12% of the population – without these skills. These are the questions we think you need to answer.
1) At Good Things Foundation, we calculated last year that if everyone in the UK had digital skills, it would offer a net present value of £21.9 billion to the UK economy. Would you commit to a 100% fully digitally included UK and how would you do it? (And, Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt, if you’re stuck for ideas – have a look at our Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included Nation).
2) How will you support microbusinesses and sole traders who are struggling to reap the benefits of digital? For example, one quarter of micro businesses used none of the seven technologies identified as most relevant, and a similar proportion used only one digital technology. The UK e-commerce survey found that only 8.8% of micro businesses were making website sales compared to 46% of large businesses. The microbusiness owners and sole traders we spoke to in Powering Up: How more people, communities and businesses can participate in a digital economy told us that they face factors like not having the time to learn new skills and the amount it would cost to be suitably trained means that many find it impossible to keep up with bigger, more digitally able firms.
3) How will your government alleviate the fears of non-internet users to ensure that the internet is a safe place to be, especially when performing financial transactions online and avoiding the harms the internet can present? I have previously discussed avenues of opportunity that the current Online Harms White Paper offers for digital inclusion. One in five non-internet users don’t go online because they don’t trust the internet, or don’t feel it’s online or secure.
4) How will you support people to get the digital skills they need to get by in the modern economy? People will need to get by at work: we need to talk about how the future of work and automation of jobs will affect people who currently do not possess the basic skills they need at work and to apply for jobs. People will also need to get by in life: a ‘digital first’ approach (which I support) saves Government money and is more convenient for those who can interact with the state online, however more needs to be done to ensure everyone can benefit. Good Things Foundation is offering digital assistance for the 2021 Census and with HMCTS services; yet schemes like Universal Credit has a ‘digital first’ approach and offers no official government digital assistance. However, many who are eligible for Universal Credit do not have the digital skills to apply online. Our plan will help you to seize the economic and social benefits of a fully digitally included nation.
5) Finally, we found in our above mentioned Powering Up report that we can only really tackle digital exclusion by all sectors; private, public and third sector, working together. How will your government link up people, companies and organisations, to ensure that digital exclusion is tackled? A Good example of schemes of this nature is Power Up, which Good Things Foundation are doing in collaboration with J.P. Morgan and SCVO.
Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson, Please feel free to send your response to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will, of course, publish them immediately!